How reviews influence my choice of books

Once upon a time it seemed as though I had hours and hours a day in which to read. I devoured books at an impressive rate. Although I’m not a particularly fast reader, I made up for it in sheer number of hours devoted to the cause.

But that was before I started writing in the evenings, watched less TV, and there was no such thing as social media, let alone a blog.

So. Since these other things do now exist, my reading time has been slashed to negligible… unless I suddenly find myself consumed by a book to the exclusion of most other things for a few days or so.

This all means choosing what to read carries rather more weight than once it did. Particularly as there is now so much more choice.

Back in the ‘olden days’ I obtained most of my reading material from the bookshop. It was my one vice as a poor university student: I never begrudged myself spending money on novels. I judged them mainly from reading the blurb on the back of the book and to a lesser extent the cover. Plus I always flicked to random sections in the text to gain an idea of the writing style.

Short of reading reviews in the paper, that was pretty much the only option available. That and word of mouth, of course. And it was hit and miss.

The internet has changed the scene considerably. Now we can google any book we like and find a hundred reviews on various bookshop sites, newspaper portals and book blogs. These days, everyone has an opinion and is willing to share it. This behaviour is even encouraged!

Moreover, we now hear about books we might never otherwise have heard of, via Amazon recommendation algorithms and social media shares. No more the somewhat limited shelves of the local bookshop. Now the options are virtually unlimited.

So how does one choose? Aside from those books that generate buzz — such as award finalists and winners, or blatant bestsellers — it can be difficult. Invariably I tend to investigate books based on recommendations I come across in the interwebs and blogosphere. Then of course there are all the books written by my writer friends, who I try to support.

Since I’m buying a lot on Kindle, I do tend to read a few of the Amazon reviews to get a general indication of whether it sounds to be my kind of book, but it’s very difficult to gauge quality. Mind you, I’m a fairly forgiving reader if the story is gripping enough. But I don’t think I set a huge store on the number of stars, because there is so much disparity of opinion and taste. Not to mention understanding of how the star-rating system works…

The inspiration for this post was the fourth of my eleven questions: Do reviews influence your choice of reads? My bottom line answer would be yes, but not for the obvious reason. The simple fact that reviews are so prevalent means that they’re bringing books to my attention and influencing my choice by providing more information about books than I would otherwise have.

Reviews have largely replaced the bookshop shelves as the source of my information — because let’s face the very sad fact that most of the bookshops seem to be closing down. And it can still be hit and miss.

For the record: I am currently reading Dragon Haven, by Robin Hobb. I was given the audiobook of this and its predecessor, Dragon Keeper, but soon downloaded both onto my Kindle so I can read and listen in tandem. It’s kind of like playing tag. Thus, in this case, reviews had zero impact on my choice, although I have read some to see what other people thought of the books. I may even feel compelled to ‘review’ them myself here when I’m done. 😉

What about you? How do you choose books? What are you reading right now and how did you choose it?

10 comments

  1. I don’t really trust reviews, especially on Amazon, so I actually do a lot of selection based on what people I know who have similar interests read. I also tend to come across books/authors I find interesting through my networking on twitter and blogs. My current read, The Night Circus, I picked up through perusing the 2011 Goodreads Choice awards. 🙂

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    1. I think it’s wise not to be too trusting of Amazon reviews, tho sometimes I get swayed despite myself. I haven’t made it to Goodreads yet… One of these days I’ll bite the bullet!

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  2. I choose books based on 1) if they’re by one of a small set of ‘must read every book as soon as it comes out’ authors, 2) for research 3) friends’ books, 4) if they’re on my (120+ books) to-read bookcase, 5) if someone whose opinion I trust recommends them. Of the last category, it could be (in order of influence) Paul, a close friend, my agent, my publisher, another author or an acquaintance with similar taste, bookstore staff…

    Hmm. I’m seeing by writing this that I really don’t pay that much attention to online reviews.

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    1. Hahaha, yes it often works much like that for me too. I have a literal stack of books in my tbr pile, several of them belonging to other people. When I deviate it’s usually for some lighter options.

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  3. I tend not to look at the reviews because more often they’ll talk me out of a book than convince me to read it. If the blurb looks interesting and the cover is pretty, that’s usually good enough. Bonus points if vampires are involved.
    😉

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    1. Sometimes that’s not necessarily a bad thing… But it’s true tastes differ, which is why I try not to pay too much heed to them, other than to gain a general impression.

      I haven’t read a lot of vampire fiction… Which are the best ones?

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      1. Ooh, there are so many. You could start with a classic like Barbra Hambly’s Those Who Hunt The Night or Ann Rice’s Interview with a Vampire. For more contemporary books, I LOVE the Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris. The first book in that series is called Dead Until Dark. I also like Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake books. There are at least 20 of them, and I can’t remember the first one off the top of my head. There are vampires in the Harry Dresden books by Jim Butcher – Harry’s brother Thomas is one of my faves. Oh my gosh, the list could go on and on… 😉

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  4. I never read reviews of books. I buy them based on the blurb on the cover – and if I like the sound of the title along with the cover illustration. My latest read is The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht. This has won a major award but did not influence me on whether to buy or not.

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