Managed Expectations

I read a couple of book reviews today that were less than enthusiastic because the books under review didn’t meet the reviewers expectations. I can empathize since I’ve been guilty of this in the past. But I’ve learned over the years that it’s not fair to review a book based on what we thought it was going to be or what we think it should be; rather we should review books based on the author’s intended aims. Did the author accomplish what (s)he set out to do? Sure, we might have expected them to do something different, but it’s not like they wrote with our expectations in mind. We might wish that they had written another book, but they wrote the one we’re reading, so how did they do with that one? If reviewers keep this in mind then it will be a benefit to them and those reading the reviews alike.



2 thoughts on “Managed Expectations

  1. Nick,

    This is a great point, and one I have to constantly remind myself as a reviewer. There is no doubt are elements of “taste” and personal benefit that go into reviews, and, to some extent, I want that to come out. I like knowing if a reviewer found a book enjoyable. But I agree completely that that isn’t a reason to critique a book, particularly one that sets out to make an argument. Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book really helped me think through that critically (with regard to both fiction and non-fiction). Interestingly, Tony Reinke’s LIt!, which I otherwise loved, was weak at this particular point, but, as you can see in my brief exchange with him (, it was by his design. But I think clarity in the reviewer’s mind and in the reviewer’s writing about these considerations is important.

  2. James: There’s a famous food critic named Ruth Reichl who said much the same as you have in a documentary I saw some years back. She said that when she reviews a restaurant she can’t judge a particular dish based on her personal preferences. E.g., she might not like lobster, but that doesn’t mean the lobster dish she is served isn’t an expertly prepared plate of food. I wish I would have taken her comments to heart when I saw the documentary. It would have saved me some grief down the line with a few reviews I’ve written!

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