Latest News

When Book Reviews Get Personal

(alice image ~ public domain)
One thing book reviewers and authors – as well as Goodreads itself – seem to agree on: too-personal reviews aren't okay. The most accepted definition of too-personal seems to be slamming an author's appearance, race, sexuality, or other factors they can't control -- and that have nothing to do with his/her book.

But what about factors the author can control – like religion, political leanings, and friendships? Are those fair game? What about where the author lives, grew up, or went to school, or what they do for a day job? Extracurricular activities? Taste in music, other books, desserts?

Or should readers evaluate a book in a vacuum? Should it be judged solely by the contents between its covers – not how and where and why it came into existence, and by whom?

In one sense, certainly. A book should be able to stand on its own, out of the context of its creation. However, elements like an author's background and beliefs absolutely impact what an he/she writes. So shouldn't they be fair game in the thoughtful discussion of his/her books?

(Emphasis thoughtful.)

It's interesting to think about, at any rate. Either way, there's one thing to keep in mind. What the majority of authors reveal online is just one facet of themselves; a persona composed of carefully selected life-slices. Some authors share quite a bit, while others share very little. But in every single case, there's a whole lot more behind the curtain.

Where's the line between not personal, personal and too personal in book reviews?
Kirsten Hubbard

Kirsten is the author of Like Mandarin, Wanderlove, and the middle grade novel Watch the Sky.

Posts by Kirsten

website twitter instagram goodreads tumblr

  • Blogger Comments
  • Facebook Comments


  1. I think it's a very fine line to tread. I won't personally insult an author -- I won't call her stupid, or crazy, or dumb, or ugly. But if a book seems.. lazy? If it's written lazily, I'll point that out.

    1. I agree. I used the word lazy is=n a recent review on my blog. This is especially true when you've read other things by that author and know they can do better.

  2. I would say that even if an author expresses or upholds a certain personal belief or background that feels controversial to you, and has written about this in the novel, then you can only criticize it in the novel's context.

  3. An author should never be in the picture. Never ever ever ever. The only time I've heard people say that the author's background/beliefs matter in the story is when they're evaluating whether the story is authentic or not. (The story is only authentically queer if the author is queer, the story is only authentically "black" if the author is black, etc.) And I completely disagree with that perspective. So hard. In cases like this, the novel needs to be in a vacuum.

  4. As a former English major, I have to say that an author's background can be integral to a discussion of his/her works. However, I think you nailed it when you said "thoughtful discussion." An author's background should not be used as a means to authenticate the work (like Kheryn mentioned) or to determine its intrinsic worth. I think the author's background comes into play when you are trying to determine why or how they wrote something the way that they did--when you are trying to provide a thoughtful critique. Not when you are trying to blindly bash an author for reasons completely removed from the story itself.

  5. I think sometimes the author's background becomes incredibly important. Take Orson Scott Card: his books often have a very clear, intentional message of inclusion, of tolerance, of reaching across differences to find common bonds. Yet he goes off on incredibly vitriolic homophobic diatribes in pretty much any public venue he can. I don't particularly like his politics (therefore do not BUY his books), but he keeps them out of his books, so I keep them out of my reviews. However, if he were putting them in his books, that would be an entirely different matter. Sometimes, the politics, religion, or experience of an author clarifies something in one of their books that can be interpreted multiple different ways.

    1. When I read this article, my first thought was actually how whenever OSC's books come up, he's harassed for his beliefs. I find this odd, because he includes homosexual characters as good guys (at least he did in the Homecoming series, but I haven't read anywhere near all his books). The "I don't agree with you, but I'm still going to treat you like people in my books" I find admirable. Yet he's attacked viciously everytime an article comes up about the Ender's Game movie...often by people who have apparently never read his books.

  6. Personally, if it's not relevant to the book, I don't think it needs to be mentioned in the review. Sometimes authors use their characters as mouthpieces for their own personal opinions and I think in that case, it may be fair game to call them on it because an author and their team shouldn't be using their book to secretly hide their opinions about things. My thoughts in general is that if it didn't make it into the novel, then it most likely shouldn't belong in the reviews either.

  7. I think as long as the author's background is not overtly evident in the book, then it's not relevant in reviewing the book, good or bad. I just finished DIVERGENT by YAH's own Veronica Roth. I enjoyed it and was impressed with it (two different things. I enjoyed TWILIGHT too, but was not all that impressed with it). Anyway, I was surprised when I turned to the acknowledgements, that ROTH thanks God and Jesus first and foremost, clearly putting her faith in a prominent lead as a supporter and inspiration for her work. I'm an atheist, so this jarred me a bit. Then I was a little ashamed about being surprised. DIVERGENT does not seem like a 'Christian' book, Christians don't have to write 'christian' books do they? If I had found the book to be preachy and moralistic, then I might have connected that to Roth's faith, but as it was, the morality of DIVERGENT was natural and fitting to the world she had built.

  8. I bring in the personal in critical analysis, but try to leave it out of book reviews. Unless the book is something semi-autobiographical like DEAD END IN NORVELT.

  9. I don't use personal information about the author in my reviews often, but I just did in my review of The Miseducation of Cameron Post. The story is set in the same little town where the author grew up, and I pointed out how I loved the authenticity it gave the setting - I really felt like I was there!

    I don't think I would ever use something personal like that as a negative point in a review though. It's hard enough for me to write negative reviews about a book alone, but making it personal would just feel mean to me.

  10. I think book reviews should not exist in a vacuum and we can't help but to consider the author in a review. I know I often times take in consideration if an author is a Debut Author, along with a few other factors but I don't let it cloud my reviews.

    With the way technology lets us connect with authors how can we not ? Either way it should pertain some what to the book, don't just insult the author just because.

    Not liking the book doesn't mean you don't like the author, vice versa.

  11. I think it's a great idea to consider an author's background, race, sexuality, anything when analyzing or discussing a book. Sure a book stands on it's own, but it's interesting to consider stories within this light.

    But I don't think a book review is the place for that. The point of a review is to tell other readers if a story is worth their time. The value of a story isn't dependent on these factors.

  12. The Golden Rule answers everything: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
    Personally, I do this with every part of my life. I don't say anything about anyone that I wouldn't say to their face.

  13. Literary analysis is very different than a "review." Reviewers should stick with the book. Unless it's a biography (especially an autobiography), authors don't apply. I just had a reviewer say some not so flattering things about my most recent novel, but she also wrote: "I feel [insert name] is writing herself into the book." The only thing that offended me about all of the "bad" stuff in the review was that comment...

    Every author puts themselves into their book. They have to do that on some level because to really write the character, they have to live and breathe the character. But to judge a book by the author is like judging an actor by the character s/he plays. It not only shows the reviewers ignorance, but it's offensive on many levels to the author (and the audience).


Comments are moderated on posts two weeks old or more -- please send us a tweet if yours needs approval!

Item Reviewed: When Book Reviews Get Personal Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kirsten Hubbard