With the drama surrounding Alice Hoffman and Alain de Botton's responses to seemingly spiteful and mean reviews against their books fading, there's a good opportunity to look at the "negative review" a little. Not how authors should respond to them - that's been handled quite a bit - but rather if negative reviews should even be written. And if they should, how? In my post on why we review from a few months back, R.T. left an interesting comment:
Perhaps this is just my own personal method, but before I purchase/acquire a book, I like to see the so-called negative reviews, whether they're on Amazon (I use Amazon as a blanket term for all localized review sites), blogs, or elsewhere. My philosophy is as follows: If someone can logically and reasonably convince me that the book is flawed, clearly listing reasons why (without resorting to petty name-calling), I accept their points and reach my own conclusions. If all the "negative" reviews are one sentence blurbs of "worst book ever" without offering any support for the claim, I have to assume the book is actually good, because nobody has provided me with proof otherwise. And if everyone followed R.T.'s idea, instead of just most reviews being positive, all reviews would be positive and gushing, meaning that it would (mistakenly) appear that all books are amazing. Or a bad book would have no information on it, meaning people simply wouldn't know to stay clear.
Negative reviews are necessary. Not all books are perfect and a reviewer should never feel bad for voicing an honest opinion (assuming it is done in a calm, reasonable fashion without resorting to childish insults - this is applicable to the author's response as well!). A reader spotting a negative review is getting another opinion, rather in the same way that another positive review would bring forth some new points (hopefully...). Negative reviews are not spiteful, angry responses, they are different sides to the issue and are sincerely helpful. In my mind, to avoid them is simply foolish.