Friday, July 29, 2011

Your Reviews Suck and I Hate You

I’ve gotten into a habit which is sure to give me an ulcer - reading bad reviews of books I love. 
First, there’s Amazon.  When I first heard that top reviewers were getting paid to write good reviews for books before they came out, I was angry but not surprised.  Damn, I thought those reviews were legit!  Followed by, It’s Amazon, what low business practice won’t they do?  
That’s what you get for trusting the internet.  Turns out these top reviewers are “paid” in free books.  Advanced Readers Copies, Uncorrected Proofs, Advanced Readers Editions, these are the pennies, nickels, and dimes with which top-rated Amazon reviewers are compensated.  And me, frankly.  
This is bribery! went the internet cry.  Publishers are trading free books for 5-star reviews!
Actually, they aren’t.  Free books are a publisher’s cheapest form of advertising, but they run the risk of the reader hating it, and putting that hatred online for all to see.
The comments which really irked me said the only way publishers could get 5-star reviews for crappy books was by giving away copies.  
No one knows what makes a bestselling book.  Sometimes authors become favorites and you know they’ll always do well, but the breakout bestsellers vary so much in tone and content that there’s no way to predict what will be next.  But one thing which always helps a good book build sales is word of mouth.  When you have a product you believe in, be it an album, movie, or book, you want it in as many hands as possible.  You especially want reviewers, taste-makers, and buzz-generators to have copies.  
Just because you’re jealous that you don’t get free books, don’t take shots at the practice.

Then, there’s Goodreads, a site I vastly prefer for obvious reasons.  When I got around to adding Darin Strauss’ Half a Life to my profileI decided to take a stroll through other people's thoughts on the book.  Apparently I’m not the only one reading bad reviews of books close to my heart.  

I don't know Strauss personally and I'm not a rabid fan, I just thought his book was excellent.  I have no idea why I've felt compelled to answer critics for a book I didn't write.  Probably because I can't take the lesson that there are different perspectives in life, and sometimes they are both 100% accurate even though they are different.  
But that's no fun, so I’ve decided to review the review.

I was really surprised this book received any good reviews. It is really about a guy, who on a bad luck day, hit a girl on her bike when she swerved into his lane. He was told it was not his fault, and he went off to college, got married and had two kids.
Losing the first really is really up to you, but the second really is really unnecessary.  Really.  

PS, is “bad luck day” a thing, or are you just too lazy to be coherent?  

Strauss' neuroticism about this "event" is dull, without a sparkling bit of prose, and not well done in the circle around an event mentally technique that Lydia Davis does so well. 
Why is event in quotes?  Does striking and killing someone with a car not qualify?  Perhaps you meant to put the quotes around “circle around an event mentally technique” to clarify that part of the sentence.  

You might also try: “...and not well done in the circle-around-an-event-mentally technique that Lydia Davis does so well."  Or: “...and not well done in the circle around an event mentally technique that Lydia Davis does so well.”  Better yet, take your time, make this two sentences, and ensure that your point is clear.  Or slap yourself in the face.

By the way, Lydia Davis writes fiction.  Fiction is the place for sparkling prose (or sparkly bits), as opposed to a memoir about coming to grips with taking a life. 

I am deeply saddened that someone who is a creating writing teacher wrote a book without any sort of drama or dramatic arc. The narrator dates around, doesn't want to tell people, feels guilty...its like hit a girl and it is a tragedy, but the real tragedy is your inablility to provide a shred of insight, prose, or humanity to the entire situation.
It saddens me that you teach a memoir class.  I worry your students will never find their own voices because you’ll teach them to sound like Lydia Davis.  Maybe you should teach "creating writing" instead?

Again, fiction is the place for a dramatic arc.  There’s plenty of drama involved in killing a classmate.  In visiting her parents.  In walking the hallways and streets of the community afterward.  In trying to live your life and connect with people while something so life-altering has happened to you at such an early age.  Strauss' humanity and insight is there, presented in simple, straightforward lines.  He doesn't need purple prose to express his anguish.  If anything, the stark language underlines his struggle to cope.  

There are plenty of places to look for beauty in the written language.  Half a Life is a beautiful exercise in self-examination.

I read this light book in a night and was left feeling grossed out by the total solipsism of this book
(Which book?  This book?  Okay, got it.)

When you say “light book" I think you mean “slight.”  Or was it physically light?  Or a poor examination of the subject matter (which is pretty heavy)?  Did it give off beams of light?  Be more constructive with your feedback, please.  

FYI, criticizing a memoir for solipsism is like complaining that a detective novel is too mysterious.    

Nice use of “grossed out,” though.  I don’t see that enough in book reviews.    

At some point, an editor or a publishing house should say no, this is not a valid book to publish and spare the audience something that should have stayed in a journal, a therapist's office, a conversation with your wife. 
At some point, you should have realized you can’t look at the book objectively.  You should have spared readers looking for genuine guidance on whether to purchase a book something that should have stayed in your diary, or a text to your BFF, or an overly-loud cell phone conversation on a subway train. 

Sorry, this book just really pissed me off. 
I think I’ll follow your reviews just to read everything you hate. 


  1. Wow - perfectly bitchy.

    But do you think they'll get it?

    They wrote a review because they could, when they needed to ask first if they should. That's technology for you......

  2. I think I should add "perfectly bitchy" as a label.

    I read this week that internet comments are eight times more likely to be negative than positive. I guess it drives me nuts that someone might read this garbage review, think it has merit, and skip an excellent book.

    Although if you read the review, I think you'd be able to consider the source and ignore it.

    Then again, maybe it drives me nuts that someone dares to have a different opinion than mine.