I am woefully behind on my reading list.
So I jumped into a new book this week. And it ended up being that book. You know, that book you pick up because everybody is talking about it and everybody says it is awesome. It has some crazy-high rating on Goodreads (like way over 4), and everyone on Amazon says it’s just the best, and your friends are all reading it and they all love it.
And then IT happened.
YOU know. IT. That moment when you realize you absolutely detest the book everyone else in the world loves so very, very much.
For the record, this actually doesn’t happen to me very much. I am incredibly forgiving when it comes to books, and I can almost always find something that I connect with in a book. I have sat through the most ridiculous, over-the-top plot lines just because I loved the characters so much. I have endured horrific writing, and sometimes horrific editing, because a plot line or a theme was so intriguing. I don’t even bother to rate books on Goodreads anymore because there’s almost no point—my ratings are almost all 4s and 5s.
But every now and then, even I manage to happen upon a book that I can find nothing redeeming in. And this was one of those books. The characters were all either absurd or so annoying that I wanted nothing to do with them. The themes were so preachy I wanted to vomit. The writing wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. And the plot? I can’t even talk about it.
I was so stunned by my own reaction to these author’s words that I actually looked the book back up on Goodreads just to make sure I hadn’t somehow imagined those ratings. Nope. Still waaay over 4. And from a LOT of other people, too. No one else even touched on any of my concerns.
Okay. So there are a lot of moments in life where we find ourselves wondering: is it them or me? As such, I was forced to ponder this question. Was I somehow missing something? Had I misjudged this author’s thematic weaving? Was there something in their characters I wasn’t understanding?
Which got me thinking about my own book reviews, and the nature of the book reviewer/reader/author relationship.
As a new author, this has been tricky water for me to navigate. I have cried my eyes out at more than one horrific review for my first book. I have actually lain awake at night, terrified of the reviews that will soon be emerging for my next book, which comes out in July. I have followed the Twitter chatter discussing whether Goodreads is a place of “bullies” who attack each other out of a need to hold power over one another and destroy the self-esteem of others. I have followed the arguing chatter that Goodreads should be a place where people can speak their mind about a book, free of being accused of the incredibly serious (and I do think bullying is a serious accusation, make no mistake) crime of bullying when they write a scathing review.
In the end, reading this book was a nice reminder for me. It was nice reminder of a very important sentiment I often seem to forget: “not every book is for every person.”
This quote is shamelessly stolen from author Amy Lane. Lane writes fantasy books for young adults, as well as romance novels for adults, and her blogs about the convoluted and confusing world of book reviewing have gotten me through more than one bad review. If you’re ever in the spot of needing to be talked down off the ceiling because someone’s just called your writing “utterly pointless,” you can find one of her blogs on the subject here.
It’s a quote I think we would all do well to remember—whether we’re writing an angry review on Goodreads, reading a book we think could hang the moon, trying to figure out why we hate the book that the entire rest of world loves, or just wondering why someone would so detest something we took the time and energy to create.
After all, the truth is usually somewhere in the middle, right? Those nasty review on Goodreads usually aren’t bullying. (Though I’m sure there are outlier examples that do fall into that category, because this is the Internet, after all.) They’re just people trying to express an opinion, which is often not the same opinion everyone else has. And when we can’t figure out why everyone doesn’t share our opinion, we tend to go a little overboard convincing everyone else just how right we are. On the other hand, is there really that need to express extreme hatred for someone else’s work just because you didn’t enjoy it? What’s so wrong with stating your honest opinion, without vitriol, and moving on?
No worries if you’ve lost me, because I have an anecdote ready and waiting to illustrate this point. (Yes, I know, you thought this blog couldn’t possibly get any longer.) Not that long ago someone wrote a fairly unhappy review of my first book, Here’s to You, Zeb Pike. The review was honest. It said exactly what the reader found to be problematic with the book, who might still like it, and it moved on. When someone else commented on the review, it was clear they wanted to play on any potential negativity in the review, even though they hadn’t read the book. They said something to the extent that they hadn’t read my book yet, but they could see exactly how many things they would hate about it. (Here I would like to reiterate that they HADN’T EVEN READ THE BOOK.)
You know what the reviewer responded with? They acknowledged the responder’s concern, and then mentioned how many others had liked those aspects of the book. They didn’t engage with the negativity. They even ended their own response by noting how many people seemed to disagree with their opinion of my book.
Wow. I have never been more stunned by internet maturity. And you better believe I hope that same person will review my next book. Because even if they hate it, I can trust that they will review it with honesty AND honor for that all-important-adage: "not every book is for every person.”
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t write Goodsreads reviews, so I wasn’t forced to quell an urge here to prove that I was right and that everyone else was wrong by writing an angry and disgusted review of this book. If I had decided to write a review, though, I like to think I could have done so with honor for that adage. I like to think I would have written a review that would have steered those who think like me away from the book, thereby saving them the trouble of reading a book they probably wouldn’t like. I like to think that same review would still have made it clear that there are obviously people who find many aspects of the book to be incredibly valuable, thereby not steering the entire populace away from the book out of spite. I like to think I would written a review that does what a review is supposed to do: get the right books to the right people.
Because maybe it's them. Or maybe it’s me. Or maybe it’s just the simple fact that we’re all wired differently, and that’s what makes the human race so beautiful.