Thurs. Feb. 13, 2014: Thoughts on Reviews and Literary Criticism

Thursday, February 13, 2014
Waxing Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Mercury Retrograde
Stormy

We’re getting slammed by another storm, so I’m just going to tuck inside today.

Decent workday yesterday. I kind of felt like I dithered a bit, but got more done than I expected. I’m doing some research on history of police procedure, so that the Sparkle and Tarnish books have a jumping off point with what was typical and what was fresh, rooted in the reality of the time. Also compiling lists of popular authors and best sellers of the day, since literacy is such an important theme in the books.

Wrote a review, polished it, and sent it off to my editor. Had mixed feelings about the book, and tried to make the review fair, praising what I felt worked, but also pointing out where I felt it went off track — but in a diplomatic way. I don’t like reading snarky reviews (even if I agree with the technical elements), and I try not to write them. If I truly despise an author’s work, I suggest that it be assigned to someone else, who will give them a fair reading. Every writer pours a lot into a book, and every book deserves a fair shot at a balanced review.

There are some authors whose work I can’t stand. There are authors I don’t like personally, but like their work — again, the review has to be based on the work, not any personal bias. There are authors I like personally, but I don’t care for their work. In the best of all possible worlds, I truly enjoy the writing, and then meet the author and discover the author is as delightful as the writing. But, if at any point I’m assigned a book to review and don’t feel I can be fair, I ask the editor to reassign it. In twenty plus years of reviewing, I think that’s only happened twice.

I am always grateful when someone enjoys one of my books and leaves a comment. When something doesn’t work, I am interested to know that, too, and why, provided it is presented well. If it’s just an attack, without form or substance leading back to the elements of the writing itself, it is meaningless. It’s still unpleasant, but one has to shrug and move on. Not everyone is going to like everything. Authors need room to try new things that don’t always work. If something doesn’t work, it’s helpful to get comments on what didn’t work and why. I can take useful comments and apply them to other work (provided they align with my vision or convince me to look at something in a new way), and make the next books better. It is not helpful to get attacks. There’s a huge difference, and social media doesn’t always discern between a genuine review or criticism and an attack.

The people who run around attacking the books of authors they don’t like — why? If you don’t like an author or an author’s work, why are you reading it, much less reviewing it? There are thousands of books that will give you pleasure, so why read something that makes you unhappy or angry? Yes, you have to read a book thoroughly in order to be qualified to comment on it. But if one or two don’t work for you — move on. There are certain authors out there, with long, best-selling track records that attract some readers who slam a book and say, “I’ll never read anything by so-and-so again because she did THIS” and, six books later, they’ve said the same thing on every book. If you know you don’t like the author and the series, don’t read any more! Read something you LIKE! It’s unhealthy to lock oneself in a dance of negativity like that.

With the lack of credential filtering on many review sites, any “reviewer” with a personal axe to grind can do so publicly and hurt the author. That’s just wrong. Also, if a review is badly written and filled with errors, I discount it. Reviewing is a particular skill. Criticism — genuine, literary criticism (which is different from “critique”) — is an art form that, sadly, is going by the wayside. Well-written literary criticism can open up a book in a whole new way, both in light of the book itself and in the context in the cannon — within the author’s body of work, within the genre, within literature as a whole. Well-written literary criticism is wonderful. Yes, some of it is nasty, which I don’t always like. But the genuine criticism, well-done, opens new vistas into a work.

Okay, enough about that. Time to get a bunch of WRITING done.

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Published in: on February 13, 2014 at 9:05 am  Comments (3)  
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3 Comments

  1. When I was revising books I decided that fmi didn’t like a book I wouldn’t mention it at all. How hard it is to adhere to the ld axiom of: If you don’t have anything nice to say- say nothing at all.
    Blessings.

  2. (Having issues with one of my arms, sorry for the misspellings.)

  3. Oh, I totally agree on people not reviewing books by authors they know they don’t like! It’s kind of ridiculous. It’s as though the anonymity has given them license to vent all over the place. If you didn’t like book #1 and #2, don’t be still bitching about it come book #8! Who’s the fool then?

    Totally agree — genuine criticism is much more helpful and productive than the slam-and-run style of complaining.


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