Readers, Reviews and Reliance
First, let’s get this out of the way. I have a hard time getting reviews. I’m not holding onto any sour grapes about that, though it’s sometime frustrating. I also appreciate every blogger, reviewer and reader who reads, and especially the ones who review. Thank you for taking the time to do that.
That being said…
When I was growing up, an avid reader, always at the library or a bookstore, literally filling shelves and bags/boxes/whatever I could find to hold my haul, I don’t remember reading a single review. Maybe there was a blurb on the cover by an author I maybe heard of. Maybe. I didn’t care, because their opinion wasn’t what I based my purchase on.
I read the back cover of the book. I looked at the first chapter. Sometimes I flipped to the last chapter…I know, that’s terrible. But that’s how I made my decision. I didn’t ask my friends if they’d read it, hell, most of my friends don’t even read picture magazines today, let alone torrid romances when they were teenagers. And I found great books. A few I didn’t like, but generally I loved every book I bought or borrowed.
Now we have online places where other people give us their opinions of a book like we’re all shopping for vacuum cleaners. Does it suck, or doesn’t it? What’s funny is, I’ve never bought a book based on a good review, but I did buy a book based on a bad review—K.F. Breene’s Darkness series and I have bought every single book…all because a reader mentioned a rape whistle in a 1 star review. It made me curious.
How’s that for perverse? Or maybe this…How would you rate Michelangelo’s David? One star for the penis, you trolls? Or 5 stars for the determination of the artist and the beauty of the male form carved into solid rock?
How would you rate Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa? 1 star because she looks like a bitch, or 5 stars because the painting itself is a magnetic piece of artwork that draws you toward the mystery of the lady’s smile?
That is perverse in a way, right? How can you tell me what artwork I would like? Let me clarify this whole post right now—I have no issue with anyone giving their honest opinion about art, and that most definitely includes any piece of literature, no matter what genre it might be. You didn’t like a story? I’m fine with that. But don’t you think it’s a little weird when other people read the review and think, ‘Whew, glad I dodged that bullet. That character sounds whiney…Not gonna get that one.’
Grammar, okay, I get that. When a review says something like ‘This was really hard to get into because of all the spelling mistakes…’ I know to check out the sample (because let’s face it, some of those people who reviewed wouldn’t know good spelling if the dictionary smacked them in the face). Something like that is very helpful, though. Your opinion, however, should not influence mine.
Let’s take A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens. I hated that book. I hated the story, the characters, the settings, the long-windedness…but the ending of that book is, in my opinion, the greatest ending in literary history. Les Miserables is my second all-time favorite novel, EVER. Loved it…and hated The Hunchback of Notre Dame (same author) with a passion that kept me from finishing it to this day. Oh, and I adore Stephen King, except I’ve been unable to finish Pet Semetary every one of the ten times I’ve tried to read it, and I never can get past the first chapter of Salem’s Lot. Should my opinion tell you whether or not you like the story? No, you better read it for yourself.
What if the author is going for some theme that no one else, or few others, picks up on? Does that mean the author’s intent is wrong or unimportant? My own book, My Stranger, was written as an erotic horror. It was written to be uncomfortable, it was written to get the reader hot and then leave them wondering what the hell was wrong with them that they would go off with AJs stranger too…Because I know you would. You know how I know? It’s an almost-true story, based on questions that came up after a woman left her children behind (in that culture, she wasn’t allowed to take them) to live with a man who gave her sexual pleasure because her husband didn’t. And, also, because I was a juror on a case where the girlfriend swore her boyfriend gave her permission to cheat, though he denied it. Inspiration comes from strange places…
Never underestimate the power of a good orgasm. They can be life changing. They can make you stupid. To me, AJs decision at the end was the horror, but no one else saw it that way, in fact, the majority of readers who have reviewed spoke of the ‘mystery’ I’d never intended and labeled the book romance. I went with it because that’s what stood out to them, I suppose… Or maybe they’d already had a preconceived notion of what the story was before ever starting it. And how did that happen? Reviews, perhaps? (you can read the wide variety of them on Amazon or Goodreads)
That’s the beauty of books, the beauty of art—it’s subjective. No two people read the same thing or see the same thing or hear the same thing.
So why does your enjoyment of the story have anything to do with mine? How many times did a movie get rave reviews, but it sucked? Or vice versa. How many books have you picked up based on a bad review and fallen in love with? Or, ahem, vice versa.
You know why reviews are so damned important now? Because Amazon said so. There are perks for getting reviews and a fake sense of competition to foster consumer spending sprees. Because online book promo companies won’t take your book without a certain amount of 4 and 5 star reviews. Seriously, reviews should be a checklist of yes or no answers rather than an opinion column: Was it well written, was it entertaining, would you recommend it to a friend, and then stars can be generated based on those answers.
Hmmm, let’s get to a point, shall we? Every week I do a writing advice column, but this week I’m doing a reader’s advice column. Figure it out for yourself, not just because I don’t get a lot of reviews, but because no one else can tell you what you’ll enjoy. You might agree with 90% of something a reviewer might say, and therefore it seems natural to buy accordingly in this overcrowded marketplace…but that 10% region where your taste and the reviewers diverge can be a glorious, thought-provoking, entertaining place.
But you’ll never know unless you try…