There’s so much chatter in Blogland about which is more helpful: a positive or negative review.

I wondered whether this was one of those questions that I might answer differently on any given day. Like “Favourite Author” or “Favourite Book”.

Such a response is so mood-dependent. Ask me today — it’s grey, it’s cool, and the rain is falling so hard that it’s bouncing when it hits the pavement — and I’m thinking that my favourite is Barbara Pym. Ask me tomorrow — the forecast is humid and hot — and I might say Kelley Armstrong (whose Women of the Otherworld series never fails to entertain and distract). Ask me later in the week — when the humidity has passed and I can enjoy a porchsit once more — and I might say Margaret Atwood.

That’s a bookish question whose answer varies, depending on many changeable factors. But I enjoy answering it…well, maybe answering it makes me a little anxious at the time, but I do enjoy charting the unpredictability of my responses.

But which is more helpful, a positive or negative review? I’m not sure that’s the same kind of question.

Actually, I’m not entirely sure that’s a question that fits my way of reading, my way of bookchatting. I don’t think that I find either negative reviews or positive reviews consistently helpful.

Am I just impossible to please? No, I think I need to I ask a different question altogether: but what is that question?

I find a reader’s response to a book most useful when they’ve framed it in the context of their own reading preferences. In that context, it doesn’t matter to me whether a reader is making a positive or negative comment. The way they express their response, and the connections they draw  — not the specific content of what they’re saying: that’s what matters to me.

Rather than read that someone has declared a book “too slow”, I appreciate a concrete example (e.g. “My attention flagged at the long descriptions of the narrator’s buttering of his toast at breakfast in the mornings.”) and/or comparison (e.g. “I prefer the way Dan Brown writes about breakfasts, by skipping straight to talk of lunch.”)

If someone is choking on prose, I want to know what exactly it is that’s making it so hard to swallow, but I also want to know what a reader hoped to see on the menu to start with.

Then I can choose (i.e. based on my personal love/abhorrence of toast and other breakfast-y things) whether I might like a plateful of the same dish myself. Or I can file something useful away to make a meal recommendation for someone else with different taste.

Then I find a reader’s responses — no matter whether their reaction to a book was positive or negative — valuable.

But what, then, is the question to ask that suits my sort of bookishness: how do you like your toast?

Do you ever find that questions that preoccupy other readers don’t seem to fit with your brand of bookishness?
Is there one bookish question that makes your blook-pressure rise everytime it’s asked?