Emotional Reactions in Reviews

My Friend Amy wrote a great piece the other day about the validity of emotional reactions to art, and the appropriateness of including this in reviews, which perhaps should be based on more objective factors, such as the quality of the writing and the originality of the piece. Here's an short excerpt to give you an idea, but click through for the whole piece:

'A couple of weeks ago, one of the TV journalists I follow on Twitter mentioned how they find it strange that people equate their emotional reaction to a film with the film's objective quality. I wish I had screen capped the tweet as I cannot remember who said it, but it forced me to start thinking about how we determine the worth of art.

I would say the reason we have professional critics is so that we have people who are supposed to evaluate a film, book, TV show, album, etc. based on what are considered to be the more objective qualities of a piece of work, to evaluate if they accomplish what they set forth to do, and if they take new risks. To do this, though, a professional critic must deny their emotional reaction to a piece of work and I wonder if that's entirely possible. The way we take in and perceive art will always be colored by our own understandings and limitations so while I do think professional critics strive to do this in a way the casual consumer of art does not, it is still just that...very limited.'

This got me thinking about the way I include my own emotional reactions in reviews, and whether this is the right thing to be doing in order to give the book or film a fair deal. Like anyone else, I have things I know are derivative nonsense that move me (some silly, weepy films  immediately spring to mind) and things that I know are 'great' or 'ground-breaking' but leave me entirely cold. When speaking about them on this platform, because I've always thought people want to hear what I think, I will gush about the ones that move me, and I will be cool about the ones that leave me cool, whilst adding caveats for objective factors like quality of writing and originality etc.

Up until now, I've never considered that a different approach might be a better, or fairer, one, or that this lack of emotional content might be the thing that make newspaper print reviews seem colder and more mercenary than review on blogs. Thinking about it, they do stick to the facts much more, sometimes just printed a glorified version of the blurb on the back of a book. 

I think I personally include so much emotional content in my book reviews for a number of reasons: the first one being that if people wanted a purely factual assessment, they might not wander into the world of book blogging in the first place, as this is a place of personalities with niche tastes, who will trumpet something that grabs them whilst ignoring whole areas of books that sell. I wasn't interested in being the only non-devisive blogger out there with vanilla tastes and zero credibility. Hostile marketing is definitely 'a thing'. Also, when I started out blogging, I was quite taken with the idea that your audience might want to get to know you as a person, so they can trust your reviews like they might a friend's, if they feel that yours and their tastes align. The easiest way to let someone get to know you as a person, online or off, is to give information about yourself away freely and be vulnerable to a degree, so this is what I've always tried to do, even though it was a struggle in the beginning. And I think it stands up - a number of bloggers whose posts I've liked have ended up becoming proper online friends across a number of platforms, and I was right in thinking that they might be like-minded individuals who share the same interests and taste choices as me. By getting to know their emotional reactions to things, we've built up a relationship of trust.

On the other hand though, taking this down to a purely personal level, I get fewer comments and shares on my book reviews than I generally do on my other posts - they don't seem to have the same shareable appeal, although they are the ones that Google tends to cling to. StumbleUpon is rarely interested in review posts, but brings me the most traffic of any platform for my more general writing-themed and miscellaneous posts. Thinking about this further, one of the biggest (if not the biggest) book blogs in the UK is a site called 'Reading Matters', and I indeed have an email subscription in place so I receive a notification of every post. She gets a tonne of traffic and comments, but her reviews are mainly factual, sometimes giving away the entire plot of a book. I like reading it as it means I have a general idea of the landscape of contemporary fiction, as I don't read a huge amount of it, but do like to know what's going on. Because of my attitude towards them, it is very clear to me how share-able her posts might be - if you want to know a book, you can read a post of hers and never need to read the book at all. Obviously, that's useful to more people than just me. Rarely do I buy any of the books she talks about though, which is not true of other chattier sites, which often lead me to click through, but there aren't many of these, I suppose, as before I trust a reviewer, I have to be able to see them as a potential friend.

So, maybe that's my conclusion: emotional reactions are totally appropriate on blogs, as we go there to form a relationship, rather than just get information, whereas the TV journalist mentioned in the original quote from My Friend Amy is right in that reviewers on a platform that is not their own, such as an online mag or in a newspaper, should be more objective in order to give the art/book the fairest shout. A guess it's the classic dichotomy of niche over mainstream: emotional reviewing makes you Apple, objective reviewing makes you Microsoft. Again, it's a case of choosing you want to aim yourself towards and what you want your audience to be.

Do you think this a reasonable conclusion to come to? What do you think?

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