So Bad…

I love bad reviews. I don’t mean reviews that are written poorly, I mean reviews where the author really goes crazy about why they don’t like something. Nothing amuses me more than seeing someone skewer something.

What is wrong with me?

OK- here’s the thing. I try to be a positive person, and I know that if someone really hated my work, I would be crushed. So why do I take delight in reading and liking bad reviews?

Because they are more descriptive. Simple as that.

When someone likes something, they tend to say it’s good, or it’s nice, or some other meaningless adjective. Have you ever watched “Food Network Star”? Essentially it’s a reality show where a bunch of people do weekly demos in hopes of landing their own show on FoodNetwork. The mentors (most recently Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentis) have the most trouble with contestants when they are trying to describe the food they are tasting. People always revert back to yummy and tasty. OK- while that means they like it, it doesn’t show why they like it. Those are bland words: I want exciting words. I want words that conjure images, make me feel like I’m tasting the food. Well, it’s the same thing when you are reviewing books or movies. I don’t want to hear that it’s “so good”. I want to here the details.

It’s all in the details my friends.

For some reason, when something is bad, we’re able to describe the badness better. I know I do: the few times I’ve critiqued a book, I’ve had no problem explaining why I hated it, or what didn’t make sense, or whatever. The bad things stick out. Good things don’t often stick out. I can be funny (kind of, sort of) when reviewing something I don’t like- I am much better at articulating the reasons why I don’t like something.

I notice it in my book club too. When we all like a book (which is admittedly rare) the discussion is boring: we all have the same favorite scene, we think the author did most things well, blah blah are you asleep yet blah. But when it’s 50/50, and half hate and half love- well- off we go with the discussion, the argument, the fun of discussing a book. And when we all hate a book? Well, that’s discussion gold!!

So what is it about hating something that makes it so much easier to discuss? Why do people have trouble with describing why we like something? Why do we revert back to “I don’t know why, I just do?”

So, hoping at least half of you did not like this post:

Discuss…

 

Plot, Characters, Setting Oh My

TJ and I have been tossing on and off about book reviews, how you should do them and what does it mean. Shalini talked about how one bad aspect of a book can really screw you up (actually I don’t remember exactly what she said, but I totally remember my light bulb moment after I read it, so there you go…) Therefore, if you like my blog today, thank me: if you don’t, blame them…

What’s the most important aspect of a book?

Does one aspect of a book matter more?

I’ve been seriously pondering both of these questions lately. What makes a book good or bad? What makes you like a book or hate it? Can you like a bad book?

I know- threw a lot out there at you on a Monday morning. So I’m going to think about these questions from the viewpoint of the book I finished over the weekend, “Star-Crossed” by Minnie Darke. There will be spoilers, but it’s a romantic comedy, so, really.

Predictability: Ok- since I led into this, this book is pretty straightforward in that you know what’s going to happen. You may not know the details along the way, but you know exactly what the arc of this story is going to be- you can almost guess the pages of the climax and the final reveal. Does this make the book bad? Many people critique a book saying it was cliché, and therefore worthy of a lousy review. should a book be dinged because it’s predictable? Well, that depends. In this case no, because of its genre. When I picked up the book I wanted a light, easy, fun read. It’s a romantic comedy: when you decide to read one, you’re pretty much signing on for predicable: do you really want to read a rom com where the two main characters don’t end up together in the end? So yes, predictable, but I expected it. Not dinging this book for that. But another genre of book? I don’t want it to be a pat and scripted journey.

So: how important is predictability? Depends on the genre.

Plot. This kind of goes in hand with predictability. And it also depends on genre. The plot of the book I discussed was straightforward, but again- rom com. It’s supposed to be that way. But, in this case, the little details that filled in the blanks were good: I thought how the author got where she was going was interesting and fun. Our female protagonist is a low level (but rising) employee at a monthly magazine. She has a think for a guy who truly believes in horoscopes, so when she is entering the horoscope copy for layout, she sort of tweaks it so that maybe it will lead him to her. Clever, right? And along the way, we see how she has changed the patterns of other lives because of her false predictions. Even though the story was totally predictable, I enjoyed the ride the author took us on. It was light and easy and fun.

Characters. Do you need to like the characters? This is something I think about often. I know many people will stop reading a book, or ding it badly if they do not like the main character. Is this fair? Again- I think it depends on genre. In the book I’m using as an example, I think you must love, or really like, the two main characters. But other books? I liked “Gone Girl” even though I hated both the main characters. But they intrigued me: sometimes that’s all the hook you need.

Setting/description. How much do you need? How much is important? Ok- I do not like overly descriptive work. When someone gives me a laundry list of the designed names in a closet, and gives me intricate detail of clothing, I am starting to fall asleep. I don’t need to know everything on their kitchen counter, or every objet d’art on their shelves. I want to know the general style, the general upkeep and the colors: that’s what I need to give me a sense of the person. I need the details to be organic. I don’t like laundry lists and I don’t like details that do not matter to the story. But…I know many people who love all those details. I also think that description is a stylistic choice: some genres and stories beg for more description, others need to be sparse. In my rom com of choice, I thought the author gave us just enough so that we got the essence of the characters and where they were in life without burdening us down with minutia.

So if I were to rate “Star-Crossed” I would give it a 3.75. Though I liked all the basic elements, and the plot line was original, some of the hijinks were a little too forced. Some of the main characters traits were a little too cute. But, as far as light, summer rom com it was perfectly fine. I think genre really matters when discussing/reviewing a book: my expectations clearly change dependent upon the type of work I’m looking at. I’m currently reading “Rebecca”: there is no way I would judge it as I judge “Star-Crossed”. First big thought of the week: genre matters, and the guidelines for reviewing/discussing should be different per genre.

I think these are the most important aspects of a book, but I’m going to be playing with all things books and reading this week. If I missed something important today, I’ll more than likely hit on it at some point.

 

One Star

I had a very interesting conversation with TJ Fox the other day. We were discussing reviews and rating systems and I said I never give a one star review (or five star for that matter), and I usually discount one star reviews as well. TJ asked- “Don’t some things warrant a one star?”

And I got to thinking…

Is there anything so bad that it should be given the lowest star count on a rating system?

What would make a book so bad that it would deserve only a star?

My thought process is that a book would need to lack in all areas. The plot would need to be ridiculous, the characters one dimensional, the dialogue unbelievable, the setting mundane and lifeless. There would be no rhyme or reason to the chapters or structure. it would need to make no sense. And the grammar would need to be completely off the mark. I have yet to meet a book that lacks in all these criteria simultaneously.

When reviewing something, what goes into it? When you tell someone “Don’t read” or “Do Read” or “Must read” on what basis are you setting that? How much of that is personal preference?

I have a really good friend S. Her taste in books is opposite mine. She never enjoys the books I like. Is she wrong? Am I wrong?

No. Because that’s the problem with reviews: you can be biased by what genre or style you like or don’t like.

I recently read Taylor Jenkins Read “Daisy Jones and the Six”. The story unfolds in an interesting way: from the perspective of someone making a documentary of a band. So the story is told in snippets of how interviewees answered questions. I thought it was a brilliant way to tell a story of this sort. I love quirky ways of telling a story. Others don’t. How fair is it to give this book a one star review because you don’t “like” the method? (I saw one star reviews of this book, so this is a legitimate concern)

I don’t like science fiction. Just don’t like the genre. Would it be fair of me to rate a sci fi book one star?

I did not like the TV show “Breaking Bad”. I stopped watching after season two. I also only watched one episode of “Game of Thrones”. Is it fair for me to say DNF (did not finish) or one star because it’s not my taste?

This week I talked about book to movie adaptations: plot changes, characters eliminated or changed, miscastings…. To someone who has read and loved a novel, the adaptation of it just falls short. But what if someone never read the book and just watched? I never read the Inspector Lynley books, but I thought the series on PBS was pretty good. But Jane Fritz thought that it was totally miscast. We would rate it differently because we are viewing it from two different angles. Would it be fair for Jane to give it a one star because it’s not what she wanted to see based on her preconceived ideas?(to be clear, Im using this as an example- I don’t know what she actually would rate the series) Just like me with the Malkovich Poirot: I thought it was HORRIBLE because I am a Poirot purist. But what if I had never picked up a Christie? Would I still think it was horrible?

So…

How does one write an impartial review? How do you divorce personal preference and just look at the bones of a work? What should a review be based on?

 

Choice A or Choice B

I recently got a letter from author Jessica Knoll.  I also received one from author Curtis Sittenfield.  No, not real, stamped in an envelope real, but rather a generic email sent via Goodreads.

Dear Waking,

Hope you enjoyed my last book.  I just wrote a new one.

Love,

Best Selling Author

So, here’s the question: do emails such as this work as a marketing tool?  Upon receiving this email, does one get all aflutter and immediately put the tome on their TBR?  Or does the email go directly to the symbolic trashcan?

Which brings us to the next question: How do we choose the books that we read?

I am a hands on sort of girl.  I love trolling around bookstores- the real brick and mortar ones.  I love to walk the aisles, look at the covers, read the blurbs. The blurbs are very important to me- I can usually get a pretty good idea if it’s a book that would interest me, and if it’s the type of book I’m in the mood for. I peruse the staff favorites, the new and notable, the best sellers.  I find most of my new reads in this decidedly old fashioned method.

Another way I find new books is the newer age Amazon.  I punch in a book that I enjoyed, and I scroll down to the section that shows other books similar in style and/or genre.  And then I go back to the blurb method- I read the paragraph summary.  I also check the star rating- I like to see a solid “4”.  While we’re in this paragraph, let’s chat about the recent headline that Amazon reviews should be further reviewed.  How can one trust a review?  I try to use common sense:  too many 5’s is a red flag that something is a plant.  I almost never give out a 5 star review: there are practically no books that I consider perfect.  I am also wary of too many 1’s.  Really?  The book was that bad?  I look for books that have the majority of their reviews somewhere in the middle.  That seems more reasonable.

So, since many of my blog friends are reviewers, you’re thinking:  Does she read reviews.  Yes.  I do read reviews, BUT I am really careful of the reviewer because I don’t like spoilers.  Basically, I want to know if something was good, bad or indifferent- I don’t want to be told the story- I want the story to unfold naturally.  But, I am an avid reader of reviews AFTER I have read a book.  I love to see what someone thought was important, or interesting, or worthless.  I like reviews because I like the discussion aspect of a book (as evidenced by my participation in two book clubs, and being always open to talking about a book)

My yearly reading goal is 50 books, about a book a week.  But here’s an odd little fact: I have a relatively short TBR.  I think I have about 5 books on my Goodreads TBR, and maybe three or four pages ripped from the NY Times or magazines.  If I like a book enough to jot it down,  I read it fairly quickly.  I get excited when I find a book that interests me, and just want to get on with it.  I know this is a departure from the average avid reader.

So, because it’s Friday, and I am not looking forward the weekend because I have family obligations, I am hoping you all make my weekend better by telling me your methods of choosing books.

Do you read marketing emails?

Blurbs?

Recommendations from friends?

Reviews?

Throw a dart?

Also: how long is your TBR?