105 Ways to Give a Book

So Maybe I Do Some Negative Reviews

Gail, from Original Content, suggested in the comments that perhaps too much weight has been put on the term “negative” in respect to reviews. She says:
To try to do a balanced... response... to a book in which you discuss what you see as weaknesses in writing technique, logic, what have you, just isn’t seriously “negative.” Reviewing, criticism just shouldn’t be a love-her or hate-her thing. It’s not a “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” situation.

Think about writers’ groups. Writers’ groups in which the criticism is all “positive” are useless.

So-called “negative” material in reviews just should be phrased in a respectful way, the way it would be phrased in a writing group.
Yeah, I’ve blown the repectful part. Repeatedly.

But it was interesting to me in that I don’t think of the writer as a reason for my review. I write about books for my own records. I write about books to share with other readers. I even could say that I write about books to let librarians know what to purchase. But it is interesting to think of the review in context of a writers’ group.

In many reviews, I’ve told why I didn’t like a book, but acknowleged why others would like it. Let’s call this the Nick & Norah. I know that lots of people loved this interesting, exciting, edgy book. It didn’t do it for me, and I explained why. It’s more of a personal thing.

In some reviews, I’ve told why I didn’t like a book and pointed out some intrinsic flaws. Let’s call this the Day The Dinosaurs Died. I don’t think that the graphic death of the dinosaurs needs to be brought into easy-reader format. Horn Book disagrees with me, but I think a fundamental flaw of the book is making lurid prose and illustrations for first graders.

In the rarest reviews, I hate a book beyond words. Or it takes me so long to get my words together that I don’t write a thorough review and maybe even make a jab at the author (which I feel a little bad about now). Let’s call this the Tulane. Honestly, I shouldn’t even link there.

Now in a writing group, I might ask David Levithan if it’s really necessary to have the character of Nick say the f-word 26 times on one page — considering that one third of the page is blank. If that page is any indication, David Levithan might say to me, “Who the f*** do you think you are, you sorry f***? Don’t you f***ing think I might know how to f***ing write a f***ing book better than you, MotherF*****!” My point being that while he knows what he’s doing in writing it that way, it’s just not to my taste — not that I don’t love the f-word. But other readers may want to consider the profanity in their reading and/or purchasing of the book.

In a writing group, I’d be tempted to ask the author of The Day the Dinosaur Died if perhaps the book was a little... much for young readers. If the violence of the book is any indication, she would throw me into a flaming volcano. (Make sure you pay attention to where you hold your writing group sessions.)

In a writing group, I’d take Kate DiCamillo’s hand and nicely — very nicely — ask if she wanted to talk about what was wrong, thereby allowing her to rid herself of her demons so that they will no longer take over her lovely writing and give us another Tulane.

But it’s not a writing group. The books are written, and I have no influence over the author’s process anymore. I can only record my own reactions — and in doing so, perhaps influence the readers’ choices. But were I to give up negative reviews, I’d be giving up such lines as:
The worst thing about this book is the title, which implies that this is one of many books about Ham and Pickles. How unfortunate.
Mean? Yeah, maybe. But, it’s my blog and I’ll snark if I want to.

You would snark too if you read what I do.


web said...


Nancy said...

Okay, your last two sentences made me laugh out loud. I do so like to visit here.

gail said...

I think asking if it's necessary for a character to use the f-word 26 times on one page is very appropriate for a review. Not only is it a question about writing, it's something I think readers are interested in, too.

Sometimes your readers are going to have already read the book you're reviewing. In which case, your review becomes a sort of discussion with the reader instead of a recommendation.

MotherReader said...

Glad I made someone laugh, you know, besides myself.

Gail, thanks for the jumping off point for this post. And your comment today is insightful as well. You're right about the review being a discussion of the book as well as a recommendation - or warning. Those are some of the most interesting posts as well.

Jone aka MsMac said...

It's interesting to read about the graphic illustrations in The Day the Dinosaurs Died, an easy reader. I had a parent complain about the easy reader, Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid. It bothered her first grader and it wasn't like the movie.
The illustrations were on the more grapahic side but then HCA's orignal text wasn't very first grade friendly. I now tell my younger readers that this is a differenct version from the Disney movie.

eisha said...

I am hooting out loud at the image of you consoling Kate DiCamillo. If only you'd been there...

You so totally rock, MotherF*****.

Freudian Slip said...

Keep on telling it like it is, that is what your readers definitely want! Its why we're here! :)

Colleen said...

You know it's funny because in the midst of all this neg vs pos I was reading Fire, Bed, & Bone last night. It's a mid grade his fiction about the 14th century peasant revolts in England but told from a dog's perspective. (Which all sounds awful but reads just fine - I like when authors use animals for this sort of thing; it makes the story easier on some readers.) I thought it would be great for a historical fic column and then - about 20 or so pages in - 2 of the puppies get carried off and eaten by a wild cat.

Okay. I'm done now.

This is totally personal opinion - it could be a great book overall but I was so completely freaked out by Old Yeller when I was young that I hate - I HATE - books where the damn dog dies. And I really hate when it's been done for a stupid reason like one (the mother dog can't deal with all three puppies after her family is dragged off by soldiers so the author had to dispense with two of them quickly.

I remember reading a while back about a book called "The Dog Doesn't Die" or something like that and it was just my kind of thing. I just have a blind spot when it comes to these kinds of books and I can not get past it.

So - if I reviewed this book (which would require reading the whole thing) I would say (more than once) why did the damn pupppies die???? And, well, the review would be negative because I hate that. So, I'm not going to review it as it would not be fair to the author, which I guess is my way of respecting this author. And honestly, I can't bring myself to read anymore.

I'm pathetic, but at least I know my limitations, right?!