Hello S.E. readers, Gwen with you today to discuss a familiar topic — book reviews. If you’ll journey with me, I hope to spark a smile or two.
Earlier this week, I was reminded of a chat session on writing reviews. The leader focused on a particular book and by the time she finished her presentation, it laid lifeless before us. I went to Amazon, found the book, read this presenter’s 2-star review, and then turned to the author’s bio. The young writer’s personal story greatly moved me, so much so that I purchased the book. Within a couple of days, I posted a 4-star review.
I learned a lot through this process, about me, about you, about anyone who bares their soul. Writing doesn’t solve our problems, sometimes it creates more. What it does do, however, is give us a way to say hello. We hope our stories make a difference, perhaps warm someone’s heart, but in reality hellos are a two-way street.
Some of us might approach Amazon fearful of finding a rejection slip. But if we understand that reviews reflect the reviewer as much as the writer, it softens the angst. On a whim, I decided to read the reviews of a few well-known authors, and what I discovered was enlightening. Let’s take a gander.
One of my favorite writers is Dan Brown. For this post, I re-visited The Da Vinci Code, went through some of his 8835 reviews, and noticed some one-star comments. How could that be, afterall, he’s one of my favorites? The mystery reviewer below offered an answer:
1.0 out of 5 stars boring car chases: Desperately wanted some entertainment with a little cortical activity, but couldn’t overlook the shallow characters, boring car chases, and general lack of quality. When it comes to the Big Reveals, this makes Joseph Campbell look intellectually respectable (which he isn’t). A grotesque mashup of historical, religious, and artistic quarter-truths and downright falsehoods which make it impossible to suspend belief enough to enjoy the simple (very simple) story. Yes, the female principle has been downgraded and suppressed in patriarchal religions. Big surprise. That’s about the ONLY thing that’s accurate, and it ain’t news to anyone with a high-school education.
To be very honest, I don’t recall the car chases, so she might be on target. This possibility led me to visit her Amazon review page. I discovered that Ms. Anonymous likes Biggelow Tea, a Redecker Clothes Brush, Fossil Shark Tooth Sterling Silver Earrings, but from what I saw, she doesn’t like books. With that insight, I read a few more of her book reviews.
Here’s her assessment of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (9,837 reviews):
1.0 out of 5 stars Nonsense: Even more ridiculous than I remembered it from high school. This ideology is bad enough in discursive form; dramatized into a novel, it’s just bizarrely unrealistic.
Again, the reviewer might be correct, but it’s been so long since I’ve read the book, that I’m not comfortable challenging her. I’m curious, though, and now wonder about the book’s relevance today.
1.0 out of 5 stars Badly written, sexist ****: Derivative plot, zero character development, predictable, to the point of skipping over action sections because they are so dull. And some of the most flamboyantly unabashed sexism since Ian Fleming. The women are virgins or whores, and if the author/narrator called them “girls” one more time I would have screamed.
I confess, I haven’t read this book, so I don’t have a comment one way or another. But after reading the above three reviews, I’m left with a suggestion and a few questions. First, the suggestion. If you’re feeling down in the dumps for getting reviews of less than 3- or 4- or 5-stars, head to the big name writers and check out their 1-star reviews. The exercise just might brighten your day.
As for the questions, if Ms. Anonymous sat opposite A.G. Riddle, might she be more nuanced about her choice of words? I wonder if she took time to read Riddle’s bio or visit his website. Would it have made a difference? When I imagine conversing with an author, writing a review becomes more holistic for me. I have a better sense of the person and his or her work. But what is most extraordinary is that I often discover a new friend. How about you? I’d love to know your thoughts and wish we could share over a cup of coffee or tea. Someday, maybe?