A word about book reviews

Last week, two of our books recieved generous reviews in papers across the continent.

Nigerian writer Mike Ekunno reviewed "A life in Full," a collection of short stories by the writers who were shortlisted for the 2010 Caine Prize, and those who participated n the Caine Prize’s Writers’ Workshop that year, in last Sunday's NEXT newspaper.

In South Africa, Eva Hunter, a researcher at the University of the Western Cape, reviewed "The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives," by Lola Shoneyin.

This got us thinking about the nature of book reviews themselves. Like movie reviews they are subjective, reflecting one reader's opinion of a work. In the media, it is usually a very well-read reader, with a strong background in the literary arts, but it is still one opinion.

Many commercial sites such as Amazon.com and book review sites like Goodreads.com rely on an aggregate of users opinions to rate their books. While this has generated its own questions about accuracy, we wanted to ask you the reader: Are book reviews helpful when you want to choose your next read? Does it matter if they come from one very qualified expert or many ordinaray readers?


  • Expert reviews influence my decision one in a while, but not necessarily in the direction the expert may wish. If the expert discusses the book in a way that tells me she likes the same things I do when reading, then I’m more likely to follow her recommendation (to read or not to read). But I am more familiar with movie critics than book critics. So its rare for me to seek out an expert review before reading a book – though I do it all the time for movies. I don’t know if this counts, but some books have short recommendations on the title and back pages by other writers. If a writer I really admire praises a book, then I am likely to skim through it or check it out further – by going to Amazon.com.

    I use Amazon every time I hear of a new author and want to find out more. I always look at the best and worst reviews and from that I can usually tell if I would like a book or not. If 20 people rate a book 4 or 5 stars and 1 person gives it 1 star, I’m curious to know why. The lower ratings tell me what could potentially be annoying about the book, and if what the reviewers hate sound like the sort of things I would hate in the book, the reviewers help me avoid the annoyance of reading it. It’s not always that way though – with african writers, Amazon reviews tend to be less strident and they are fewer. The synopsis gives me more information.

    But all this only makes me start to read the book. I refuse to finish a book I dislike. If by the second or third chapter my eyelid is twitching, the book goes back to the library. Such was the case with “secret lives of baba segi’s wives.”

    Posted by O.B. on February 16, 2011
  • I always take reviews with a pinch of salt, and would prefer one from someone with similar tastes, than from an ‘expert’.

    Posted by myne Whitman on February 17, 2011
  • I would take a review serious if I share similar book taste with the reviewer. Besides, there are times that reviewers show exactly what they liked and did not like about a book. That helps a lot. I can depend on the ‘ordinary’ book reviewer. Sometimes those with the professional training see things that others might not and since I am not a professional reader I don’t rely too much on what they would say. There are books that professional reviewers love but which in the large reading public is rated far less.

    Posted by Nana Fredua-Agyeman on February 16, 2011

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