Book reviewers often talk about bias in some way. Lots of reviewers put disclosure clauses in their reviews that say, for instance, that their reviews aren’t influenced by the fact that the publisher sent them a book. Others like to talk just state that “this is an unbiased review. But is it really possible to go into a book with no biases, and therefore write an unbiased review?
Things that influence us before we read a book:
This is the most basic thing that influences a reader before they read a book. The entire goal of a synopsis is to basically bias you positively into reading the book in the first place. Based on the synopsis, the reader is knows if the book uses tropes they like or dislike, if it’s a genre they love or hate, if there’s romance or not: all stuff that will influence how they feel about a book even before reading it. Obviously your opinion of a book can change when you actually read it, like you can discover that a book that was marketed as fantasy is actually really more of a murder mystery, or something, and then that can change the bias you had going into it. But everyone goes into books with expectations based on the synopsis, so right there, it’s already almost impossible to go into a book unbiased.
Other reviews by book influencers
Even if you don’t have a specific bias against or for a book when you go in based on the synopsis, what other influencers say about a book definitely effects what you feel about a book when you start it. If everyone says they hate a book, you might go into it thinking you’re going to hate it to. If you read a book review of something you’re not sure about but someone reviews it really positively, you might go into it thinking you’ll like it. The whole point of book bloggers, bookstagram, booktube, etc., is to influence you into reading books, so their opinions matter to us and affect how we read a book.
The hype monster
This is related to book influencers, and can go either way really, at least for me. If a book is super hyped, I might go into it expecting greatness and be more willing to love it despite flaws, but I also might be more skeptical and go into it more critically than I might a less hyped book. Hype is an interesting thing, because it’s easy to get swept up even for a book you wouldn’t normally read or have any interest in. However, hype definitely biases readers towards a book, whether we think about it consciously or not, because it’s present everywhere and impossible to get away from.
Everyone says not to judge a book by its cover, but we all do it. If a book has a beautiful cover, we’re automatically going to expect the inside to be great, so it’ll be extra good when our expectations are met and extra disappointing when they’re not. I’d like to think this is one of the least influencing things about a book, but everyone is influenced by visuals differently.
Basically, you’re going to go into a book with biases about it.
The bias influencers I listed above definitely contribute to that, but we can also be biased based on things like different aspects of our identities that might make us more excited to read a book that we otherwise might not be as interested in if they didn’t explore whatever identity it explores. Really, the only way to go into a book totally unbiased would probably be to just pick up a book without reading the synopsis, and probably nobody does that terribly often. With social media, it’s almost impossible to pick up a book without knowing anything about it, and therefore having biases toward it when going in.
Is this necessarily a bad thing though?
I feel like some bloggers really like to emphasize that they write unbiased reviews, and I always have to kind of roll my eyes at that, because, as we’ve explored through this post, it’s really not possible to not be biased in any way, either unconsciously or consciously. I personally always appreciate it when a reviewer explains what they were expecting when they went into a book and then how it turned out to meet or be different from those expectations. I think there are definitely ways we can be more unbiased in reviews by doing things like that, but it’s also okay to go into a book biased and therefore write a biased review. People like to know a reviewer’s personal thoughts about a book these days, so a purely critical review might not be that fun to read. Bias doesn’t always have to be a bad thing, but it can be good to acknowledge what yours are when reviewing.