The Dud Reviewer

12 Jul

Always trust the tough critics.

First off, I have to share: the writing drought is over!!! Z and I tied the knot last weekend, so I can finally push aside all my foofy wedding crap and get down to the business of writing. Yay! However, I may start writing in my fluffy wedding dress as my new work-inspiration-wear. (In college it was a tiara, so this isn’t too far-fetched.)

The last blog idea that passed through my addled bride-brain before signing off from reality was a discussion over posting negative book reviews. I know I’m late to the party, but it’s a topic that’s both relevant to me as a writer and as a blogger. (All right, “as someone who has a blog.”)

In a nutshell, a blogger, The Prolific Novelista, was approached to do a review for an author’s book tour…and she ended up not liking it (check out the review on her blog and on Amazon). This response to her negative Amazon review has had me equal parts puzzled and flabbergasted:

“…after reading “No Remorse” as you claim, and found you didn’t care for it, why not just back out of the tour instead of using it as an opportunity to bad mouth another authors [sic] abilities? The classy thing to do would have been to back out.”

So, if you don’t like a book, you shouldn’t review it? Especially if you’ve been approached by the author/publicist/publisher?

(I have to admit, I wasn’t even aware that those blogs participating in book tours had the option to back out if they disliked the book. Every time I got a notification that a Spartacus review was up, I practically had a heart attack.)

The reason I don’t do book reviews on my blog stems from–well, mostly from me not reading as much as I should. But also I’m a coward each time I get into reviewing situations. I’d meet an author, buy a copy of their book, and promise to review it…only to find myself disliking it. But how could I say such things to someone who…well, saw my face? Signed my book? Said they’d visit my blog?? I couldn’t. Each time I started, I felt icky. (Many times I couldn’t even finish the book and I’d find myself swearing at the author, asking why they’d done this to me.) So instead of writing what I thought about it…I hid the books under my bed and hoped the author would forget the random promise of a stranger.

But what it gets down to is this: with so many books and eBooks and self-published books out there, how can we ever sort through all the awful to find the really great stories if we don’t have honest reviewers out there? If reviewers, even casual ones, refuse to review bad books–or simply gloss over books’ flaws–readers will find themselves buying and reading a ton of crappy books (that will end up unfinished and hidden under their beds).

To bring this all around to me (of course), this feeds back into my previous post, which was about my first negative review. With all of Spartacus’s shortcomings in the front of my mind, I was utterly terrified of negative reviews. But when the first one appeared, it was actually a relief. I mean, sure, family and friends and fans can review your book, but it’s the luke-warm reviews that set me at ease. “Ah! They see the flaws and yet they still have positive things to say!” Those are the reviews that make me want to read a book (or watch a movie or buy something off Amazon). I want to see that the reviewer has the ability to think critically. Give me five in-depth 4-star reviews over ten bland 5-star reviews any day.

(Just to undermine that entire last paragraph, I do have to say that my husband’s book [my husband!!!] really is worth every one of its twenty-one 5-star reviews. I’m jealous, dammit, but it’s true.)

The Prolific Novelista links to another blog, The Midnight Garden, that recaps a very similar situation, in which the blogger was attacked online for her negative reviews. This blogger’s conclusion is this:

“…if readers can’t trust me to tell the truth about a book I didn’t like, they will never trust my opinions about the books I love. Books should stand or fall on their own merits–and I, for one, know that my fellow readers are intelligent enough to make up their own minds, no matter what I say.”

I couldn’t agree more. But…despite this, I still can’t bring myself to do it. Luckily, there are people out there with spines, though, writing 1 and 2 star reviews, to keep us readers well-informed. That being said, if you see the rare review on my blog, rest-assured I’m not feeding you a watered-down opinion; it’s probably something I love that I can’t wait to share.

And with that being said, if you are a literary female type with a soft spot for 1950’s female beatniks abroad, I can’t recommend Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado enough. But don’t take my word for it

4 Responses to “The Dud Reviewer”

  1. Deborah Rose Reeves August 3, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

    So this is where I do that shameful thing the article in Slate talked about: I’m commenting on your blog with a link back to MY blog.

    But it’s relevant and you don’t have to read if you don’t want to and that’s what I love about all this – you can tune in and out of what you don’t care to read or hear. But everything should be allowed to be there – positive or negative.

    Anyway, last year I was having some issues with book reviewing too and I came across Slate’s Rules for Writing Book Reviews:

    1. The review must tell what the book is about.
    2. The review must tell what the book’s author says about that thing the book is about.
    3. The review must tell what the reviewer thinks about what the book’s author says about that thing the book is about.

    My post goes on to talk about how that’s so hard: what is a book ‘about’ anyway? How do you know?

    And such and such.

    Generally, now, I aim to write about what a book meant to me and why. If I don’t like it then I explain why I didn’t like it but not discount the fact that you’re not me and very well may enjoy it.

    If you can point to concrete examples of why a book is poorly written or doesn’t make sense or get’s it all wrong, then you’d better be able to back that up. In detail. So many books get negative reviews because the reader just didn’t like them. But that’s so arbitrary. It’s not that books are good or bad. It’s that readers and reviews are highly subjective and that’s what we need to acknowledge.

    Sorry for being so long-winded. This is a great post and combined with the Slate piece kind of got me going this afternoon!



  1. “You seem to want to write, so write.” « First We Read, Then We Write. - August 5, 2012

    […] who’s writing I don’t enjoy or appreciate. (By the by, I’m with Salon and Molly E Johnson this week: folks are too fearful of negative reviews; niceness isn’t necessarily […]

  2. Follow up to The Dud Reviewer « Home - August 3, 2012

    […] know you’ve all been waiting for the huge fall-out from my last post. Well, Slate finally got their argument organized and posted this […]

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