Whose Reviews Do You Use?

Alison Morris - April 24, 2008

A confession: I rarely read reviews of books I haven’t already read myself. Kirkus recently gave Gareth’s new Merchant of Venice graphic novel a glowing, starred review and the celebration of that news at our house got us talking with other book world friends about various review sources and the question of who reads them and how much it influences their purchasing.

As you know if you read my post about peeking, I don’t like to have key details of a book given away to me in advance. On a more practical note, though, as a buyer I have the incredible luxury of being able to see most books and buy them based solely on my own opinions of them, at least in the case of picture books. In the case of novels, reviews could theoretically be influential to my frontlist buying, but the timing of them generally makes that help impossible. Usually when I’m meeting with my sales reps I’m buying books that haven’t been critically reviewed as yet, so I’m left relying on the advice of my rep, my knowledge of an author’s prior books, and (first and foremost) my gut instinct.

Sometimes I will skip a book in my frontlist ordering only to read rave reviews of it later and then decide to order it for our store. But generally the books that get the most review attention are the books I was most likely to have bought in my initial frontlist round. So, again, reviews don’t influence my buying much.

If our customers read reviews with any regularity I’d obviously have to pay closer attention, but by and large the few who do are librarians who often do much of their ordering directly from Baker and Taylor or Follett — distributors who can do the processing/cataloguing for them that, sadly, isn’t a service our store can offer. It’s really only a handful of our customers who come in the door looking for titles reviewed in the New York Times Book Review, let alone PW or The Horn Book or Kirkus or Booklist or SLJ or Kliatt, which shares its own home base with our store, in Wellesley.

For me, too, the review sources I find to be the most reliable are PEOPLE I know personally. At our New England Independent Children’s Booksellers Advisory Council meetings it’s always the "title sharing" portion of the day that I find the most useful. It’s particularly helpful for me to hear reviews from booksellers whose tastes tend be similar to mine, because I know that if if they liked a book, odds are I’ll enjoy it too. Or if a book sells well in so-and-so’s store, it’s likely to sell well in ours. With critical reviews, unless I know who’s reviewing a book and am familiar with their likes and dislikes, I have no sense of whether or not I’m likely to agree with them, so it’s hard to know how much stock to put in their reviews.

But… that’s just me. What about YOU? Do you regularly read reviews and if so to what extent do they influence your purchasing (either for yourself or your library or your bookstore or… fill in the blank)? Do you pay attention to the names of reviewers so that you have some idea of their general preferences or does that not matter to you? What’s your favorite source these days for book reviews and why?

8 thoughts on “Whose Reviews Do You Use?

  1. kidlitjunkie

    I read the reviews in PW religiously, and then keep a list of all the ones that look like they might be my speed, and hit up the library for them as soon as they’re in.

  2. Sondy

    I love Horn Book Magazine. I’m a children’s librarian in a branch where the admin department does most of the ordering. Since Horn Book only reviews the books they thought best, I often find books described that I simply must read.

  3. Sarah

    I’m a librarian, so I do read all (and I mean _all_) of the journals in order to order books for the library (and yes–I order from BTOL), but honestly, even if I wasn’t a librarian, I’d find some way of the reading all those reviews just so I’d know about good new books–both children’s and adult–to read. (I can’t afford to buy books to read, so browsing in a bookstore would, unfortunately, not work for me).

  4. David Gutowski

    I am lucky, as a music and literary blogger I am constantly in contact with authors whose writing I respect, and find their book recommendations among the most useful. For reviews, I scan my RSS feeds daily for news from litblogs and the major newspapers.

  5. Sam

    I skim through the reviews in SLJ or BookLinks, but there are so many that I get overwhelmed. Mostly I read the reviews of my fellow bloggers, or I check Amazon reviews to see what kids themselves think of a YA book.

  6. Becky at Farm School

    I’m a home educating mother, and we live in rural western Canada. I read a lot of reviews, especially of children’s books, from The NY Times (I’m originally from Manhattan), the Washington Post, SLJ, PW, the Canadian “Globe & Mail”, and the UK papers. But some of the most valuable reviews I read are from other blogging home educators, blogging children’s librarians, and others in the “kidlitosphere”. Our library system isn’t very quick to get in new titles, and many of the “more American” history titles don’t make it to the libraries here at all. I do buy a fair amount of books, generally online because the nearest book store (independent or otherwise) is a five-hour round trip away, and I need to make sure that the kids and I will be satisfied and delighted with my choices. I also check through the publishers’ catalogues and keep an eye on new and forthcoming titles that look promising. I realize this is probably more research than most parents, even other home schoolers, do… Becky (farmschool dot wordpress dot com)

  7. Carter Hasegawa

    I’ll read the professional reviews occasionally, but I usually shy away from them b/c they reveal too much of the plot. Honestly, my book purchasing lately has been influenced mostly by reviews from my favorite bloggers and from my Goodreads friends.

  8. Kat Brokaw

    Honestly, I read all the reviews, hints, suggestions I can to find what I’m in the mood for–but I take it with a grain of salt. I check out Amazon, PW, NYT, publisher sites, you name it. A good review doesn’t mean I’ll like the book, and I know it; but it does at least get me into the ball park. And, honestly, I can learn as much with a bad book as I can with a good book.


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