I’m not going to lie—some books I read make me feel like I really can’t kick sand over them fast enough. Phew!
Those books never see a review from me. Why? Because I can’t waste my time reading something I’m not enjoying, for starters. But also because there’s nothing to be gained, for either me, or the writer, by my blasting their butt cheeks full of rock salt.
Part of me understands the feeling behind writing a scathing review. The shear schadenfreudian pleasure to be had in saying what one really thinks in the most colorful and gleefully ruinous terms to a writer who has not only wasted your time with their excremental work—but had the temerity to publish it in the first place.
See…I could write a nasty review, I could!
But I’d rather spend all that energy on the books that I like. Even if I wasn’t a writer myself, and even if I didn’t have that little voice whispering to me about the karmic wheel, I still wouldn’t write a lacerating review.
Seriously, if a book is lousy, and it’s already published, why talk about it when it’s too late to do anything to make it any better?
Then there are those books that aren’t lousy; I can see they would be interesting to some, but they just don’t do it for me, for whatever reason; maybe I’ve read fifty just like it, it’s about a topic or character that I don’t want to spend time with, it’s a genre I don’t enjoy, or the language or voice is tedious, the writing is naïve—whatever.
I won’t write reviews of those either.
Even if I put the book down after 50 pages (my policy these days if it isn’t living up), if it’s plain someone else would possibly like it, then there’s no point in reading on only to write a bad review. These books are like the people we occasionally meet, with whom we simply don’t click. No reason to be a hater.
This review policy works, for me. It’s one I can live with.
Writing reviews takes time and effort, even if we only write reviews of the books we enjoyed reading.
Which brings this post around to the writers whose books are being reviewed—and how to deal.
Fact: There will be readers who don’t like your book.
Of course there will be. There were those (still are) who beat down Hemingway. There are readers who don’t like Dickens. What makes anyone think they’re going to only get reviews that are all pink frosting and sprinkles, in light of that sobering fact? What sort of monstrous ego does a writer need to possess to believe EVERYONE will love their book? Human beings hardly ever agree on things unanimously, so why believe the published path will be lined with palm fronds for our little burro to trot across? (And while we’re at it, if you follow my analogy, remember what happened to that guy.)
It’s probably wise for a writer to work on developing thick skin prior to publishing. A good place for that might be a workshop or writers’ group, where not everyone wants to put the spit wiped off our chins into gilt frames like mom.
And lastly, on this topic:
The only worthy response to a reviewer who took time out of their life to read your book, and wrote a review of your book (and didn’t call it a steaming pile of poo) is:
Readers and writers, what do you think? Are you in favor of doing reviews of books we didn’t enjoy? (Check out the link, if you have time: Reading Like a Writer, and ZOE HELLER face off on the topic in The New York Times Sunday Book Review .) Also: do you consider mentioning aspects we didn’t like about a book doing a ‘bad’ review? (I don’t. But I’d love to hear what you have to say about it.)–