Book Reviews – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly…

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This past weekend I started a thread on a familiar topic…reviews. I genuinely wanted to understand the difference between a performance evaluation and an evaluation of a book. Since my day job is as a Human Resources executive there are clear guidelines regarding feedback: praise in public and correct in private.

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One response that made perfect sense went something like this (I’m paraphrasing): a book is a product and reviewers don’t evaluate the person, they evaluate the product. That’s a fair statement and yet there are times when a reviewer doesn’t merely critique the book, but let’s their critique seep into their disdain for the author. In addition, let’s face it the product (a book) is always very personal to every author and that for me muddies the waters.

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Everything in life is evaluated it seems. You are probably evaluating this blog right now as you read it. We can’t help ourselves. I’m drinking my coffee and thinking, “mmm, just the right amount of cream, but it’s just a tad bit too cold. I’ll stick it in the microwave.” Of course my coffee isn’t going to cry because I said it’s too cold.

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I drink wine and every time I take a sip of something new, I’m giving it a review. My reviews are not very discerning and generally start and end with either, “I like it,” or “I don’t like it.” Sometimes I can even tell you why, but most of the time I don’t really think too long and hard about it. It’s the same way with books. I have to stretch to consider the reasons why I like a book and because I’m a glass half full kind of person, it’s damn near impossible to tell a person why I might not have liked something I’ve read. Sometimes I can tell you if I’ve been uncomfortable with the topic, but that’s as far as it goes. I actively seek out the positive, it’s what I do.

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Ironically, I work in the healthcare field and clinicians do not seek out the positive for the most part because they are taught to look for what’s wrong with the patient. I suspect you will never hear a healthcare provider talk about a lung x-ray in this fashion, “Well you see this spot here, that’s a bit of pneumonia on the right lung, but look at the left lung it’s so beautiful not a single hint of pneumonia.”

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Since I love talking wine, let’s go back to that topic. I don’t drink red wine at all. I don’t like it….there I’ve said it publicly (shit now I have this uncomfortable rolling feeling in my stomach). I know this doesn’t mean that red wine isn’t good. In fact, everything I been told suggests it’s better for you than white wine. Thus, when a reviewer says this wasn’t my cup of tea, I understand that. When a review is vitriolic, I admit it, I squirm.

In my research, I found this scathing review of Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, “How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery.” Then there is this personal attack to James Joyce for Ulysses, where the reviewer says, “Ulysses appears to have been written by a perverted lunatic who has made a specialty of the literature of the latrine…”

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MY REVIEW of those historical reviews  is, “that’s just mean.” See, I told you I suck at reviews. This got me to thinking about how much reviewers are reviewed (say that three times), because again, we love to evaluate everything in this world. In my research, not only did I find a lot of places where reviewers are evaluated, there’s an actual award called, The Hatchet Job. From all the photos, it appears as though the critics bask in the limelight of receiving this prestigious award for writing the most scathing review of the year.

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When my wife and I go to a restaurant and the service or food is bad, my wife always want to tell them because she says, “how will they learn otherwise.” I, on the other hand, touch her on the arm and plead with my eyes for her not to say a word. When the server comes to the table and asks, “How is everything?” I politely nod and say, “fine.” This is the only time I will tell a lie. My mother taught us this growing up and I cannot ever seem to shake it. I don’t want to hurt the chef’s feelings. No amount of argument will ever get me to change my philosophy on this. Yet, I do agree that if someone doesn’t tell the chef – how will they know. The difference for me is that if I ever did want to provide that gift of feedback to the chef, I would do it in private and not share it with the server.

The thread I stated took an interesting turn as we talked about how these Facebook groups are a bit like a book club, where you talk about your likes and dislikes on the chosen book while having coffee with your book club buddies. I wondered about how easy it would be to fit 300 people into my small condo. In addition, there were some opinions about whether authors should be allowed into the club. It gets a little hairy when considering that issue, because many authors are both readers and writers and a few are reviewers. I think that everyone can agree that Reviews are extremely important to the author, good, bad or ugly. I suppose any review is better than no reviews. Although Amazon has affected the old adage that bad press is better than no press, because their ranking formula somehow factors the review ratings into the rank and ranking matters a lot, which is why I think this is always such a hot topic.

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This line of conversation took me on a new tangent. I vaguely recalled Oprah Winfrey’s book club and I wanted to find out whether she ever discussed cons to the books she’d chosen. I never remembered her doing that. What I found is that she did indeed highlight the positive and invited the author to speak about their book. I never found evidence of her talking about dislikes.

If I had the technical expertise to start a Facebook book club, I think I’d want to model it after Oprah Winfrey’s, and my rules would be simple: The readers can only talk about what they liked or loved about the book and why. Now I know this will automatically eliminate a fair number of people, but I’d like to think that this type of club would serve my primary purpose for leaving reviews- to uplift those authors and have them continue to write. I am after all a reader first and I need my addiction. So who is with me? I’ll call it, Annette Mori’s Perfectly Positive Beautiful Book Club, where all books have inner beauty, just open the cover to find it.

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I suspect as was evident in the thread there were passionate views about providing negative reviews publicly or not. Similar to firmly ingrained politics (yes, it doesn’t matter what is said in the debates or on the campaign trail, I know who I’m voting for), I don’t believe anyone’s perspective was swayed in a different direction…and that is okay. The thread was interesting and the dialogue respectful (as it should be).

I promised on my Facebook page to share a few more interesting facts I found in my research and then I swear this long boring blog is almost done:

• Reviews began in 1665 in the Parisian Journal des Scavans for the purpose of documenting findings, discoveries and inventions in the world of biology and technology.
• The first official “book review” as titled in a headline occurred in 1861, however I found other book reviews much earlier than that.

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Coincidentally (no really it wasn’t a calculated question to cleverly market my new book), my book that comes out tomorrow is called, The Review. Here is the excerpt of the review written for the contest offered by the author:

Silver Lining’s latest book, Resurrection, has a depth of emotion that brings the reader to tears. When a book can do that for me, the author has reached the pinnacle of greatness. This isn’t Silver’s normal storyline, nor is it typical for this genre, but it is by far her best work and something no reader who enjoys Silver’s books should miss. I felt the anguish and despair of Angela, the main character, as Silver brilliantly brought the reader into her world. Although this was a world of pain, grief, and at times despondency, Silver left me with the feeling that in the end Angela was finally on a path of rebirth. A rebirth into a world where love could be just around the corner. This is a story that needed to be told, and that is evident in her words.

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If you want to read the whole book, or any of my earlier works, you know the drill….click the links below.

Affinity Author Page         Amazon Author Page

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2 thoughts on “Book Reviews – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly…

  1. That is the eternal question/dilemma, isn’t it? To only write positive reviews, or to share constructive ideas? I think accentuating the positive is the way to go, but it is OK to gently point out areas that may not have appealed to the reader. I’m leaning a bit toward what your wife said about, ‘if you don’t tell the truth, how does one improve’? Again, the key word here is ‘gently’. If the writer of a review can first establish that their writing is coming from a good spot, with good intentions, and not a mean one, then I believe it is OK to share an opinion. And it is always only that….an opinion. Subjective, at best.

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  2. Yes yours is a popular viewpoint and I can’t say it is wrong (my wife would kick me out of bed). Actually I do think that people who are tactful and have pure motives can give very good constructive feedback, it’s just not me. Every time I have to be involved in corrective action and have to terminate someone it breaks my heart. I just can’t do it in my personal life where I prefer to live in the positive! I don’t want to agonize over how to word something.

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