Saturday, April 9, 2016

The dreaded one-star review...

HALLIE EPHRON: We all get negative reviews, and my advice is always DON'T READ THEM! To fellow authors I say: Your book is finished, published, there's not a thing you can do about it so don't torture yourself. Besides, every book has its audience, and we've all had the experience of hating the occasional book foisted off on us by well-meaning friends.

I take perverse comfort in browsing one-star reviews of classics. Here are a few of my favorites -- you get to guess which review goes with which book.

1. A dreary, uninspiring book full of tired clich├ęs: all whites in the Southern US are racist rednecks, all blacks are victims, all liberals are wonderful caring people. I detested having to read this guff at school and work with it as a teacher. Fortunately, most of my pupils felt the same way.

2. I found it was lacking in sympathetic characters, focus, meaning (aside from the very obvious, played-to-death 'everything is superficial' theme), and thoroughly unabsorbing. From the moment it started out, it rang false

3. I cannot fathom why anyone became famous, or wealthy, for writing this material... This book is one long, rambling, goofy, repetitive in the *extreme* diatribe...presented as an ode to Borderline Personality Disorder. It's like page after page after page...of absolutely nothing. And at the end of it all, there is no pay off.

4. The female characters are a bunch of air heads that are significantly over indulged and have nothing else to do but simper and fret. The male characters are not paragons of thought either.

5. This book, written by the king of bore himself, and 811 pages long has got to be the most pointless book I have ever had to read. It's just about some woman's extra-marital affair with some guy and these two newlyweds' life together. Honestly I could care less.

6. This book is all about some badly behaved brothers and their mean father and how they do nothing but shout and drink and threaten one another and are lewd and then, one of them anyway, goes to England, or at least he wants to. You call that a story?

Today's question: is there a classic you love Love LOVED, only to recommend it to a friend who hated it?


Joan Emerson said...

It’s hard to understand how anyone could write such negative reviews for any of these books . . . .
I’ve never had a friend actually dislike a book I recommended, but we occasionally disagree on how much we each liked the book.

Hallie Ephron said...

ANSWERS, which you probably guessed
1. Catcher in the Rye
2. The Great Gatsby
3. The Catcher in the Rye
4. Pride & Prejudice
5. Anna Karenina
6. The Brothers Karamazov

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

That's such good advice Hallie, and so hard to follow! You have better self-control than some others of us:). It's hard to understand why someone would write a one-star review though--on anything--isn't it?

My writer friend suggested that people are used to panning things from big companies, and so they don't think of writers as human beings, just producers of products.

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Great post, Hallie!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Don't read reviews! Really. It's so shocking and sometimes amazingly cruel.
However. My favorite one-star was for my short story.
All the review said about the short story-it was just 3 words long: "Not a book."

FChurch said...

If I pick up a book to read and put it down after the first few pages because I find it uninteresting--I realize that other readers may find it enthralling. But sometimes I start a book and after the first few pages find that it's poorly written (as in basic grammar), the characterizations are trite, the plot tired, and the setting cliched. And I toss it aside in disgust--how does such drivel get published? But I don't sit down and fire off a review--because, as Hallie notes, the book is already published. Instead, I try to seek out and support those authors whose talent and work ethic are reflected in their books.

Anonymous said...

(I thought I posted a response, but it seems to have disappeared)

Sometimes it seems as though the writers of one star reviews have not read the same book I read.

When I don't like a book, it's usually because it's just not my style, not because I think it should never have been published! I might even recommend it to someone whom I think would enjoy it.

Deb Romano

Ken Sullivan said...

One of my favorite authors once got a one-star review because it took Amazon 2 weeks to ship the book! Amazon is supposed to screen reviews that aren't actually about the quality of the book itself but dropped the ball on this one. Another book received a one-star Amazon review because the reviewer felt it told us who the killer was way too soon. The problem with that review is that the book was a true-crime work about a murder where the police were sure they knew who the killer was right off the bat, but they had to go through an enormously difficult investigation to gather enough evidence to prove it.
By the way, I recently read 'Wuthering Heights' and was amazed by how much I disliked it. I would have given it a one-star review if I had thought it would make a difference.

Anonymous said...

Several times I've started to read books that I just couldn't get into, and so I didn't finish reading them. I've gone back to them months or even a year or so later, and could not put them down and then ended up reading everything the author ever wrote! I've discovered some of my favorite authors this way.

Deb Romano

Ann in Rochester said...

I hate reviewers who are disagreeable but then I pay them no mind. When I rate a book, the worst is three stars. If I hate the book, I don't rate it at all. I have so much respect for anyone who can right and get published, and no one deserves a crap response from a reader. Mind you I always download a sample first. Therefore I can be reasonably sure that I only read what I like.

Pat D said...

I don't know. . .some of these reviews are so poorly written that I wonder if the reviewer likes any books. It may be a case that said reviewer likes a particular trope or format and if the book doesn't meet those expectations it is panned.

Hallie Ephron said...

Yes, I agree, a poorly written review "speaks" for itself. But then there are the looooong reviews that seem to be written so we'll all realize how brilliant the reviewer is.

Libby Dodd said...

I make it my policy to not post a review lower than 3 out or 5 stars.
It may well be that this is just not "my" book and someone else will enjoy it.
Perhaps I read it with the wrong expectations, wanting it to be a different book.
That is not the writer's fault and why should I penalize them for it?
There are review bullies out there, just like other kinds of bullies. They seem to enjoy making people miserable. A power trip on their part perhaps?

Kathy Reel said...

I feel so fortunate these days in my reading, because I actually have piles of books I'm trying to get to that contain guaranteed great reading. With my preferred genre of mystery and crime, I would have to work hard to find a bad book, what with favorite authors writing new books all the time and friends in this community recommending a must-read. The last book I was a tad disappointed in was A God in Ruins, which everyone around me loved. And, I did think it was a grand story, but I preferred Life After Life by Atkinson, the first of these two related books. I loved that book. It did drive home the point though that even those of us with similar tastes can respond differently to a book. Now, I did give A God in Ruins a four-star rating, so I obviously enjoyed it, and sometimes I think I might have done a too comparative rating to the first book.

But, if I did come across a book that I just couldn't get interested in or was written badly, I would simply quit reading the book, so there wouldn't be a one-star or two-star rating. I know that there are people who read certain areas of mystery or fiction and feel compelled to complete each book and report on it, but my philosophy as a reviewer is to focus on the positive. I want to share reading that excites me with people who follow my reviews or blog. I just don't like negativity in reviews. I don't see a need for it. And, the authors I've become friends with or have met are wonderful people who pour their hearts and souls into their writing. Why would anyone want to hurt someone with a bad review? And, as we've said, one person's favorite read might not be another person's cup of tea.

Oh, and I think Libby is right that there are review bullies and that it's a power trip sort of exercise in giving a bad review. Thankfully, the reviewers with whom I've become good friends are all positive and respectful of the authors' great task of writing and becoming published.

Mary Sutton said...

(Checking in a little later than usual because I was attending a police academy today - I'm proud to say that I did NOT shoot any civilians during the shoot/don't shoot simulation! LOL)

I'm with Lucy. I think people believe they are reviewing a product by "HarperCollins" or "Hachettle" and forget there's a real, (sometimes living) person behind the production.

I don't leave below a 3-star rating (which in my mind equates to "good, but don't buy it"). UNLESS I feel compelled to prevent some poor soul from wasting any money on an over twenty-dollar hardback. But that's really rare. If I can't must enough good things for at least three stars, I simply don't bother.

A lot of people I know raved about Gone Girl. Nope, not my cup of tea. Same for Bel Canto. The writing was beautiful...but get ON with it already!

I used to feel compelled to finish a book. Not any more. Life is too short for bad food, bad chocolate, bad wine, and bad books.

Elisabeth said...

Hallie, a little confused with your answer about the first review: should it be To Kill a Mocking Bird rather than Cather in the Rye? Thanks for the interesting negatives on these classics. I so want to believe that the "teacher" who wrote the Mocking Bird review is a student who read the Cliff's Notes version and got a failing grade and is trying to get revenge on the teacher. :-)

Karen in Ohio said...

When I read reviews of books I've read I sometimes wonder if we read the same story. How did X = Y to this reader, when X + X to me?

I often wonder if authors are shocked and surprised to read reviews that ascribe certain themes and motives to their work that they may or may not have either intended or even suspected. And whether it amuses or dismays.

So I rarely write reviews, and almost never read them. That's partly why I'm in two book clubs--because I get so much more out of a book when I can discuss it with others who read it, too.

Elisabeth said...

I mean "catcher"...not meaning to cast aspersions toward Ms Willa! Oops.;-)

Hallie Ephron said...

ACK! Of course you're right, Elisabeth - #1 is To Kill a Mockingbird. I was just seeing if anyone was paying attention ;-)

Elisabeth said...

It is the weekend -- attention need not be paid. :-)

Joan Emerson said...

Reading reviews generally drives me crazy. Often I shake my head and wonder if the reviewer and I actually read the same book. And while I understand one- and two-star ratings, I think always balancing those reviews with something positive about the book makes for a much fairer review.
If a reader didn't finish the book, why are they reviewing it?
"Not my cup of tea" should not mean a book automatically warrants a one-star rating; conversely, I am amazed at people who write, "I loved this book!" and then give it one star . . . .

Gigi Norwood said...

I usually don't review a book unless I really love it, and until recently I dismissed the one-star reviewers as trolls who simply get their jollies by dumping on other people. But a month or so ago I read a book that was so deceptively packaged that I felt I ought to warn people. Specifically, the book was marketed as a funny mystery/romance about a pampered pooch. I bought it because I love stories like that. What I found was callous treatment of the dog, culminating in an act of animal cruelty that should have warranted felony prosecution, but which was basically shrugged off by the characters in the story. Many of my animal-loving friends would have been sickened by what happened to the dog in this book, so I felt it necessary to warn unwary readers who fell for the cute cover. Under other circumstances, if I don't like a book, or get bored by it, I don't review it at all.

Ray said...

My favorite one-star review was for Robot Haiku. It started with the phrase "What a self-indulgent POS!" Then went on to say how the reviewer read it and didn't like it, so shared it with her husband who read it and didn't like it, then her brother who read it and didn't like it.

If only my five-star reviews engaged in that much word of mouth.