I started to write a review about a book I hadn’t planned on writing a review about. It was a book I enjoyed very much, and there were plenty of other reviewers out there who liked it as well. I didn’t think I would add anything new to the discussion. Then I started reading other reviews, really ugly reviews. You know, the ones that seem so cleverly written, but they are out-and-out mean. So, I wrote this instead.
I have read my share of books that range from mildly interesting to sub-sub-crappy. But let me ask you: does an author, really and truly, deserve to be torn a new one just because their book is accessible to the masses (i.e., published)? Does an author need to be accused of being an idiot, drunk or have their parentage called into question just because a reviewer didn’t like their book? Many of these negative reviews sound as if there was a solemn oath made by the author, editor, publicist and publisher that the reader will not only love love love the book, but it is a guarantee that they will never read anything as perfect, wonderful and fulfilling ever again. I’ve never seen this contract, and believe me, there are several books for which I would like to get my money/time back.
There are plenty of books out there that are, let’s say, less than stellar. It’s like American Idol; everyone’s mama told them they could sing, and mamas don’t lie, right? Well guess what? Not everyone can write. I don’t think you have to have a degree in creative writing, but a working knowledge of grammar and spelling rules and how to use a dictionary and thesaurus are, in my opinion, a must. Having a good story and characters, how to build up suspense, making the story come alive…those are some of the important hallmarks of a good writer. You can’t just know your letters and how to use a computer.
There is a distinct difference between voicing your opinion and being an a**hole about it. Why the extra vitriol? I can only chalk it up to two possibilities: 1) Jealousy, because the author actually published something; or 2) Ego, because the reviewer is overly impressed with their wisdom and sharpness in their own writing. Many of the comments on these reviews don’t even talk about the book; they merely celebrate the reviewer’s writing.
Ultimately, it is everyone’s right to present themselves and their reviews however they want to. The readers of these reviews will find someone they agree with to follow and the world will keep turning. I just ask the question, especially in light of all the Goodreads kerfuffle: should these reviewers remove a little of the canker? Can’t reviews still be super clever without violating the author as a person? These reviews are like political opinions on Facebook: the only purpose they serve is to rally together those who already share that opinion. They don’t change anyone’s beliefs. I don’t expect to sway anyone with my incredibly brilliant and eloquent arguments here, either.
I am not saying that my reviews take all authors to their happy place. I know that I am tough on the grammar side of writing. That’s my thing. If I don’t like something, I will say so (and why). Maybe I say more than the author would like. People have already marked some of my reviews as “unhelpful” on Amazon. That’s fine. That’s their opinion, and I am not egotistical enough to think those commenters are stupid or uneducated because we don’t agree. I will admit that I am probably harder on author requested reviews than on books I have chosen, mainly because I have a choice regarding those I read for pleasure. I will not purposely seek out a “bad” book to write a bad review. I don’t have the time for that. Also, I want to make perfectly clear that I am not insinuating that other reviewers do. So don’t write a comment that says you can’t believe I said that all reviewers only like to read horrible books so they can sharpen their pointy teeth and write cruel reviews.
And for the record, I completely agree that authors and their reps should never engage a reviewer when they have received a negative review. That Goodreads Bullies website is abhorrent at the very least, beyond scary. In this day and age where people can (and do) rally together in such masses over the internet, there is no place for something that could even inadvertently encourage violence against any person, regardless. Unfortunately, that seems to be the way of discourse these days, especially when the hay-tahs on either side can be anonymous. Would the same things be said if there were no anonymity?
I am all about humor. I love Episodes and Funny or Die and The Soup and Fawlty Towers. I am no prude. The Hangover is one of my all-time favorite movies. I know I say things in real life that could be considered inappropriate or snarky or even downright mean. I curse, am opinionated, tell it like it is, and can get really pissed off when my ego is bruised. But I try so hard not to deposit all of my baggage everywhere, I really do. I consider my audience. Let’s face it – I will offend someone at some time. Heck, I probably already have in this post alone. I am not going to pussy-foot around something for fear of hurting someone’s feelings, but I will try my darndest not to. Now, if I am attacked, then all bets are off. I guess that’s my credo. That, and “if you put it out there in the manner of an a**hole, then I reserve the right to respond to or point out such a**holiness.” Fair enough?
Like toward anything in life, people have different approaches. Some readers start a book ready to like or even love it; others demand that the book or author must work hard to prove to them, the reader, that this book is worthy of being liked. I worked for someone who approached job reviews that way. He would write a horrible and inaccurate review and make the employee fight for what they thought they deserved. That’s pretty low, distressing and ultimately unhelpful, and I think he got off on it besides. At least (and I say this through clenched teeth) I got to sit across the table from this person and express my displeasure at his tactics. Particularly in light of the Twitter business between an author, her publicist and a reviewer, (NOT a pleasant three-way, that) the author cannot (and should not, as I said before) have this opportunity. Even though that sucks.