Discussion: What Are We Reviewing?

disussion on a bookish topic-01

The other day, I was minding my own business, finishing up a book and adding my status to Goodreads (because does one ever really finish a book without all of Goodreads knowing it?) when I noticed that someone had commented on a review of mine. I like comments, so I went to check it out.

Earlier in the day another person (coincidentally from my home province) had also commented on that same review, questioning my review. This new comment seemed to be quite similar to the first one, but obviously from a different person across the globe.

Before I get into what the comments were, I should talk a bit about the book I was reviewing. I can’t really call it a “book” since it really wasn’t — what it was was a dramatization of a story by a very well-known author. I had never really had the book on my list of books I wanted to read, but when I saw the disc come through the library circulation desk, I thought I’d give it a whirl. It was short — only about 2.5 – 3 hours long — and seemed interesting given that it was a dramatization. While I had listened to audiobooks in the past, I had never listened to a dramatization before, so I thought it might be fun.

Suffice to say, I really didn’t enjoy it. The story was mediocre at best and the full-cast dramatization was in 3D sound and kind of confusing to listen to. Throughout my listening, I never really grabbed onto the story and ended up rating it quite low. I noticed when I posted my review that there were some very positive reviews of the story — mainly from people who actually READ the story as words on paper, which makes sense since they were privy to a lot of the detail that was left out of the dramatization.

Back to this day, one commenter had told me that I was robbing myself of the excitement of reading by listening to an audiobook, whereas another commenter wanted to be sure that I didn’t give the story a lower rating based solely on the crappy dramatization.

This got me thinking — when I review a book, what am I reviewing? Regardless of what medium I digest a story through, am I not always influenced BY that medium? Will that not affect my final outlook on the story?

Take any other audiobook, for example. The narrator can really make or break a story. I remember listening to Code Namer Verity by Elizabeth Wein on a long car trip. I made it through at least 3.5 CDs before I turned it off because I was having issues with the narrator. I felt like the combination of the heavy accent, the distraction of driving, and the detailed plot really didn’t mesh well with my listening to that story at that time. I know that if I went back and read the story, I might enjoy it a heck of a lot more. Had I finished the story on audiobook and reviewed it after, it might have gotten a lower rating due to the audio.

This is just like a written story that might have bad editing. If I’m constantly noticing mistakes in the writing, it’ll take away from my enjoyment of the story. Again, this might affect my rating. 

To me, I still can gain a lot of enjoyment of reading through listening to an audiobook. They’re a great way to sneak in an extra book in the week during time where I might not be able to visually read a book. I read Harry Potter YEARS ago and am enjoying it now through audiobook, with Stephen Fry as the narrator — he is an immensely good narrator! But, other narrators might have dragged the story down (although, probably not likely since it is Harry Potter).

I think that when it comes time to reviewing a story, I have to take all things into consideration, from the narration, to the writing, to the enjoyment I had while listening or reading — was I bored? Did it grab onto me and not let go until the end? If it was an audiobook, was I eager to do anything that would let me listen to it, or was I bored with listening, forcing myself to finish? All of these things affect the overall enjoyment of a story.

When I go back to the comments made on this particular review, I have to remind myself that my review was my own opinion and maybe the commenters didn’t understand my method of reviewing and rating. But I guess that’s another discussion for another day.

When it comes to reviewing books, what are you reviewing? Do you take many factors into account when writing and rating a book? Does it seem wrong of me to rate this book lower based on the poor narration?

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42 thoughts on “Discussion: What Are We Reviewing?

  1. Hmmm… this is all very interesting. It’s hard to say because I don’t really listen to audiobooks much, unless it’s a book I’ve already read or unless I’m also reading the paper copy (like whenever I’m not listening to it). I know that when I’m reading a book, if there are a ton of editing errors or something I might knock the rating down a bit, depending on how much it really got in the way of me enjoying the story.

    I think it’s fair to give it a low rating, even if your review is based on the audiobook. If you truly were bored with it and didn’t enjoy it, then there you are. Your feelings might have been the same if you had read the print version. If you thought that maybe it was just because the dramatization was bad, you can mention that in your review (or see if there’s specifically an audio-version listed on Goodreads to post the review on?), but don’t let it change your rating. Once we worry so much about that, then we have to wonder if we didn’t enjoy a book because we were in a bad mood that day, or because we were tired, or because it was a Tuesday, or because our socks didn’t match, etc. I say go with your gut feeling whenever reviewing a book, no matter the version!

    • Audiobooks are great for rereads … I’ve been listening to Harry Potter and it’s awesome!

      And you are SO right! Sometimes it’s not the book, but our moods, or our preexisting thoughts on a book, that can make it less enjoyable. You never know. That’s why it’s so great that we can express our opinions!

  2. I’ve never listened to an audiobook so I have no experience with this, but can completely understand where you’re coming from. With visually reading a book it really is all up to the author to make it work. There’s no middle player. But with audiobooks you do have the narrator to think about. But you can’t really rate a narrator, can you? And if audiobooks is what you choose to use, you can’t really read without the narrator so even if the story is beautifully written you’re stuck with what you have. It’s really interesting to think about.

    I still think it’s okay to give it a low score based off whatever format you used, as long as you mention the format so others are aware. But still, if the story was really interesting or something in it intrigued you, maybe you’d actually move on to grabbing a physical copy so as not to be bothered by the narrator or actors. And since you didn’t, then maybe it wasn’t completely the dramatization that did it. I’m not sure! lol.

    Either way, it’s your own opinion and you should go with it no matter what. Or at least that’s what I think 😉

    • There definitely have been audiobooks I’ve listened to that haven’t kept my interest, leading me to get a copy of the book to listen to instead. But there are others (like the one mentioned in my review) that don’t hold my interest either way. The story isn’t great, the narration isn’t great, so I just want to FINISH it.

      Some narrators are awesome … I wish the awesome ones were the ONLY ones who narrated the audiobooks … 🙂

      And yes! We can all have our opinions!

  3. Great discussion! I know exactly what you mean. I listened to the Anna Dressed in Blood books on audio and the narrator was just awful. AWFUL. I rated both books at 3 stars, and I have to think that the narration had something to do with it. However, when I do review an audiobook, I usually try to base my rating solely on the content/story and not on the narration. But you can bet that I’ll be mentioning the narration in my review.

    I think the problem is that on Goodreads, there isn’t a separate way to say “hey, the audio version of this book is amazing/horrible” when it comes to ratings. All the ratings get mixed together for all the different versions of the book. It’s kind of a shame, really, because if there were a separate rating system for audio versions, I would definitely use them.

    • Oh, I’ve heard the Anna narrator was horrible! I loved the first book, but I’m betting that the narrator would lower my enjoyment. Sometimes I can’t separate all of the components when reviewing an audiobook — I mean, it ALL affects the enjoyment!

      And I agree — there should be a way to rate different versions of books on Goodreads AND it would be nice to do that for rereads. Like when you love a book the first time around, but hate it the second time around. Come on Goodreads! Get with it!

  4. I like what Felicia does with audiobooks–she always gives a separate rating to the narration. I mean, I do think that narration affects our enjoyment of a book (and I know that I’ve set aside books because of the narration). But I also think it’s important to discuss all aspects of why we liked and didn’t like a book. Regardless of how you do it, no one has the right to tell you that you’re somehow doing it wrong. If you have a valid reason for doing it, then you’re doing it right–you’re doing it YOUR way.

    • Exactly.

      I do like how Felicia reviews audiobooks! I’m not sure if I could do it that way — I think that’s why I like basing my review rating as ENJOYMENT (like you!), rather than a plain ol’ rating of the book. I think it comes across clearer that way. Goodreads ratings can be taken in the wrong way.

  5. When I review a book, I take a LOT into consideration: plot, characters, romance, character growth (or lack thereof,) believability of the plot, and especially if the book made me FEEL anything or not.

    I’ve never really wanted to listen to audio books. I’ve always felt a little like I’d be cheating, because if I can’t SEE the words, the prose, how can I really FEEL the relationships and the writing? For some people audiobooks work really, really well and they’re able to give fair reviews to them, and immerse themselves in the audiobook, but for me, I need to hold the book in my hand and turn the pages.

    • Oh, I LOVE being able to hold a book and turn the pages, but I do love having an audiobook for those times where I can’t physically read, like cleaning the house, or driving. And certain audiobooks are AMAZING and can really enhance the story. OR they’re great for rereads.

      But I do agree that no matter what you’re reviewing, you have to take EVERYTHING into consideration. It’s really an involved thing!

  6. I have an opinion about the commenter that didn’t think you should listen to audiobooks and it isn’t positive :-/. I love audiobooks, but I also have problems with bad narrators, so I would really appreciate you reviewing the narrator when you are reviewing an audiobook. If I’m on the fence about a book and find out the narrator of the audio is fantastic, I’ll probably try it out BECAUSE of the narrator.

    Great topic and I agree that you obviously can review whatever you want. I’ve seen some people give separate ratings for the story and the audiobook, though I don’t think I’d be able to separate the two in my reviews since that’s just my brain ;-).

    Anya @ On Starships and Dragonwings

    • I totally agree with this! It makes total sense to include thoughts on the narration and how much you enjoyed it — it really helps other listeners!

      I don’t think I’d be able to separate them, either. I try to rate the medium as a WHOLE.

  7. I think the medium is also really important when reviewing. I always makes notes on the audio when I’m reviewing audiobooks. I think it’s necessary – because if it affected how you enjoyed the work it may affect how others do too.

    I know my bf hates audiobooks and doesn’t think it “really counts” as reading the book, but there are some books that have really come to life for me via audio (World War Z comes to mind) and I don’t think the experience would have been the same if I just read the words on the page.

    • There are a lot of people out there who don’t think listening to audiobooks counts as reading, but I definitely think it does. And you’re right — certain books are AMAZING as an audiobook and I’m betting that I wouldn’t have enjoyed them as much reading them on paper.

      Audiobooks can be great fun — and I think it’s VERY important to let people know the quality and enjoyment of them.

  8. In my opinion, everything boils down to this – different books and different methods of reading said books will garner different opinions for everyone. What may work for me may completely disappoint you, and vice versa. I think that’s truly the beauty of the book blogging community actually; that there are SO many and SO different opinions about everything.

    I usually focus my reviews on three things – characters, setting and plot. I generally tend to pepper my reviews with interesting personal anecdotes about the book makes me feel as well.

    I don’t think it was wrong of you to rate the book lower because of the narration, as long as you specified that in your review. Perhaps if you try a different method one day, you might end up liking it more, who knows?

    • I do agree with this! It’s like rereading a book — I might HATE a book a second time around, or I might LOVE a book that I originally hated. I’ve found that certain books are awesome as rereads when I listen to them on audio …

      And I definitely think that so long as reasons are specified, it’s okay to rate something how I see fit. Maybe I’ll give the print version a try one day!

  9. Ahaha, I was reading the comments on your GR review for it. I kind of wanted to point out that you were in fact reviewing the dramatisation, which was reflected in the edition that you were reviewing. I mean, even the title said it was the in the 3D sound. So I felt that they were being just a bit ridiculous about it. Yes, you might have had a different experience with a different edition, but that’s why you specified which version you were reviewing.

    If I’m reviewing and audio book, I pick that version on goodreads to review. I’m not going to rate the narrator by themselves and then the book by itself because they both depend on each other. An amazing narrator isn’t going to make a bad book better and vice versa.

    Great topic, it’s definitely something to think about.

    • EXACTLY! I mean, it made sense to me! I think when it comes to peoples’ favourite authors, people CAN get a little ridiculous.

      I really have to make sure I’m reviewing the correct version of a book on Goodreads … there are SO MANY different versions of books out there! And you’re right — an amazing narrator might not redeem a book, and a goo book might suck because of a narrator.

      Meh. It’s an opinion — what can I say?

  10. First of all, it’s really silly that goodreads doesn’t have separate ratings for the audiobook versions – especially since your review that you are talking about (yes, I had to go check it out for myself lol!) is clearly for the audio 3D version, yet your *rating* just gets lumped into all the other ratings. And if the medium in which you read this book is via audio, then obviously your overall review is on the audio version. I’m sorry, I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this because what are these commenters expecting from you (us)? Do they want you/us to give a higher rating because there’s a chance the printed version could be better? That’s just silly. If the printed version gets a low rating from us because we just didn’t like the book, are we supposed to say, “well, maybe I should give it a higher rating because the audio version might be better?!” I also think your review was very clear in what you thought of the book via audio. And what if the narrator and everything else with the audio version is great but you really just didn’t like the story? Is a low rating still not justified because you didn’t *READ* the book? Sorry – rambling done!

    *phew* this got me a little worked up! 😉

    • Well, you *can* rate different versions of books, which is nice … or, really, you can review different versions, but I agree — I wish I could rate different versions differently. Honestly, I might do away with ratings on Goodreads because they don’t really express my enjoyment of a book.

      And I do hate that the comment implied that I should just ASSUME the print version would be better. I could’ve hated it even more! And I do like what you said — sometimes I could HATE a book on audio, but the narrator is awesome. Then what would I do?

      I still don’t totally get the issue … like others have said, it’s all still an opinion. I’m entitled!

      • You’re right – you *can* rate different versions, but don’t they just lump all the reviews into the one book. Like if I rate the audio version, and you rate the hardcover version, both of our star ratings get lumped into the overall rating of the book? (Maybe I am totally wrong there…lol?!)

      • I think you can review different versions, but you can’t rate each version differently. They do all get lumped together, too. They must change this!

  11. I write about the narration separately. There are books I know I enjoyed more in audio than in print – like World War Z; books where the narration made me continue whereas I otherwise would have stopped – Will Grayson, Will Grayson; and books where I believe the print version would have been better – A Visit from the Goon Squad.

    So I usually mention in my discussion, whether or not I think the audiobook was a better means of experiencing the book.

    • I think that’s one reason I don’t like the rating system on Goodreads … it’s just that — a RATING of the book. I like doing it based more on an enjoyment scale, of how much I ENJOYED the book.

      And Will Grayson, Will Grayson was a FANTASTIC audiobook!

  12. I have found I can’t just listen to audiobooks because I usually end up not liking the book. I followed along with Debbie Macomber’s first Cedar Cove book while listening to it. Then I read the 2nd book and I was scanning pictures for a project and I ended up listening to the whole book and I still really enjoyed it. The most recent one I read/listened to was Peter Pan and I loved it. I find that I have trouble reading books on my computer for whatever reason. I think it all depends on the narrator and although I agree with the comments that you do not get the same experience listening to a book as to reading I don’t believe you will completely hate every single audiobook.

    • I really think it depends on the narrator. I have listened to some FANTASTIC audiobooks of books I may not have like so much while reading. Some narrators can really up the enjoyment. I think a lot of it depends on how focused you are on listening. Like doing something like scanning pictures, it’s very monotonous, so you can put more of your attention towards the book.

      Some audiobooks are great and have FANTASTIC narrators. I like to read certain genres through audiobook, though — and certain lengths of books, so that I don’t get bored. Also, I like to take breaks and not listen for too long. It always makes me excited to listen again!

  13. Not at all!! Any time a review is written it is typically for a product or good that is being sold. With a print book it is commonly the story that is being read that is reviewed because there is really only one sense that is being used; sight. If you don’t understand something or your mind starts to wander you can flip back and try again.

    Not so easy with an audiobook/dramatization. There your hearing is the sense being engaged. If it doesn’t hold your interest it’s a lot harder to go back and try toile sense of it. I have always considered audiobook reviews to be more about narration than story.

    I hope I am making sense. This is why I tend to shy away from audiobooks when I haven’t read the book. I’m afraid a bad audio will skew my opinion of a good book. I LOVE the Harry Potter audios with Jim Dale! He is so much fun!

    • YES! Some audiobooks can be absolutely wonderful and can really enhance the enjoyment of a book (like the Harry Potter books!). I think this is why I like to listen to certain books on audiobook and READ other books.

      The ability to flip back is something I wish I could do with an audiobook — I think that’s why I don’t like to listen to anything complicated.

      I do really like listening to audiobooks when it comes to rereads … that way I can fit a reread in when I wouldn’t normally be reading a book.

  14. I think the medium definitely affects how we feel about a book, however, I think you know when that occurs and will likely address that in your review. But, it is your right to have whatever opinion your want, regardless of the why.

    I tried Code Name Verity on audio too and felt the same way. I will get to the print version one day because it sounds great!.

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  19. I always take into account the narration when I’m reviewing audiobooks because it can have a big effect on how much I enjoy (or not) the book – an annoying narrator just has me focusing on how much I’m annoyed by them rather than the quality of the book, but it’s definitely subjective.

    In the end, it’s your opinion, and others shouldn’t tell you that you shouldn’t be expressing it 🙂

  20. I have to agree with the medium affecting our enjoyment of the book. My husband has pretty much the same tastes as me in books, but he exclusively listens to audiobooks. It’s a great time passer for his long commute. However, the narrator plays a huge role in his enjoyment of the book. Let’s face it, some narrators just are better than others, and there have been several series that he hasn’t been thrilled about because of it. The biggest example that jumps out to me would be The Host by Stephenie Meyer. He tried to listen to the book, but it was much to slow and he said the narrator was terrible. However, we just saw the movie this past weekend, and he really enjoyed it. Now he is disappointed that the audiobook isn’t up to snuff because he agrees that books are always better than the movies.

    • Yes! The narrator plays a HUGE role! There are a few books I’ve listened to that have had AMAZING narrators — really made me love the book even more! That’s too bad he didn’t like the narrator for The Host … actually, hearing that made me return my audiobook to the library. I am NOT a fan of slow pacing, either.

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