I am awed by the author’s skills in writing this gripping first novel that takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of all the top museums in Europe.
How seriously do you take a review that starts like that? Do you take it with several grains of salt? You don’t know anything about the reviewer, who goes by the nom “Jackson from the Heights.” You don’t know anything about the author, since it’s a first novel. So is the review worth anything at all? Or do you emulate Dorothy Parker and throw it away with great force?
The difficulty, to a large extent, is anonymity. How can you trust a random person whose taste and judgment (and possible bias) you don’t know? Is he actually the author’s brother-in-law, hiding behind a fictional persona? Is he a deplorable with execrable taste? With a full-length review you can sometimes make a reasonable decision, based on the quality and the content of the writing. With a known reviewer you can compare their past reviews with your own reactions to the items being reviewed, and that helps. (BTW, although I’m talking primarily about books here, it’s even more of an issue when it comes to restaurant reviews. You remember restaurants? Those places where we used to go to eat and socialize? If the reviewer raves about Burger King, say, then you know what to do with their other reviews.)
There are, of course, other reasons to avoid customer reviews on Amazon — or Yelp or whatever; I’m just picking on Amazon because I happen to have read a bunch of reviews there yesterday, some for books and some for various consumer items. In the case of books you really don’t want spoilers, which are rife on Amazon. In the case of kitchen supplies and model railroad materials, you don’t know whether a reviewer just happened to have received a lemon. Worse yet is the reviewer who gives a product a one-star review because it arrived late!
Fortunately there’s a (partial) solution in the case of Amazon: ReviewMeta! This site attempts to filter out fake reviews (like those from the author’s brother-in-law) and adds a layer of judgment to the information posted by customers and non-customers. Of course this still requires a decision on your part, but at least it provides more data for you. Give it a try; it couldn’t hoit, as they say.
Perhaps the best solution is to simply stop reading non-professional reviews (except for mine, of course). And there are always pearls mixed in among the plastic, to quote a terrible metaphor. But how do you identify them?