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Sunday, June 12, 2011

In Which Jane Austen Feels My Wrath!

I got this email the other day:
"Dear Steve – I’m asking a few new writers this question and since I recently discovered your blog I thought I ask for your answer too. I was wondering if authors feel they have to filter their remarks when they write book reviews. The book reviews on your blog are all positive. Do you just love everything you read?”

First, thank you for the email. Second, that’s an interesting question and one worthy of a full blog post. So here you go.

I think you’ll find that a lot of authors are nervous about reviewing books they don’t like. Not just because they don’t want to offend another writer, but because they are inherently insecure about their own writing (especially new authors). Perhaps some are even afraid that criticizing a book may make them look naïve. Imagine a fledgling movie producer badmouthing the latest Spielberg flick. That new producer might come across ignorant or arrogant or perhaps a bit of both.

Another reason author reviews might be a bit tame is because authors know the publication process. They know that editors, designers, marketers … etc all rejoice when a book they worked on gets a good review and, conversely, cringe when it doesn’t. Book publishing is a labor of love for more than just the author so giving a book a bad review might sting more people than you intend. That said, I appreciate honest reviews of books. I pick a great many of the books I read based on what other people say about them. People have different tastes and if there’s something you don’t like, by all means share it. Just like with movies, some people are going to love what another person hates. I think diversity in book reviews is a great thing.

And no, I don’t like everything I read. Just like I don’t like every movie I watch, or every song I hear or every piece of art I see. I probably read five or six books a week, and I often run across a story that doesn’t resonate with me. But I do tend to review only those books I really enjoyed. I find it too hard to censor myself otherwise.

Pride and Prejudice, for example, is probably one of my least favorite books. It’s not that I hated it, I just feel that the book should be placed in a burlap sack, whacked several times with a large wrench, chained to a piece of concrete and unceremoniously shoved off a boat in the middle of a very deep lake. 

See, no ability to self-censor! I really need to work on that.

Just so there’s no misunderstanding, and so I don’t get angry comments, there is no question that Jane Austen is a brilliant writer and I do like a lot of her work. I enjoyed Emma, for example, but Emma was witty, her character was hilariously unaware and the plot was interesting. Pride and Prejudice, on the other hand, was filled with uninteresting socialites who are desperate to marry for money rather than love. I’d recommend Pride & Prejudice to anyone who has always wanted a reason to harm a book. 

Doggone it, there I go again! ;)


Marty said...

This post made me laugh, until the part about Pride and Prejudice. I loved Pride and Prejudice! LOL But I know a few people who feel like you.

Stephen King doesn't hold back with his reviews of authors. But he's probably too high up there to care if he's mean.
In that article he says that Stephanie Meyer can't write worth a darn. It makes me laugh but I do feel bad for her to have someone like King say something like that.

Ruth said...

LOL! Well, you'll probably never sit next to Jane at a conference or book signing, so at least that potential awkwardness will be avoided.

linda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
linda said...

Bleh, made a typo.

I understand the reasoning behind why writers like to post only positive reviews. But as a reader, even when I know those writers don't love every book they read and choose to post only the positive reviews, I can't help myself from giving less weight to them when every single one is glowing. Especially if the reviewers happen to love a lot of books.

I love Pride and Prejudice! Your comments are funny though. I think only one of your sentences would qualify as a review, but I guess that's not what you were going for. :P

Steven Whibley said...

@Ruth- you're right, the odds of sitting next to Jane Austen at a conference is pretty low, which was probably one of the reasons I picked her book to use as an example. Plus I do like her stuff ... just not P&P ;)

Steven Whibley said...

@Linda - I agree. When I notice on Goodreads that a reviewer is an author I take their positive reviews with a grain of salt (unless they have several one or two star reviews that don't hold back). I read a lot of books, and on this site I'll probably only post reviews of books I really liked (But I really will have liked them). If I don't like something, I will just not review it. I don't think authors should need to be afraid to review books honestly, yet I fall into the category of authors whose reviews are overwhelmingly positive.

Maybe I just need to read more books by long-deceased authors.

T.D. McFrost said...

@ Marty. But he is absolutely right! Her writing skill is sorely lacking. I suppose he feels contempt because she makes it seem that anyone with a pulse can write a novel and strike it rich. (Especially, if you know how difficult it was for HIM to get published--she did so in six months!)

Great blog Steven! :D

Cynthia said...

Personally I'll review what I like simply because I want to share the joy of reading the book!

Sneha Sunny said...

That was funny about the book P&P. More funny for me as I've not read that book. Funny post. :D

Steven Whibley said...

@Cynthia - that's the way it should be. I wish everyone who read books would review them.

Steven Whibley said...

@Sneha - Thanks, I'm glad you liked it. I do expect some threatening voice mails from my sisters in the next few hours. Most of them loved P&P. Now that I think of it, most people in general liked P&P.

Ellen said...

okay, there is your angry comment for the day! ;)
but in all fairness, yeah, I know, people have that whole personal-preference thing (like for example some people DO NOT LIKE TALE OF TWO CITIES WHAT HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE!?). ahem. :D

Steven Whibley said...

@Ellen - you just made me spit orange juice all over my computer... you also made me check the locks on my front door! HA!

Ellen said...

LOL. good to know I'm that scary? >.>

Valerie Ipson said...

Great post. I'm hesitant to give bad reviews because I hope to be in that author's place someday and I know I will appreciate a good review. By the same token I cannot tell a lie, so I usually just give the facts about the story to help advertise it, but don't express my opinion if I can't give rave reviews.

Honey said...

Nicely done Steve! I attribute the dislike of certain books (that I won't mention) to the changing times. No longer does a reader want the drawn out tension of two lovers' desires. It's all about action--the give it to me now descriptions and move along. Teens today would shriek in misery if they had to read P&P today. So there you go---take P&P and make it your next adventure/fantasy/love story to keep up with the times! LOL!!

P.S. Knew your blogs would take off!! Well done!

Donna K. Weaver said...


Dude, you're missing the point that P&P is a reflection of its time, just as Gone with the Wind was a very real description of the time of the American Civil Ward. Women of a certain station in life, who could not go out and get a job to support themselves, were in a position of marrying men who could support them. And in the process surrender whatever power they had to their new husbands. In a day of arranged marriages, the idea of love was considered a bit of a whimsy. Ever seen Fiddler on the Roof?

Deana said...

Ripping my heart out with the P & P comments Steven:)

The reasons you listed for book reviews are the exact ones I shy away from them. I am not published...YET, but writers, better than anyone, understand the often grueling road to writing a novel so what good is it going to do to rip their baby to shreds? Good for you to choose the high road:)

DEZMOND said...

ooooh, I love it when someone trashes Jane Austen :)
I'm constantly shocked when American readers consider her books classics. She would be a cheap romance writer if she lived today :)

A very charming blog, Steven :)

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