Do Online Reviews Take The Fun Out Of Book Buying?

01_MG_4794_MichaelONealPhotographed by Michael O'Neal.
You've probably noticed by now that, in addition to being adorable, Zooey Deschanel is also really, really funny. So, it only makes sense that when she founded HelloGiggles, she enlisted the help of Sophia Rossi and Molly McAleer to create a hub for hilarity. Trust, the musings of HG — including this one from Grace Cox — will have you laughing out loud.
Recently I went into a bookshop and bought a book that I liked the look of — a bit radical, I know. I didn’t do my usual trawl through the internet, searching for books that might appeal to me. I didn’t stand in a corner of the shop and sneakily check online to see that other people had enjoyed this book before I parted with my money. I just did that old fashioned thing of judging a book by its cover (although shouldn’t the saying really be “Don’t judge a book by its spine,” as that’s what we’re normally looking at in the shop?), reading the back cover to check that it was something I was vaguely interested in and then buying it.
The book was Penelope by Rebecca Harrington and I loved it. I had that lovely feeling of knowing that I’d found an author whose future books I would buy as soon as they came out. After I finished the book I hopped onto Twitter to follow Harrington and then sashayed over to Amazon to see the reviews, I was convinced that other people would love the book as much as I had, that I’d be greeted by enthusiastic praise. Turns out I know diddly-squat, as it had more one star reviews than five star reviews. And, honestly, if I’d have seen that before I bought the book then I would’ve put Penelope right back on the shelf.
Online book shopping can be great. The online world can introduce us to books that we would’ve otherwise overlooked, we can discover great new authors and be recommended books that we might like based on what we do like. But, it does take the chance out of book shopping a little bit. How many of us skip over the books that get an average customer review of three stars or under because we think that there are better books out there? Because yes, we could be that one person that thinks that it’s worthy of five-star status. But, chances are we’ll probably be one of those people in the one-star category, so we really should pick something safer instead?
02_Carisa_71_Melodie-Jeng_MollyCrannaPhotographed by Molly Cranna.
You also have to add into the equation the fact that you can’t trust all the reviews on ratings based websites. The majority of reviews are most likely from legitimate people who just want to voice their opinion. But, ever so occasionally, a scandal breaks revealing an author who has trashed other peoples’ books under a pseudonym and left glowing reviews of their own books and you’re reminded that anyone can write almost anything they want on the internet. People (well, trolls) can even write damning reviews of books they’ve never set their eyes upon just for the “fun” of it. And, if a book has such a poor average rating then people, like me, will often overlook the book entirely rather than reading the good reviews and giving it a chance.
And, surely this has to harm a book’s chances of success. 20 years ago publishers and authors feared bad reviews from newspaper and magazine critics, but, odds were the average person in the bookstore looking for something to read hadn’t seen them. Now, we can look up anything we want, whenever we want. Money’s tight for a lot of people and so if you’re buying a book you want to give yourself a good shot of purchasing something that you’ll actually read to the end and hopefully will like so much you’ll re read it in the future. So, we look things up online to get an idea and the popular books become even bigger bestsellers and the less popular books get dragged down to the bottom and sometimes forgotten about even though there’s surely an audience out there for them.
I guess there’s a happy balance between scouting books out on the internet and letting ourselves be drawn to a book in a bookshop for no other reason than liking the look of it. Yes, we might end up with a dud or two, but we could also stumble across things that are really quite spectacular and shouldn’t book shopping sometimes be about chance? About reading something and letting the words of the story do all the talking?
How do you guys choose books? Do you rely heavily on online reviews? Have you found any hidden gems without the help of the internet?

More from Living

Leaving your pet in the care of someone else is always a nerve-wracking situation, but if you leave them with Chase Stout, rest assured they're in safe ...
Do NOT come between the internet and its love for fall-inspired pumpkin treats, or everyone will go nuts. Grub Street reports that after some ...
Until 11:59 ET tonight, you can get some insanely cheap deals on JetBlue flights. The airline is holding its fall flash sale, which means you can fly ...
This no-bake confetti fudge takes minutes to put together and will satisfy any sweet tooth
In addition to your typical candy staples, you may want to stock up on the newest flavor of Doritos this Halloween. During the month of October in Japan...
Big-batch punches are sophisticated, fun, and most importantly, easy for group gatherings (especially when spiked with your favorite alcohol). There also ...
Pokémon Go was this year's biggest app sensation. Within 24 hours of its launch, the game became a mega hit and has since seen users walking billions of ...
(Paid Content) Your next weekend away has to be in Toronto. Period
So, you've graduated from college, updated your LinkedIn, and have been hitting up your network like crazy. You had an amazing first interview, you ...
For the second time this month, earthlings of the Western Hemisphere will experience a special event involving our moon. Earlier this month, we got our ...
If you want to look up information about your favorite celebrities, your first instinct is probably to google them. But depending on who you're curious ...
If you've been waiting patiently for almond milk to arrive at your local Starbucks, the dairy alternative is finally here. Beginning tomorrow, September ...
To some, the term “elope” still conjures images of hasty lovers stumbling into clandestine chapels, or frugal pairs looking to save a few pennies on the ...
If the new phrase for the office BFF is the "work wife," then is a good boss or mentor your "work mom" or "work dad"? Part authority figure, part dispenser...