Negative Reviews

November 14, 2008 at 7:28 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 5 Comments

I did a quick Google search on the phrase ‘negative reviews’ and all sorts of interesting things came up.  Here are three sites founded entirely on the principle of giving the most scathing reviews possible:


Here are two posts about a blogger who was sued for giving a negative review.  One of the comments to the first post says that the author eventually dropped the suit.  The second post includes a section of the suit itself, which I found quite compelling reading.


Then, just for fun, I checked for the one-star reviews I was certain I’d find on a few arbitrarily chosen books I considered superlatively excellent, compulsively engaging reads.  I was right, of course, and I’m sure I could find a horrible review for every single excellent book I can name.


Pride and Prejudice:

This is one of those books I pushed myself to get halfway through, thinking it would get interesting, only to force myself to finish it since I already read half of it. While there may be no accounting for taste or I’m just missing something, I’m not sure how anyone can enjoy reading this.

War and Peace:

This book is horribly boring. While other lengthy works, like Les Miserables, excite and build intrigue, War and Peace does nothing of the sort. It ambles on, like a wounded victim hoping to be put out of its misery. After a thousand pages, that is exactly what I did. I threw the book clear across the room in disgust with what was a lethargic, uninteresting, and needlessly convoluted tale.

Great Expectations:

I started reading this over a month ago and I’m still not finished. I can’t get into it at all! It’s like a really boring nightmare!

The Road (2007 Pulitzer Prize winner):

I just started reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy and if I didn’t know better I would say that it was written by a 10th grader who has done too much glue.

This last one seems to be making a personal attack on Cormac McCarthy (a living author) by insinuating he has a major drug problem.  Now, James Ellroy actually admitted, in My Dark Places, that he used to sniff glue, so to level that sort of cricitism at him would have some basis.  (Except that that book is absolutely magnificent and if you don’t like it, well, you’re just wrong).


The funny thing about Amazon reviews, as I’ve probably mentioned somewhere before, is that some of the best books attract some of the worst reviews, while it’s common to find genre fiction with very high averages.  I think the reason for this is that the genre fiction attracts fans who go looking for their favorite type of read, and enjoy it for meeting their expectations.  Meanwhile, the really great books attract a wider variety of readers due to their imposing reputations, ensuring that more people who don’t care for that particular literary style will fail to be enthralled.  You can see what I mean by observing that Weep No More, My Lady has zero one-star reviews and an average of 4.5 stars, while The Great Gatsby has 77 one-star reviews and an average of only 4 stars.  Does that mean Mary Higgins Clark is a better writer than F. Scott Fitzgerald?  Objectively?


Somebody once said that the only bad publicity is no publicity.  If that person is still among the living, he’s probably noticed that famous people like Jay Leno, John McCain, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton, Paris Hilton, and Tom Cruise are constantly, constantly mocked and ridiculed all over the media.  In fact, it’s nearly a truism that the more you’re criticized, the better known you’ll be.  It’s the same with books.  There’s a reviewer I like, and I’ve reliably found that the less she enjoyed a book, the more I tend to like it.  So a negative review from her is a positive review to me.


I’m working on a novel myself.  If I ever finish the thing, which is unlikely, and put it out there to publishers, which is even less likely, I know to brace myself for criticism I won’t want to hear.  (I’ve already gotten my man Rocket Scientist to promise to open the rejection letters and preview them for me).  If it happens, I’ll remember two things from my childhood.  1. “Don’t let them get your goat.” 2. “I’m rubber, you’re glue/Whatever you say/Bounces off me and sticks to you.”



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  1. Interesting. Gave me a lot to think about. I like the MrCranky ratings, they’re funny. And I have noticed that Amazon reviews seem to be more of a popularity contest and include lots of schoolkids who rant about how much they hated a book a teacher forced them to read. It’s amusing to read them sometimes, but I never put much stock in what they say.

  2. Oh, I do! If the one-star reviews are particularly stupid, I figure I’ll probably enjoy the book because it was obviously over the heads of the low-rating readers. 🙂

  3. That’s too funny. You’re right, they do have that merit of reflecting upon the reviewers and thus also upon the book.

  4. Oh, what an interesting post. As someone who has received negative and positive reviews, I certainly enjoyed reading this.

  5. I’m very, very surprised how upset some authors can become in response to negative reviews. I mean, have they never ever seen anything in their life criticized? And why would they think they’re magically exempt from it? It certainly wasn’t until fairly recently that I realized how melodramatic some authors really are.

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