Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Honest Reviews

Indianapolis Canal Bridge
Somewhere back in recent history, Maggie Stiefvater said she was only going to review books that she liked*.  While she's entirely free to do that, I felt a bit cheated by her decision.  I'm not looking for dirt, but I would like to read something other than just roses and sunshine about a subject that I am interested in.

Much more recently, Elana Johnson wrote a blog  post entitled "Thoughts About How We Talk About Books."  In the posting she writes:

"I think it's dangerous to tell people not to buy a book because you, personally, don't think it's good. I think there's a better way to talk about books, either online or in person, perhaps by saying what you didn't like, specifically, about the book. Then the reader considering a particular title can decide for themselves if those things turn them off too. "
In the comments to the post I wrote

"If I'm not the target audience, I'm more than willing to hold back on my opinion if someone asks. In fact, I usually ask tell them I'd really like to discuss the book with them after they read it to get their take on it.
However, if a book is just badly written or makes me angry at how poorly the subject matter was handled (and, yes, I feel that passionately about books) I will tell someone exactly how I feel about the book.
I am, of course, equally as passionate about books that have impressed the bejeebers out of me. 
I'm all for encouraging reading, but why shouldn't we be honest about our negative feelings about some books if we're being honest about the positives?"

I want to be clear about this: IMHO, some books are a waste of paper, a waste of shelf space, and a waste of time.  Not all books, but some.  This "waste of space and time" idea extends to all areas of life and consumer goods.  Books are a commodity, published not for The Good of Art but for profit.  Someone at some publisher thought, for whatever reason, that they could simply make money off of the manuscript.  And the Emperor's new book is filled with rubbish, someone should be saying so.
I haven't read the book, but I love this note.

For instance, I wish someone had told me not to waste my time reading Gibson's "The Difference Engine" or that the ending of Barnes' "The Somnambulist" would be so awful that I would feel betrayed by the author, or that Angleberger's "Fake Mustache" would be even more dreadful than his Origami StarWarsCharacter books were wonderful.  (And don't get me started again on the ending to Keplinger's "The DUFF"where the author dissed her main character and the reader by not trusting either one)

Would I still have read those books if someone told me that?  Maybe.  If nothing else, I'd thumb through them to see if they're really as bad as someone had said they were.  If I had wanted to read them, I would have gone to the library and checked them out.

Will I recommend that not to buy them?  Yes, in fact, I will.  Find them at your local library and buy copies for your friends if you think I'm way of base with my take on them.  Otherwise, there are plenty of really good books, books that have the power to instantly become your new favorite book, books that you will physically hand to your friends and insist that they read RIGHT NOW because you want them to share in the transformational experience that book gave you.

Sure books deserve a chance.  Sure my taste isn't your taste (and vice versa).  But in a world where the gatekeepers have the bottom line in mind more than artistic quality, I think we deserve to tell each other where the cow pats are in the field.  Not to be spiteful, and not in hack and slash way, but with respect for the craft and art of writing.  And for God's sake, just tell us why you feel the way you do about the book.  (Edit: Apparently, I'm not the only one)

What about you?  Do you tell people when you read a book that's awful?  Do you leave negative review on Goodreads or Amazon?  Do you think negative reviews are helpful at all?


*Maggie wrote this either on her blog or at Goodreads after my wife and I had the opportunity to spend part of a day with Maggie and her wonderful husband, Ed.  If she had written it before we met I would have asked her why she decided to do this.  I suspect she's trying to be professionally nice to her fellow authors.  And while that's admirable, I have more Rat than Goat in me on this issue to follow suit.