Sometimes, I wonder if it's even fair to say it is my fault. Books won't work for some readers, and as a reviewer, am I supposed to know when a book is likely to be enjoyed by other readers and it's just me? And if so, can't that be said for every book ever? All books that are published have fans and positives. Even things I can't stand are acceptable to different readers.
It is impossible for me to read a book as anyone other than myself. I can try to be objective and consider other points of view, but even then, it's me imagining what other people think based on my experiences and particular perceptions of the world. I'm not even going to pretend I can be objective because I can't. Which leads me back to this question: if a book does not work for me, is there any merit in saying it is still a good book because I think that most other people would like it seeing as I am not most other people and it did not work for me?
Is there a problem if a book does not work for me? I would say, yes. I go into every book hoping to enjoy it, and if I end up not liking a book or feeling a disconnect, there is a problem. In general, I believe it is fair to say that some books are not meant for some audiences. For example, I am not going to enjoy another Poseur book ever again in my life because my reading tastes have changed and the mean girl storyline bores me. It's also fair to say I refuse to read a contemporary about marriage and a couple with an affair unless perhaps there is a murder or superheroes or some other really epic occurrence. There are genres I enjoy less than others and it's not unfair to say that I am not the right reader for these books and that is perhaps why I disliked them and fans of the genre would feel differently.
But let's look at this with some more complexity: first, I am a reviewer which means my thoughts on a book is somewhat relevant to me, if not to others. And second, as a reviewer, I know myself well enough to figure out when a certain book is not my type. I am well trained in the art of screening books for red flags and every book that I decide to read is read with the expectation that it will be enjoyed.
Now, if after all this, after I expect myself to be the audience for a book and find out it does not work, is the, "not the right audience" explanation still valid? I think it is, from the author's standpoint, and even from some readers' standpoints. But I do not believe it is valid from the reviewer's standpoint.
First, I do identify as a reviewer because I like to pinpoint what I like or didn't like in a book and engage in some kind of dialogue with the world about this book. The dialogue is often a monologue, but that doesn't bother me too much. And, as a reviewer, I need to judge. If it's accepted that I can't judge as anyone other than myself, because I really can't, is it fair to expect me to disregard my personal feelings for a book because I'm not the right audience? Especially when I went into the book with the expectations that I was the right audience and this book would be interesting for me?
In other words, if I'm missing that connection or spark or whatever it is that can't be explained in terms of the quality of world building or plot, or any other rational matter, can I still validly write about why a book wasn't good? And furthermore, let's say there is something in particular I don't like as a reader, maybe I despise a certain character for some act that the author meant to made them despicable, is it fair for me to say "this is not a good book because I did not like this" when the author meant this flaw?
I think it's more the second question that is debated in the blogging world, and it's really that which is a little contentious. I have a strong belief that because I can't review for anyone other than myself, and because I don't believe my reviews have any real objective basis or even mean all that much more than one person's simple opinion, any thought I have on a book is completely valid. After all, a review is just my thoughts on a book, and it is quite flimsy. I don't think my review is a very legitimate anything other than opinion. To get a clear idea of a book, one must read several reviews and semi-legitimate statements about the entire book (it has good characters, world building, plot, etc.) are formed through numerous similar opinions.
So how can a reviewer be expected to have any legitimate opinion on a book by herself? I would say she can't. It's more the trends that reviewers, each being completely honest to themselves and writing their own honest accounts, can collectively impart some sort of legitimate knowledge. If you believe like I do, than the only thing a reviewer has to do is write her opinion regardless of what she thinks others will say because ideally it washes out throughout the reviews of others.
Of course, many people do not consider all reviews and not all books are widely reviewed, which is why sometimes, individual reviewers are much more important and have a wider share of legitimacy than one would think reasonable. Does this this mean that reviewers should consider other people again in their reviews?
I think I'll stop here because frankly, I'm interested in other people's opinions at this point and I don't want this post to be any longer than it is (which I apologize, because it's pretty much an essay. Gold star for you if you got this far!). So please feel free to share any thoughts!