Paul Kearney didn’t like my review of The Ten Thousand. Shock, I know. I felt like I fairly judged the novel, weighing its pros and cons in an objective and honest way. Kearney, however, had a different problem.

If you don’t read a book to the end, you aren’t in a position to review it. Period.

Erm. Alright, I didn’t realize that an opinion couldn’t coalesce until the last page had been turned, but, well… okay.

Graeme, from Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review responded with:

What makes a review a review? Aidan’s basically telling us what he thought about what he read, even though he didn’t make it to the end. He can’t say much, if anything, about the book as a whole (for obvious reasons!) but I’d say he’s in as good a position as anyone else to comment on what he did read. Does that count as a review though? Kinda, I think…

Wait. Yeah, what he said!

To be honest, though, I expected to see some critics rear their heads when it came to light that I hadn’t actually finished The Ten Thousand and still decided to write a review about it. In fact, I debated with myself for quite some time whether I even would write the review, knowing that the situation was a bit of an ethical dilemma. In the end, though, I knew that, whether I had finished the novel or not, I had to write the review.

“Why,” you ask?

Several months ago I was in a similar position. I had just worked on an interview with Michael Swanwick and found him to be a gracious and hard working fellow, nice enough to personally send me a copy of his newest novel, The Dragons of Babel. When the book arrived I was excited to dive into it and see what all the fuss was about – it seemed right up my alley. But then a problem reared its ugly head…. I was about a third of the way through the novel when it dawned on me that I just wasn’t connecting with the story and was having to make a point of picking up the novel and reading it, instead of eagerly anticipating each moment I’d have with it. The Dragons of Babel just wasn’t for me.

I struggled with the idea of writing a review for The Dragons of Babel. Was I qualified to give one? Was it unfair to Mr. Swanwick’s kindness in sending me a free copy of the novel? Was it fair to my readers? In the end, I decided not to write that review, and I’ve regretted it ever since.

There comes a time in a novel, when I feel that I know whether or not I’m going to like it. It’s a moving target, each novel is different, but I often find that my opinion of a novel rarely changes between the halfway mark and the very end. Sure, the end could be fantastic (or terrible), but for the sake of objectivism, I have to look at a novel as a whole when it comes time to review it, and that’s where I think Kearney’s argument has a flaw.

Graeme asks, ‘What makes a review a review?’ and gives an answer that I more or less agree with. In my opinion, a reviewer succeeds at their craft when they are able to scribe a review that honestly and accurately conveys the feelings and emotions they experienced while reading a novel. To that end, I feel that any honest reviews are all equally valid, regardless of whether someone’s made it 1/3 of the way, 1/2 of the way or all the way through a novel. It’s equally important for a reviewer to let readers know why they didn’t finish a novel as it is to scream to the world about a novel they absolutely adored. Are my opinions, which I feel I fairly backed up in my review, any less honest or valid for having not finished the novel?

Of course, I made sure to state at the beginning of the review that I hadn’t finished the novel, and if a reviewer were to not do so, trying to pass off as having read the entire thing, then we’d run into some problems. Pat (at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist) wrote a similar piece while he was travelling overseas of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and though he called it something else, it was clearly a review of a novel he couldn’t finish. I was grateful for the honesty (and not only because it mirrored my own opinion of the novel) and didn’t begrudge him one bit for not finishing the novel. This ‘review’ created quite a stir and lead to some terrific discussion in the comments section of the post.

When I decided to put down The Ten Thousand for good, I struggled once again about whether to write the review or not. Paul’s a great guy, Solaris (the publisher) has been very supportive of me, and I would be the first person to write a review of the novel that wasn’t glowing. In the end, however, it wasn’t much of a decision. I remembered how I felt about the missed opportunity I had with my review for The Dragons of Babel and knew I couldn’t make the same mistake twice. I may not have finished the novel, but I certainly felt that I had well founded, honest opinions of what I did read; and to me that was enough to justify it. I knew, however, that my review of The Ten Thousand would have to be my most honest, most well thought out review yet, as proof that I could qualify the opinions expressed.

Besides Paul’s understandable reaction, I was pleasently surprised to find that most of my readers appreciated the review, even those who had read the novel and disagreed with the opinions I put forth. In a day and age where bloggers are criticized for loving everything put before them, I felt that hiding my opinion would be as dishonest as writing a falsely positive review. As I said at the end of my review, everyone’s got opinions, but as long as we all stay honest, then that can only be a good thing.

  • Kristen July 30, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    Good post, Aidan. I’m glad you wrote the review even if you did not finish the book. It was a very good review and I don’t see anything at all wrong with giving your thoughts on the book while being honest about the fact that you did not actually finish the book in question. Knowing what obstacles may prevent someone from getting into a book is always good. We’ve all been there – reading a book that’s just not clicking for you – and it’s not fun. I am glad you gave your honest opinion instead of not mentioning the book here.

  • neth July 30, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    As far as I’m concerned, as long as you are upfront with the fact that you didn’t finish the book, then there is no problem with writing a review for what you did read and concentrating on why you chose not to finish. I think there should be more reviews like this since they may be much more helpful in the end then the generic positive review of a book (though it dissappoints me that you didn’t like Dragons of Babel, since it’s probably my favorite book read so far in 2008).

    I had my own experience with this a few months ago with Wind Follower. The author was unhappy with the review the fact that I didn’t finish the books and the comments get ugly, at which point I just stopped responding – a great example of why authors shouldn’t comment about reviews IMO.

    Now I’ve got to go read that review of The Ten Thousand.

  • neth July 30, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    whoops, either I forgot to close the tag, or links aren’t allowed.

    The review is:

  • TK42ONE July 30, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    Seeing as I haven’t read the review (or the book) I’ll refrain from commenting on either. But I agree that deciding when to stop reading a book is a moving target. But I also think that when to review a book is as well. There have been very few books that I could not finish. I’ve always been very determined to be a completest and even drivel is hard for me to put down.

    But I think even those that I could not finish, I would still want to write a review for, or at the very least make some sort of comment about. But again, like you said, I think it would be unfair if I didn’t put that little disclaimer about not finishing in there somewhere.

  • Nathan Trader July 30, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    Actually, I’ll probably never pick up one of Kearney’s books based on that reaction alone. I’m sure any author has a thing or two to say about a bad review of their work, but it just looks childish to publicly dismiss a reader’s opinion because the story didn’t hold their attention. That is, after all, the job of the author: to keep the reader interested. If they failed at doing that, I’d say it’s worth commenting on.

  • William July 30, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    Sorry but I pretty much see Kearney’s position in this. If you can’t finish a book, then it is of course your right to write in your own blog about that, but I wouldn’t call what you write a “review.” I would call it a ‘reaction’ or a ‘note,’ but I would reserve the term ‘review’ for instances in which you’ve had the opportunity to consider the work as a whole, as it was meant to be experienced. In this instance, it may have even been better if you had not written anything at all (which is apparently what you decided in the previous case, although I don’t understand why you were guilty about that decision). All else being equal, I’m not likely to put much weight in a film critic’s review of a movie that he walked out on before the last reel. That being said, however, I do appreciate the fact that you were at least honest and upfront about your reaction.

  • Farseer July 31, 2008 at 12:17 am

    He felt guilty when he didn’t write anything about the previous case because he knew he had sold himself (not for money, but because of a sense of obligation towards the author) and, in some sense, betrayed his readers. That’s a problem with review copies: some reviewers felt indebted to the publisher or writer who sent it, and lose their objectiveness and thus their usefulness to the reader.

    As a reader, when the reviewer finds a book so disagreeable that he can’t even bring himself to finish it, I want to hear about his reasons. If instead of review you want to call it reaction or note that’s fine with me. But I want to hear about it. As anyone who reads many reviews knows, negative reviews tell you much more than positive ones. In fact, negative reviews don’t mean that I won’t be interested in the book. Not at all. I know that no matter how wonderful a book is, there’ll be people who won’t like it. The reasons they give for their dislike gives me a lot of information about the book.

  • Mark Chadbourn July 31, 2008 at 1:21 am

    Good article, Aidan. I have to say, though, that you won’t find much common ground with authors on this topic. An author crafts a book as a whole. Sometimes themes don’t become apparent until the very end. Occasionally a book can’t be understood until the final paragraph throws the whole into context. And sometimes the ending changes the reader’s perception of everything that has gone before, and creates a totally different experience. There are plenty of examples I could give of these, though, admittedly, not so many genre ones – but the point stands.

    In the end, I think I agree with William, above. The great thing about blogs is that they are conversations with the reader, and not as rigidly defined as print media, where a review is a review. It’s perfectly valid to state your opinions on why you couldn’t finish the book, and that will contribute to the potential reader’s understanding of the work. But it isn’t a review. I’d be annoyed if I bought a magazine for a review of The Sixth Sense and found the reviewer had only seen the first hour; or any movie, for that matter. But if a blogger explained why they’d walked out, I’d be totally fine with it.

  • thrinidir July 31, 2008 at 1:50 am

    You did absolutely right Aidan; not only did you admit that you didn’t finish the book, but you gave valid arguments why you did so…there is nothing wrong with it; I understand why you could have a bit of a “bad conscience” (that’s probably why you wrote this lengthy explanation for your actions), but integrity and honesty as a reviewer comes first – otherwise we could stop doing what we are doing.

    I had a similar experience (although I actually finished the book) with the review I wrote a couple of days back (Dragonscarpe), but the author – Pat McNamara – was actually very supportive of what I’ve wrote; he even said that he didn’t realize that receiving a bad review could be such an enjoyable experience. Great guy, as is Kearney (so I’m not sure what drove him to write such a snarky comment – he got glowing reviews from the rest of us after all).

  • Paul Kearney July 31, 2008 at 3:47 am

    I guess since to some extent I started this hare running, I might as well try and see out the race!
    It WAS a snarky comment, and the moment I posted it, I regretted it. Never push the Enter button before reading over what you’ve written! It had partly to do with the fact that I like Aidan, get on with him well, and was extremely disappointed by his reaction to the book. I’ve since e-mailed him privately to pretty much tell him that, but now I think it’s best to go public before you all think I’m some arrogant thin-skinned twit.
    I don’t mind the fact that Aidan didn’t like the book – in fact despite the fact that he didn’t, he managed to cram a lot of compliments into his review – no, I’m old enough, big enough and hairy enough to take criticism on the chin; I’ve been 17 years in this game, and had my fair share, after all. I guess what I was trying to get at, and failing miserably in the process, was that I see a difference between posting one’s views on a book, and actually going through the formal structure of a review. You’re free to say whatever the hell you like about the text in both cases, but if you set yourself up as a reviewer, then you have certain obligations, also.

    To formally review a book, I truly believe you have to finish it, even if your eyes are bleeding by the time you get to the last page – because as a reviewer, you’re putting on a semi-professional kind of hat as it were. If you want to post comments on a book, then sure, go right ahead after reading paragraph one, but as a reviewer, the thing must be considered as a whole.

    Maybe I’m an old fashioned, stuffy sod, I don’t know- but this is something I do believe. My earlier comment was bloody-minded and petulant, for which I say mea culpa and deserve to take my licks.

    And damn – the second half of the book is the best part, too – if only he’d hung in there a little longer, eyes bleeding and all…

  • Carole McDonnell July 31, 2008 at 4:35 am

    Actually, when I saw your post on your inability to finish the book I thought you did an excellent job talking about the pros and cons of a book you had not finished. I didn’t say anything because A) I tend to lurk on this blog and B) I didn’t want my comment to seem self-serving. But hey, since we’ve come back to that review I’ll get my two cents in. My book got totally slammed on another blogger’s site. (Okay that review was one of only two bad reviews I got for that book…and the reviewer wasn’t nearly as fair-minded or kind as you were. It affected me so badly that I couldn’t work on my present WIP for about a month and couldn’t write at all.) So I pretty much read your half-review of Ten Thousand with great compassion for the author because no author likes hearing that someone just couldn’t finish their book. A lotta compassion. But I saw that you were balanced in talking about your own short-comings and the book’s and that you mentioned that others had liked it and mentioned who those others were. I think you did a great job for a reviewer caught in such a position. In addition, I think you reviewed the sections you had read. The blogger who reviewed my book — will not mention any names– made the error of reviewing sections he had not read, saw things in the novel that weren’t there, and listened to the errors of two other reviewers. Others who had read the novel defended me and called him on his mistakes but when caught in his errors he said the discussion had grown ugly. I do believe an author respects a good review if a book has been but truly read and understood by a reviewer. I also believe a reviewer should be able to tell why he could not finish a book. I think you tried your best to write a respectful non-review. You were not cruel, which is certainly not what I could say in my case. -C

  • Carole McDonnell July 31, 2008 at 4:49 am

    Oh gee! Just saw Neth’s comment on Wind Follower. Only just saw it after I posted my comment. Didn’t realize he had decided to use this forum to bring in an opportunity to slam me. And he included a link to his post too. Interesting. And there I was not mentioning names. Oh my! Hope you will allow me to defend myself –as you allowed me to slander me–

    I’m not sure if he changed his original review to make my defense look ridiculous. I haven’t returned to the review.

  • Rob B July 31, 2008 at 5:12 am

    With all of this talk of reviews lately this is another good point in the ongoing dialogue. I think some of the comments posted here echo my thoughts – where is the line between review and reaction? Ultimately, I think a review is pretty much a reaction to the book you are reviewing. In that sense, you’ve done right and more than anything what we as readers of reviews want is honesty.

    I struggled with book this week for about 1/3 of it, I saw some positive reviews and just couldn’t give a wit about anything in the book. Will I write a review? More than likely, no. Have I written reviews for books I haven’t finished in the past? Sure.

  • ediFanoB July 31, 2008 at 5:29 am

    I’m still not sure whether to post or not.
    I would call myself a committed reader.
    That means I’m one of the persons who read blogs in order to get more information about a book.
    Blurbs are not sufficient for me.
    To be honest I started to write my own reviews. Compared to all these reviews I read on all your blogs my reviews are not that professional.
    I tried to understand Aidan and I tried to understand Paul Kearney.
    Do you recognise that it makes a big difference whether I have written such a review at Goodreads or Aidan did it on his blog. Aidan has a good name and he worked hard for it. So his opinion is more important than mine. Of course I take reviews into consideration when I decide to buy a book or not. But I don’t read only one review. In case I get different reviews for a book I’m interested in, I try to get an excerpt in order to form my personal opinion.
    So I can understand Paul Kearney as an author who says you can’t judge about my book before you read the whole book.
    But I also can understand Aidan. He didn’t damn the book. He gave a detailed explanation why he stopped to read the book and he told us what like/disliked so far.

    My conclusion: Aidan’s review (and I call it a review) is a good piece of work. In case he wrote it in an other way, I would tell him: Finish the book first.
    Paul, I think you must be able to take a review like this.
    Please consider it’s one review of many…or is it more?
    Maybe you carry weight with Aidan’s reviews.

    Now I would like to get an excerpt of the book in order to form my opinion as a committed reader.

    I think you both Aidan and Paul need feedback from people like me.

    Now I’ll wait for your comments. I have a broad back in case you virtually cut me into pieces.

    Men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand, for everyone can see and few can feel. Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are.
    Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince
    Italian dramatist, historian, & philosopher (1469 – 1527)

  • aidan July 31, 2008 at 8:50 am

    Hmm, certainly wasn’t expecting this kind of attention! Thanks, everyone, for dropping by and getting this discussion going. It’s fantastic to see talk like this going on here.

    I don’t want to get too involved in things (lest I start to sound defensive or self-serving) but just wanted to leave a couple of further thoughts.

    First, Paul and I (as he mentioned) have sorted things out and there are certainly no hard feelings between us. He made a slip in judgment, but, true to his character and integrity, apologized for it. I think we’ll all agree, also, that we’d all feel similarily distressed if we were in his shoes!

    In response to all the authors who’ve dropped by, I’d just wanted to say that I’m glad to hear more perspective from the other side of the fence. We bloggers can be pretty self-centred, so it’s good to see the flip side of a coin. As an aspiring writer myself (aren’t we all?), I can understand the ire that an author would feel when they read a review that’s not only generally negative, but also based on only a partial read of the novel.

    Like Mark points out, many novels rely on some sort of a twist or epiphany in the last pages to alter the readers perceptions of the novel, which is fine and dandy. But if you ask me, when the only hook of your novel is something that happens right at the very end (and the other 90% is mediocre) then you’ve got some problems. Twists are great, but you’ve got to care about them by the time they come around.

    It’s funny all the fuss that was caused by the tag in the title of the ‘review.’ Funny thing is, when I first started to write the piece, I was going to call it Not A Review | The Ten Thousand by Paul Kearney, but just forgot about this little piece of innuendo. It seems like many of the people who have an issue with the review are put off by that official ‘Review’ Tag.

    I think we’re in trouble if we want to really get into the semantics of the word ‘Review.’ In my mind, a review, especially on a casual fan blog like this and not in the New York Times or Kirkus or Booklist, a casual approach to reviews is what helps it thrive.

    Last summer I was in the middle of Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris when the final Harry Potter novel came out. I immediately stopped reading Sanderson’s novel about half-way through and picked up Harry Potter. Not once did I ever even consider reviewing Elantris, because I hadn’t read enough of it to form an opinion and my decision to put down the novel was influenced from the outside. In that case, it would be undeinably unfair to review the novel. The difference, in my opinion, with Kearney’s novel is that I chose to put down the novel halfway through based on very strong, and very defined opinions.

    Of course, if I were being paid to review the book (ahh, how everything comes full circle in the blogosphere…) by a publication (such as a magazine, webzine, or other third party source) I would have ensured that I finished the novel at all costs, just as Paul says. Maybe it’s a weird double standard, but the nice thing about a personal blog, though, is that I can choose the standard to set and how best to achieve it. As I mentioned in the review, and Farseer did a great job of reiterating, I feel that a review detailing why a reviewer couldn’t finish a novel is as important as any other review.

    This was far and away the most difficult review I’ve had to write, both on a technical and a moral level. It’s heartening to see that even those that don’t necessarily agree with my views on the novel, can appreciate the honesty that went into writing it. I’m looking forward to see what else people have to say about the matter, for it seems to be one we all care about.

  • neth July 31, 2008 at 9:15 am

    As everyone can see – it’s interesting how authors take things. Now, I’m being accused of changing/editing my review (which I certainly didn’t due) and that my reaction to the book I mentioned wasn’t fair-minded and unkind. When I look back, the only unkindness I see was on the part of the author and I also see it being carried here. When an author responds to a review (or non-review), they are taking a risk. Kearney in my mind made a rash statement and then rectified making that statement, I’ll let other decide on their own about other authors reactions.

    Aidan, I apologize that a discussion that I thought was dead and gone was resurrected on your site.

  • Robert Walker July 31, 2008 at 10:25 am

    Hmm, interesting discussion. As an author myself, I would just like to say that I agree with Paul’s assertion that while there is nothing wrong with posting your opinions, or whatever you want, on your own blog, you (at least should be) holding yourself up to certain standards when you call what you write “reviews.” Now, while I totally agree that there is an enormous amount of freedom on the internet, the excuse of “I can do whatever I want” is one that’s beneath anyone who is hoping to do something worthwhile and present themselves in a respectable light. And I would say that that is something most blog-reviewers want to do. So, that said, it actually *is* important how we define what is and is not an official “review.” Why? It’s simply a matter of conceptual consistency. And that engenders trust and respect. What reviewer doesn’t want that, even on a remote level?

    Yes, there’s nothing wrong with not finishing a book. Hell, my own feeling on that matter is that there are too many great books out there to waste time on one you don’t like. But, the point about not being able to judge a book *as a whole* without reaching the end is a valid one. Thus, maybe it *would* be a good time for the blog-reviewers themselves to set some standards. And no, there really isn’t anything wrong with that, because what that allows is progress based on common vocabulary. That’s a hallmark of any important issue/discussion. And I think that one of those standards should be that if you don’t finish a book, by all means, talk about it, say why, describe your shopping list…just don’t call it a “review.” Call it a “not-review” like you were going to. Fine! Great! Something new! That’s one of the great things about the freedom of the internet.

    By setting this kind of standard, I think that you can free yourself from feeling any guilt, or worry, about writing whatever you want. Just call it what it is. It’s actually kind of a simple solution. A lot simpler than trying to re-define what a review is, which is a pretty slippery slope. One I don’t think needs to be taken. Gotta pick your battles in life.

    Okay, enough babbling. Great blog, great discussion. Cheers, folks.

  • James (Speculative Horizons) July 31, 2008 at 10:47 am

    Aidan, let me just say I thought your ‘review’ was well-written and refreshingly honest. You probably should have called it something other than a review, as I agree that you need to read a novel in its entirety to be able to review it, but I’m sure you’ve realised your mistake by now! Anyway, we have to sometimes make mistakes in order to learn.

    I see some posters have clearly taken some measure of offense at Paul’s reaction, with one suggesting he wouldn’t pick up any of Paul’s work because of it. Can I just say this: I can’t claim to know Paul well, but in my dealings with him he has always come across as a generous, honest guy of real integrity. His original comment was unfortunate, but he’s shown his decency by apologising for it and taking the reaction on the chin. If only all authors were like that…

  • J. Cormier July 31, 2008 at 11:01 am

    There is a lot of pressure on book reviewers of all levels to write reviews that are original and engaging pieces of writing in and of themselves while at the same time being reliable, straightforward critical analyses of the book at hand. But no one ever said that a review had to be comprehensive. A review is a low-level secondary source, a literary litmus test intended to present one person’s subjective opinion of the relative merits of the work being reviewed to a group of potential readers. At best it is a brief. Complex literary analysis it is not. A reviewer writing a 1500-word review of a piece of popular fiction is never going to achieve the level of detail, insight, and theory present in serious literary criticism.

    If a reviewer’s primary goal, then, is to be helpful to potential readers, a reviewer who is honest enough to come forward and admit that he just couldn’t get through the book, that it wasn’t for him, has done his job. This of course should be a rare occurrence, and the reviewer should be able to differentiate between the times when he honestly feels discontent sufficient to warrant putting a stop to his reading and the times when, perhaps, he is simply being a bit lazy. This type of review should be the exception to the rule, and it should apply only to books that cause a serious disconnect with the reader, but it does have its place.

    I applaud Aidan for being honest enough to say, effectively, that for one reason or another it just was not working and he had to put the book down. The quality of his review therefore depends on how well he explained that reason.

    Readers are human, too, and most would probably appreciate a review that treats a bad book as being just that, rather than being worthy of a complete reading and a complete review, even if what the reviewer really wanted to do was put it down and never look at it again.

  • neth July 31, 2008 at 11:03 am

    hmm…the whole review, not-review discussion seems to me to be little more than semantics, but clearly some people feel it’s an important distinction.

    For me, when I posted my not-review, I did say I couldn’t call it a true review since I didn’t read the whole book and I didn’t attach a rating as I would for a review. I suppose that it is unfair to compare an opinion of part of a book with that of a whole book, but it really is all just opions of books.

  • Robert Walker July 31, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    neth – I guess I could say I agree with what you did rather than what you say! ;)

    Sure, there’s a level of casualness about some of these reviews, and I think that’s great. But, at the same time, there are serious consequences to any review or opinion given by someone who has earned a level of respect by his/her readers. At least, they’re serious to the author. Meaning that if someone dumps on my book and that causes people not to read it, well, that’s pretty serious, given all the work I put into writing it. And if it’s a glowing review, and it helps bring more readers, that is also something I would take seriously.

    And I think we need to start taking the connotation of “just” out from in front of “semantics.” Certainly, it’s never good to go overboard, but I think it’s silly to think that the meaning of the words we use is not important. I mean, for pete’s sake, we deal in words, here, people, don’t we? What we mean by what we say is pretty darn important.

    I think the point that Paul was trying to make was: say what you want to say, just do it professionally and fairly. It’s simply not fair-minded to present an opinion as a “review” when one hasn’t even read the (whole) book. Regardless of how well-written, and even partly-complimentary it is.

    I know that some people think this is nitpicking, but I (obviously) disagree, or I wouldn’t be taking the time to be a part of this discussion.

    And for the record, and I just can’t help myself, I think that some people’s reactions to Paul’s initial comment are leaning a little too close to unwarranted condescension. I, for one, agree with his comment, 100 percent. I understand where it comes from, and while it might not be wise for an author to comment about a bad review, this wasn’t that situation. He was annoyed by an unfair treatment of his book (by calling something a review that wasn’t one). Again, like the book (or portion) or don’t like it, but at least treat it fairly, meaning in the proper context. No, one isn’t “obligated” to do so, but my whole point is that doing so is beneficial to everyone involved.

  • William July 31, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    In the response above, Aiden wrote: “Of course, if I were being paid to review the book […] I would have ensured that I finished the novel at all costs.” I happen to think that this is disingenous. You ARE being paid to review the book — my understanding (and correct me if I’m wrong) is that the publisher sent you a pre-print of the book. Shouldn’t that be considered “payment” of a kind? Of course, I understand that this is a mutually beneficial scratch-my-back arrangement common to a lot of blogger/reviewers nowadays, but the fact of the matter is that this already sets you and your opinion apart, since the rest of us are not in a position (yet) to go out and read the book for ourselves. Thus, if one is going to accept the role of advance reader/reviewer, it seems like this should come with a certain amount of responsibility toward the task, which includes, if one wants to write a capital-R-Review, reading the entire book, bloody eyes notwithstanding.

  • aidan July 31, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    William – Just wanted to touch on that last comment. That idea of ‘payment’ had been a wildfire raging across the blogosphere for the last week or so.

    You can see some of my thoughts (and several other bloggers) HERE.

    Short answer: I don’t think an ARC is any sort of payment, and it certainly shouldn’t imbue the blogger/reviewer with any sort of loyalty or feeling of obligation towards the publisher. I’ve paid for many of the novels I’ve reviewed. ARCs are simply a tool to do our job (albeit they are also a nice perk.)

    Keep it up, everyone. I may not be responding to everything, but I’m certainly following it all with rapt attention.

  • gav (NextRead) July 31, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    The only thing that sticks in my mind about Paul’s reaction is that it came across as dismissing the excellent content and analyse. I’ve done a ‘Not Review’ of a book when I’ve not finished it.

    This is a bit like saying that an editor can’t make a judgement without reading the entire novel. The story is only one factor in what makes a novel works and you don’t need to make it to the end to know about style, them as a story teller, characterisation, and all the other bits that make any story worth reading. It didn’t work for Aiden and he explained why.

    It’s a review in my book.

  • Gabe August 1, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    I remember reading that review, and I thought it was an absolutely legitimate review of the book. It’s one thing to say “meh, I couldn’t finish it”. That’s a reaction to the book. But by going into detail and explaining what worked and what did not work for you, it came out as a review, and I don’t see any reason you should regret your decision to publish it as such. I mean, even if you couldn’t get through it, your review was enough to pique my interest, and now I’ll be doing a review of it!

    Of course, I also wrote a review of a book I didn’t read at all, so the mileage of my opinion might be suspect.

  • aidan August 1, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    Gabe – Don’t get me wrong. I don’t regret giving it the ‘Review’ tag, at all. In my mind it’s still a review, and a legitimate one at that. Glad you feel the same way.

    Second, your review of Savage Messiah was terrific, I can certainly see why it’s one of your favourites!

  • Joe Sherry August 2, 2008 at 4:23 am

    While I can see Paul’s perspective of not being able to fully review or evaluate a novel without having read the book from cover to cover, I disagree…to a point.

    Yeah, some themes may not fully develop until the end of the novel, but it is the author’s job to make sure the reader can get there. The pay-off should be at the end, but if the reader doesn’t care, the author failed.


    A solid evaluation of why Aidan or Ken or Gabe or I could not finish a book is just as valuable as a review of a book I could finish. Sometimes I’d argue that it is MORE valuable to do this sort of review because it can pinpoint fatal flaws in a work, or I can recognize that what didn’t work for Aidan also don’t work for me (or the flip, that I could disagree with everything Aidan says and I’d then know I want to get the book).

    Now, if you want to get into semantics, I’ll generally title my “review” of an unfinished book “Why I Couldn’t Finish….” because it isn’t the same sort of review as when I finish a book and because I’m trying to get at a particular explanation of why I couldn’t finish the book. Semantics aside, it’s still a review.

    The reason I said “mostly” in terms of a readers not finishing a book being the writer’s fault is that sometimes the reader isn’t ripe (or is overripe) to read that particular book at that particular time.

  • Stephen August 2, 2008 at 6:47 am

    Hey, it’s better just to be forthright. The review included the fact that you didn’t finish reading The Ten Thousand, right? So, readers know where you’re coming from.

  • […] article on reviewing sparked a lot of interesting discussion from bloggers, authors and readers alike. One of the more […]

  • bigeugene August 3, 2008 at 7:25 am

    I’m with you Aidan. Think about it this way…when have you ever hated the first half of a book then loved the second half. I think it happens very rarely. Not being able to finish a book is, in my view, a pretty accurate representation of your feelings about it (it’s not good). I’ve experienced this recently with Gail Z. Martin’s “The Necromancer” and Brian Ruckley’s “Bloodheir.” With Necromancer, I couldn’t get beyond twenty pages. The dialogue was just goofy and stilted and the plot simply an inferior, mushy blend of Dragonbone Chair, Hamlet, Sword of Shannara, etc. With Blooheir, I just stopped caring about what happened to anyone. What started out as an intriguing series simply became boring to me.

    Your honest assessment is that you don’t like the book enough to finish it…that’s info you should share. Sugarcoating your impression does no one any good. I appreciate the honesty. Keep it real!

  • Trin August 3, 2008 at 11:57 am

    Well, honestly, I don’t quite know who to agree or disagree with here. :) The one thing I’m certain of, though, is that you did well to point out the fact you didn’t read the whole book in the beginning of your review. I think you explained everything in the first paragraph, so it is clear that it’s not going to be a review of a book as a whole. You’re not deceiving anyone that way and I don’t think your opinion matters less because of that. You’re just expressing your experience with the book.

    On the other hand, I don’t really understand why you chose to put the book down. Pain in the ass or not, a load of crap or not, I read the book that I agreed to review from the first to the last page. Partly, it’s because that’s a habit of mine (with all books, not just those I get from publishers), but partly it’s because I feel a kind of obligation to the author or/and the publisher who send me the book. There was that book that really got on my nerves, but I tried and tried and it took four attempts for me to actually read it through, but I did manage to do it and I found out that the last part was kinda saving the whole thing from being totally horrible. It’s not always like this, I know, but still I think that you should always at least try to get through a book you agreed to review. But I confess, if it weren’t for the author, I’d put it down immediately, habit or not. :D

    About writing a review or not … well, imo, that’s your choice. I don’t think you’re in any way deceiving your readers if you decide not to write a certain review. I do that sometimes, mostly when I can’t really put my finger on what exactly is bothering me, or when I feel I didn’t really understand the book at all (for example, Dick’s works left me completely puzzled and I did not feel competent to write a review). Sometimes, I just don’t feel like it, for no particular reason, but mostly it happens when the books are average and there is little I can say about them. It happens. :) And if you do want to write a certain review, but are in doubt, just do it, but be honest and try to point out ups as well as downs. I guess there can’t be much wrong with a review like that.

  • Adam Whitehead August 4, 2008 at 6:34 am

    My own position is that if I don’t finish a book I don’t review it. For example, I was sent an ARC of Nick Harkaway’s Gone-Away World and my eyes were bleeding before I got a fifth of the way in. There is a certain validity to saying, “I started reading the book and couldn’t finish,” perhaps as an ‘early reaction’ or a ‘not-a-review’ as you suggest, but you can’t honestly write a full critique of a book that you don’t finish.

    The rule of the thumb I use is that I read all ten books of Elron Hubbard’s Mission Earth series and the complete Legends of Dune trilogy, so it takes a book to monumentally suck for me to give up before the end. Although interestingly, it may be worth discussing if bloggers, who rarely have less than a dozen books on the stack waiting to be read, are perhaps a little too easy to give up on books knowing they could be wasting time that could be more gainfully spent reading something better?

    Or how would Gardens of the Moon fare in this blogging climate. That’s a book that some people insist you cannot ‘fairly’ evaluate until you’ve read at least the next two books in the series and maybe Ian Esslemont’s Night of Knives as well. Interesting.

  • Alice August 6, 2008 at 6:07 am

    I agree with everyone who’s said it’s valid to review a book without finishing it. Unlike reviews in magazines/newspapers, a lot of internet reviewing is a good way to get a “reader’s eye view” of how these books pan out, and the reaction of “couldn’t get past p50 because of x/y/z” is just as valid as “couldn’t put it down”. No matter how great the ending, if the first half is crap, it’s only fair to let the readers know.
    I admit though, the only books I’ve reviewed without finishing are ones I’ve paid for myself, so I feel justified in complaining about the money I’ve wasted. So far I have read all my freebies all the way through, no matter how eye-bleedingly bad… but then again, I’ve not yet been sent anything of the Left Behind calibre, so I’m not sure how I’d handle it then…

  • […] Aidan of A Dribble of Ink touched on this topic in a recent post. Even though he didn’t submit to this query, I thought it worth the […]