Sunday, May 13, 2012

On offending fans (and being wrong?)

So, I've posted truncated versions of all of my book reviews on Amazon (Here's my Amazon profile). I thought it would be fun, I was curious how it worked. And I made some immediate enemies. Here are a few of the comments I've gotten from readers of my reviews there:

Why slam a book this much, please stop reading, talking about this book or all 3, and of course the movie. Peace, out. Move onto another book to slam (preferably 50 Shades of Grey!!!!!).
Typical. Someone who doesn't write particularly well has plenty of criticism for someone who does. Perhaps you could complete your English degree and come back when you are able to avoid awkward phrases such as "from the get-go" and use words properly (I believe you meant "flair" rather than "flare", for example).
I'm pretty sure you are not the target audience for this book if you are scribbling critiques in the margins and compiling notes on its failings, as if you are going to write a term paper. OK, so you are not impressed. But do you ever turn off your critic and read for pure fun?

So, basically, despite my efforts to not sound too much like a pompous douche-bag, people still think I'm a pompous douche-bag. That's okay. I can't say it's a criticism that's completely off the mark. It's just that these kinds of comments are rarely followed up with much of a rebuttal of any points in my review.

So, I wonder, are my reviews wrong? Did I miss something significant when I read the books? Obviously all of you, my loyal (can you be loyal after three weeks?) readers, won't be so critical, since that might hurt my feelings (hurt my feelings! Do it! I can take it! I love a good argument! Maybe I'll change my mind! Maybe I'll stop exclaiming things!).

Really, though, I don't mind criticism, even harsh criticism. And if you want to call me an arrogant bastard or a douche-bag, really, that's okay. Because you can always end your comment with "just sayin'" and a smiley face emoticon, and then I won't hold it against you.

If it strikes your fancy, you can head on over to Amazon to see which of my reviews people seem to like, and which they don't. For instance, NOBODY seems to think I know what the hell I'm talking about with Harry Potter. Do you agree? Have I just encountered 7 out of 7 enraged fanboys? Or am I just wrong about that review? Overall, I've had 29 of 54 votes for helpful reviews. Feel free to add to that percentage, one way or the other.

Here are links to each of the reviews, in "helpful vote percentage" order:

Eragon (2/2 helpful votes)

Moby-Dick (1/1 helpful votes)

Twilight (3/4 helpful votes)

The Hunger Games (5/7 helpful votes)

Wizard's First Rule (10/14 helpful votes)

The Graveyard Book (1/2 helpful votes)

Red Mars (1/2 helpful votes)

The Road (1/2 helpful votes)

A Game of Thrones (3/6 helpful votes)

The Fellowship of the Ring (1/3 helpful votes)

The Eye of the World (1/4 helpful votes)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (0/7 helpful votes)

The Sword of Shannara (no votes yet)

The Once and Future King (no votes yet)


  1. I was sure at least one "Harry Potter" fan would give you the what-for here. I don't think you're a pompous douche-bag (sometimes you just play one on TV), but I did have my concerns about your "Harry Potter" review, i.e. that it is a 7-book series and you are reviewing it as a single book. I assume that most HP lovers would kind of discount your opinion based on that fact alone. That's the thought of a non-HP lover who hasn't read any of the books or seen the movies.

  2. P.S. I only tell you this because I know you can take it: you didn't offend any fans as far as I know; most of those people just hated you right from the beginning. Smiley-face emoticon :)

  3. Ok, I'll bite! I think Lindsay is expecting me to be the rabid, angry Harry Potter fan, but the truth is, I agree with your review (again). In fact, I didn't become a fan of the series until the fourth book came out--at which point I tore through all four on a cross-country road trip. Up until then I had avoided the boy wizard because I thought anything that popular must not have any real merit. What changed? Well, one day, at my D&D meeting (yup) a friend convinced me that something doesn't have to be high literature to be worth reading. Harry Potter was simply fun. Fun? In a book? And I wouldn't have to apologize for reading something where I didn't have to look up every ninth word in a dictionary? I could just read it because it was FUN? I was sold.

    Ultimately, I do think the series offers more as a whole than you would find in just the first book. You can kind of watch Rowling's writing improve over time, and she definitely has the characters grow up with the audience, dealing with many things that most adolescents deal with. However, in your review, you explicitly state that your review only applies to the first book, and, let's be honest, it's REALLY fun, but not great literature. That doesn't mean it's not worth reading--it's just worth reading for different reasons from what you personally might be looking for in a book.

    The problem I see (which I think I kind of already said in my comments about your Hunger Games review) is that you are applying a very critical lens to writing that most people are not expecting to live up to all of your standards. That's not to say you shouldn't have those standards, that they aren't important, that it isn't interesting to review these works that way, and that a high scoring book on your chart doesn't deserve to be called a good book. And I certainly won't make excuses for bad writing (I could not possibly agree more with your review of Eragon--yes, his age is impressive, but beyond that, it was a little bit terrible). If those are the qualities you look for in each and every book you read, I applaud you for pinning that down.

    I think your reviews are marked as "not helpful" because, through marketing, people usually already know what they are picking up. For example, I don't know that many people pick up Twilight expecting "depth of concept" or even "well rounded characters." They are JUST looking for a page turner (and some other things, but I'm trying to avoid being too offensive here). Therefore, when you apply your lens to it and it comes up lacking in those areas, they are not impressed and even may be a little insulted that you are missing the bigger picture, disparaging their beloved book because it didn't provide something that it never promised to. It's like showing up to their town's local fair and being disappointed that it isn't Disneyland. It never said it was Disneyland--it just said it would be a fun time with some rides and food. But if you are looking for the next Disneyland, then it makes sense for you to review every fair, carnival, or theme park you encounter with your Disneyland criteria. I hope I didn't stretch that analogy too far.

    So...sorry for the novel, but in summation: Of the books I have read, I have agreed with every review you have posted, even if you hated the book and I loved it, because sometimes a book is greater than the sum of its parts. Your Amazon reviews are probably marked as not helpful because they are just not what people expect from Amazon reviews and because people are defensive of things they love.

    I hope you did not find this offensive. Just saying, smiley face.

    1. D & D estimation of you just went up a couple of notches.

      Also, I agree with you, Harry Potter was fun. Anything I score above a "5" I think is a worthy read, even if it's not the greatest work of art. And I think there's a lot to be said about a novel that you can virtually engulf in one sitting (especially the kind of thing that can make your time on boring trips become fun and engaging).

      When I would walk Addison in her stroller when she was still willing to get into a stroller, there's no way I'd be reading Moby-Dick. No, I went to the library and picked out a novelization of HALO. Great literature? No. Made my walks more enjoyable? Absolutely. It fit the purpose. I didn't need a thinking book, I needed a page-turner. And I'd certainly rate Harry Potter higher than the HALO novelization.

      Good point about how a lot of people know what they're getting when they decide to pick up a book...such that even if it's not a great book, they'd score it a perfect "10" for suiting what they wanted to read in that moment. The tough thing is when you have people saying Eragon was a "10," because they knew what it was and they wanted to read it, just the same that people score Harry Potter a "10." How to differentiate? How to explain to your friends which one is the better choice to pick up? That's part of what I'm trying to do.

      I'm going to think more about what you say about fairs and Disneyland (which is where Lindsay and Addison are as I write this)...I think it's a good analogy, and something to be thoughtful about.

      Thanks for taking the time to think about this!

    2. I don't think I pointed out that in your reviews here, offering alternatives or comparable books is a fantastic idea. It shows you're not a douche bag who only likes to be critical, and it also shows that you do recognize what people might be looking for when they pick up a particular book. I really appreciate that section.

    3. Yeah, I sometimes think I should spend even more time with comparables...but then I see how long these reviews are and I want to kick myself in the face. But thanks for the feedback!

  4. Wow, people really came after you, huh? Just wait until they come after you on your blog, too- that's always fun! And even more fun when it's the authors and authors' posses, not just the fans.

    I think everyone has a different review style, and I hesitate to ever say that someone is reviewing "wrong" just because he doesn't get helpful votes. It's worth pointing out that many of the reviews you posted are of REALLY popular books with a lot of die-hard fans. Are the ones for the less currently popular books garnering as much criticism as the others?

    1. Honestly, it would kind of make my say if Terry Goodkind showed up on my blog and was all, "take it back, you d-bag!"

      And, I'm not really surprised about the fans for the REALLY popular books not being so excited for my criticism. I'm not really that bothered by getting unhelpful votes, it's just part of the process of differentiating one's preferences from others. I DO, however, look forward to actual conversations about how people see books differently than I do.

      It's interesting to me that some of the books I rated highly (The Road, Red Mars, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Graveyard Book), that are also less currently popular, have gotten such lackluster feedback. Not hurtful, just interesting.

      I'll have to do a post to update the stats in a couple weeks.

    2. Also also, I don't think I'd be really interested in slamming books where I had any chance of hurting the authors livelihood.

      But as it is, I'm not too worried about any of these folks.