I’ve seen a lot of talk about why book reviewers are authors’ friends, but not much about exactly what reviewers do for readers. I guess that’s because it’s pretty obvious on the surface. Good reviewers, however, do more than make readers aware of books and tell whether or not they recommend them. They help readers define their literary tastes and make better-suited reading choices in the short and long run.
For bibliophiles in search of the next good read, book reviews provide a valuable intellectual service. The mere act of writing a book review forces one to think about the book analytically, which many of us just don’t do. We don’t do this because we don’t have an assignment. We can close the book, say “I loved it” or “I hated it” and be done with it. (Unless we’re aspiring authors, but that’s another discussion.) After all, few people will ask why we felt the way we did, and fewer still expect a detailed explanation. Reviewers, on the other hand, are forced to pinpoint specific elements in the book to support their claims.
Why is this valuable to readers? Because as readers, we oftentimes don’t know what we’re looking for in a book. We want entertainment, but what is our own definition of literary entertainment? It’s different for each one of us. By breaking things down, the reviewer not only defines a book’s elements, but helps us discover our own preferences in a clear way. The more reviews we read, the clearer is our understanding of what exactly we’re looking for when we’re looking for a good read. That’s why even negative reviews can inspire readers to buy books.
The benefit? In the end, we end up buying fewer books which we find we don’t like, and more books which we enjoy. Book reviews by pensive reviewers help us continually define our tastes, making it easier to find the books we love.