The purpose of this piece, the reason why I’m writing, is to try to be helpful for people who are writing their first book review, and they did not like the book they are reviewing!
I will present a case study, contrasting two reviews of the same book. For the case study, I will use a book I wrote, “Connectivism & Connected Knowledge: A Personal Journey” (Click here to see the book on Amazon).
First, I will share the book description with you:
Publication Date: March 9, 2012
Connectivism & Connected Knowledge tells the story of my journey from isolation to becoming globally connected to sources of knowledge. It is a journey that begins with a proposition: self-improvement that also benefits others. I go back in time to share this journey with you, certain that it will also benefit you personally, and the members of your personal and professional learning network also.
Connectivism has been called a theory of learning for a digital age. After you read this book, you will have knowledge of how connectivism can benefit you, both personally and professionally…
OK. That’s it. So let’s evaluate it, objectively. What have I promised the reader? In other words, if you are going to read this book, what do I the author, claim will be your benefit? What’s in it for you, the reader?
1. I share the story of my personal journey with you. I invite the reader to read a true story, about something that really happened, (like watching the news on T.V.) – it’s real life.
No matter how the story makes you feel (agree, disagree, positive, negative, happy, sad, etc.), it’s always going to be based in reality. That’s the way non-fiction works. We can’t wish for a different reality, to do so would be delusional at worst, an escape from reality, at best.
Therefore, again, I give the reader of this book an opportunity to come “up close and personal”, get almost, “inside of my head”, to experience the story as I experienced it.
2. I state quite clearly that I believe the book will benefit the reader, personally, and professionally. I state that by reading the book, you will have the necessary knowledge about connectivism to obtain the benefit.
In essence, I am saying, “knowledge is power“. When you apply the knowledge, you will gain the benefit. This is the implied message, because knowledge, that remains inside of our heads, without being practically applied, is useless.
Obviously, I did not believe it was necessary to tell the reader to apply the knowledge.
It would have been an insult to the reader’s intelligence to tell you that thoughts and ideas, knowledge, must be used actively to achieve your goals.
Next, let’s look at two (2) actual reader reviews, found on Amazon, here. One review is 4 stars **** , and the other is 1 star * .
To be absolutely clear, 4 stars means you liked the book, it was better than most, but not the best.
On the other hand, a 1 star review means the book is horrible, and you want to help other people save their money by not wasting it on this book.
Fair enough. We now can move on to take a look at the two book reviews. After the reviews, we will use deductive reasoning to provide some tips for “How to Review a Book you Don’t Like: Tips For First-Time Book Reviewers”, which is the purpose we set out to accomplish.
Best Review :
4.0 out of 5 stars
January 22, 2013
By L. Goodnight
Format:Kindle Edition|Amazon Verified Purchase
While not directly “from the source” of Connectivism, this is an excellent introduction to the growing phenomenon of social learning through networking, MOOC’s, social media, and more.
– – –
1.0 out of 5 stars
A personal experience about connectivism
July 8, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Amazon Verified Purchase
I read the book because I have searched in many places references about connectivism, but this is just one person experience in a mooc about connectivism, to be fair that is the title of the book, it did not add anything to what I already knew.
Well if you are interested in getting to know connectivism, a better source would be the original paper by George Siemens “Connectivism:A Learning Theory for the Digital Age” you can find it on the web.
You will get more information in less pages than you can get from the book, than more often than not redirects you to a video for all those kindle readers.
I have also read critics about connectivism like “Connectivism: Learning theory of the future or vestige of the past?” by Rita Kop and Adrian Hill, really interesting material.
Those two papers would give you a better understanding of what is connectivism (if anyone knows of course).
If you do not know what is a MOOC just search for one on the web and if you would like to try go ahead and sign for one, most of them are free today.
Also in my opinion I do not know if connectivism is really useful or if another point of view is needed to understand learning today.
Hope this information help you…
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Evaluation of Reviews
Now, it’s time to evaluate the two reviews and then deduce some helpful tips for people who are reviewing a book for the first time, and they did not like the book they are reviewing.
Firstly, the review from L. Goodnight shows consistency with the writing style I used, which is first person, experiential, reality-based writing. Goodnight identifies the book as an introduction to the topic, but that there are more authoritative sources than I on the topic of connectivism.
The 4 star rating is entirely consistent with the observations s/he shares with other potential readers.
In other words, after reading the book, she indicates that it would be a useful introduction to a growing phenomenon.
Secondly, let’s turn now to Norbert’s 1 star review of the book. Norbert states, and I quote him directly:
Norbert: “…this is just one person experience in a mooc about connectivism, to be fair that is the title of the book, it did not add anything to what I already knew.” (End of quote)
I will address only two points that Norbert makes.
One, he is not pleased that the book did not add anything to what he already knew about the topic of connectivism. For some reason, he did not take into account the observation by Goodnight, informing potential readers that s/he had found the book to be an introduction to connectivism…
Norbert also did not take into account his own (extensive / advanced / comprehensive) knowledge about connectivism. Again, the observation by Goodnight is instructive, and I quote Goodnight here: “While not directly “from the source” of Connectivism, this is an excellent introduction…”
To finish this first point, it must be asked: Why did Norbert disregard the information in Goodnight’s review, only to arrive at the same conclusions that Goodnight arrived at?
Let’s be clear about the use of language at this point. Consider this:
When Goodnight says the book is an excellent introduction, and Norbert says it did not add anything new to what he already knew, they have both said the same thing, using different words.
The meaning of both statements is the same.
It’s like one person saying they went outside and it is a beautiful day, but they have seen better days. The other person disregards that statement, goes outside, comes back, and says, “I have seen better days,” or maybe something like this:
“This day does not add anything new to my knowledge of beautiful days. If you want to see a really beautiful day, go to Paris in the spring time, or to Spain in the summer.”
Let’s move on to Point 2
Norbert is unhappy that the book is about my experience, even though he concedes that the title of the book specifically informs him that the book is going to be about my experience.
In other words, he feels cheated that I delivered exactly what I promised, namely, a book about my experience. I hate to think what Norbert would have written in his review if I had actually lied to him, and written about someone else’s experience.
I rest my case on these two rebuttal points, though Norbert has committed other mistakes in his review. I do not want to make this exercise into an act of absurdity, to go on ad infinitum, and ridiculise Norbert.
No, that’s not my intention, and I beg forgiveness, in advance, if the two points I used seemed a bit harsh, cruel, or severe.
I wanted to make the case that a first time reviewer, reviewing a book that they did not like, must be aware of some fundamental principles. That’s fair enough, right?
Tips For First Time Reviewers, Reviewing Books They Did Not Like
1. Ask for a refund. Ask Amazon to give you your money back. In this way, you have lost nothing.
2. Read the reviews other people have written. The reviews other people write are there to help you make a decision about whether to buy the book or not.
3. Do not disregard factual information. Facts are objective, reality based, justified by evidence. Opinions, when people use words like fantastic, wonderful, excellent, can be ignored.
Dear Reviewer: Did you notice that Goodnight used the word “excellent”, but only gave 4 stars, not 5 stars? Most people, when using the word excellent, would automatically give 5 stars, because what is more excellent than excellent?
4. Wait! Don’t do it! This is your first time, this moment is your first time ever writing a review. It’s like having sex, the first time is a cherished, permanent, unforgettable memory. It lasts a lifetime, it’s forever.
Dear Reviewer: Don’t waste your passion on someone who will not appreciate your talents! You are forming a relationship, with a book and an author, that will follow you around forever. Every time someone mentions the author or the book, they will mention your name.
It’s just like having sex. Every time someone mentions your ex-partner, they always mention your name. Really. It goes like this:
Speaker A: “Hey, did you read that book about Connectivism?
Speaker B: “Yes, Norbert says the book …
See what I mean? Also, there’s Google Search. After a while, people will forget who you are, and what you said about the book. Except Google Search never forgets. You will always be connected to that book. Long after you have forgotten the book, you will remain connected to that book, as an extension of the book, in a Romeo and Juliet, “star-crossed lovers” type relationship.
5. Wait 24 hours. Give yourself 24 hours to calm down.
If what you are going to write is going to last forever, then you owe it to yourself to make sure your words are tempered by reason and logic, rather than emotion.
6. Write a rough draft. Share it with someone and ask for a critique. Does your words have the intended effect you hoped for? If not, revise. Rewrite until you are absolutely satisfied that your meaning is clearly represented by the words on the paper.
7. Do not use profanity, do not curse, no foul language. You do not want your message to be disregarded due to using unacceptable language. Be a gentleman / lady and keep your words clean.
8. Be objective. Be fair. Consider the possibility that for whatever reason(s) you did not like the book, someone else might still enjoy the book. Don’t be a killjoy, admit the merits of the book to others who might have different literary tastes, needs, likes than you do.
9. Make a recommendation One way or another, recommend the book. Tell potential readers to buy the book, like this: “I recommend you buy this book”. If you do not recommend the book, then tell potential readers not to buy the book, like this: “I recommend that you don’t buy this book.” or “I do not recommend this book. Save your money. Don’t waste it on this book.”
10. Finally, here’s a novel idea: Contact the writer of the book. All writers have email addresses, and social media platforms to promote their books. Authors are always seeking feedback from the readers of their books.
That’s how writers get better, by getting genuine information about how great they are (keep up the good work) or how bad they are (you suck).
Contact the author, on Facebook, on Twitter, on LinkedIn (I assure you that most authors personal contact information will not be hard to find) and share your concerns.
Let them know what your reasons are for not liking the book, and how you would like to see them improve their work. Nowadays, the authors are capable of making corrections, additions, deletions, changing covers, even titles of books, and have the updated book available in 24 hours, sometimes even faster.
Ask for what you would like, and most authors will try to please you, because without you, what do we have? A one-sided relationship.
Oh, I almost forgot. One last thing. It’s a quote from Stephen King, one that I believe all authors pretty much agree with. It answers to the question of why we write:
Stephen King: “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”
Thomas Jerome Baker: Readers and writers are always connected. The writing isn’t really done until the reading is done. When the reading and the writing experience are done well, everyone’s life is enriched beyond measure…
*** If you have bought a copy of this book, please take the time to write an honest review of this book. I thank you in advance…