Monthly Archives: March 2014

Some books are bad

And we should know about them.

black and white cat cuddling with novel

CC image courtesy of Leach84 on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

It’s snowing here right now. Big, wet flakes of spring snow. Which means I have the perfect excuse to cuddle up with some blankets, a mug of hot chocolate, and a good book. Or several good books, as the case may be.

I am a book glutton.

I go on library binges the way some people go on chocolate binges or shopping binges. I can never seem to stop at just ONE book. There’s just too much (potential) goodness.

Notice that cute editing trick I played right there? The parentheses? It’s because I caught myself saying “goodness” as if every single book was good. Or good for us. Which is not true.

Some books are bad.

Damn, that’s hard to say out loud.

I LOVE books. Books are the perfect conversation partner — they’re always going at the exact speed we want them to go. They’ll pause when we want to pause, and continue as we want to continue. Until we get to The End, of course.

But some of them, to be honest, are lousy.

Occasionally, when I get a little ways into a book I impulse-brought-home from the library, I’ll wonder what possessed me to grab it. Not often, but sometimes. This is my version of the bar crawl and associated regret.

I try to make excuses for the book, but sometimes it’s plain bad.

Enter the book review

I was thinking about the reality of Bad Books again this week. Not because I am in the middle of a lousy book. I was on Goodreads, researching a book I was considering bringing over for coffee. I was going over one rave review after another, and my eyes were glazing over. Can this be true? I thought. It can’t be. People here totally drank the Kool-Aid.

Sometimes books are bad, and we want to know about them. In fact, low-star and negative book reviews may be more useful than any other kind of review for helping us to weed out the crowd.

I found out that I appreciated bad reviews, at any rate.

In support of the “bad” review

There were a LOT of reviews for the book I was looking up. A LOT of POSITIVE reviews. I think book reviews operate on the reverse principle of the calls made to most customer service departments. Customer service departments tend to hear from people who are pissed. Sites for reader reviews feature the readers who are in love with the book they are reviewing. Neither of these scenarios gives us an accurate picture. Book readers, on the whole, want someone else to know how amazing the book was they just read! They can’t keep the information to themselves — they want to sing it from the rooftops!

All the positive reviews for this book began to look exactly the same to me. I was getting zero information.

(Side note: what is it about book reviews that makes people want to recap the plot? Not necessary! We already have the jacket flaps and the publisher’s blurb! Otherwise the information is just spoilers! But I digress.)

They were all the same, these reviews. They weren’t telling me anything I didn’t already know by the 3rd 5-star review — except what they revealed about the text itself (spoiling spoiling spoiling). I don’t care, I caught myself thinking. What if I met you (the reviewer) in person and thought you were a complete flake? This book review would do me no good whatsoever.

Then I got to the first two-star review.

Don’t tell me you “like” something. Tell me WHY you like it!

I felt as though someone had just opened a door to let in some fresh air. Finally, I had what I wanted: if there was an aspect of the book which might not thrill someone (and I’m not saying there always has to be or that the lack of thrill complaint is always valid), or which could be described as annoying, what would that be? Was this something which could bother me as well? I read on, first one and then another 2-star review, and I came across a few candidates for What Could Annoy.

I kept scrolling down through the pile of comments, giving all the 4- or 5-stars a pass. Sometimes, a 3-star would make me hesitate, but they appeared to be rare in this instance. I focused on the 2-star reviews.

Here’s the beauty of this approach: it matters not whether I agree or disagree with the 2-star review. Either way, I’ve learned something about the book by learning about the reader who disliked it. I can get a feeling for the book by checking to see whether or not I do agree or disagree with what annoyed this person. And that, gentle reader, helps me make a decision about reading the book.

Many people who like books forget to tell us why they like them. “Beautiful” may be descriptive because the word is an adjective, but it doesn’t tell me anything. I can imagine whatever I like under the word “beautiful” and my beautiful may have nothing to do with yours!

This is not to say that I want everyone to go out there and find some book to pan online. Rather, I appreciate the people who are not raving fans of certain works who took the time to share why.

This is my call to your customer service department, to say Thank You for a job well done.

…Now, for my hot chocolate and cuddle with my “good” book…. which I may or may not feel inspired to review…

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How do you feel about book reviews? Let me know in the comments!