Numbering the Stars Doesn’t Change Their Beauty

Are you as addicted to one-star book reviews as I am? Do you enjoy giving one-star reviews? I’ve never been much of a book reviewer, but I’m considering expanding my horizons. If you were to look for my Amazon reviews right now, you’d find about three, and of those, only one with a low rating–and that for an iodine tincture, no less. No, I wouldn’t hand out one-star reviews like candy (sorry if you’re disappointed by that). Rather, I’d reserve them for the deserving few.

The inspiration for this blog post came about after having read yet another writer-blogger claiming he would never give one-star reviews to fellow authors, which, in this case, isn’t professional courtesy due to the blogger’s less than professional status. What bugged me was his idea that, despite the shit quality of other writers’ work, these other writers spent hours, days, months and years birthing their baby feces, and he didn’t want to be the one to offend the rigid backbones of the proud writer-parents. He went on to detail the ways in which these baby feces failed–they were marred with too many dialogue tags or they had too little action and too much description or, worst of all, they committed the most egregious crime when they couldn’t stay true to deep POV.

In effect, this writer-blogger is claiming an ultimate truth in the realm of literary review, a truth of which he’s aware because he’s been allowed into the inner sanctum of secret literati brotherhood, but of which lesser writer-mortals aren’t aware. Therefore, it’s best for him to keep his secrets to himself and take the high road–a road not littered with the detritus of descriptive language or telling rather than showing.

I have a problem with this attitude for several reasons:

It’s completely arrogant. There may be a hazy line of ultimate truth in literary review, but it’s just that–hazy. Modern conventions aren’t the end-all and be-all of literature. Deep POV, in my opinion, is low-brow, and I don’t like it. I like a strong narrator that delves into psychological telling, rather than the shallow overlay of immediate thoughts and actions. But that’s my opinion, and it isn’t ultimate truth, is it? A broad spectrum of reviews is egalitarian–one-star reviews demonstrate that ultimate truth is difficult to determine in literature.

One-star reviews serve as teaching aides to those who are trying to understand readers’ minds. I want to know why others hate the same books I love, and I’ll never understand this without negative reviews. On the flip side, if I ever publish a book, I’ll want to know who hates my writing and why. My mind is ever-expanded by negative reviews. They make me a better writer. Hence, my addiction to studying them.

Reviews fulfill our human need for justice, when writers–the supposed authority figures–have stepped all over our sensibilities. They give us an outlet at being experts, even though we’re not, ourselves, authors. Through the full-spectrum review system, we have an outlet to voice our joy or malcontent. For example: How come this tripe gets published when my shining glorious manuscripts are rejected time and again? Or: My nine-year-old son knows more about World War II than this supposed historical fiction author. Or, conversely: Despite negative reviews, this author seems to truly understand her heroine’s heart, and mine too. I loved this book!!

If nothing else, authors should appreciate a variety of reviews because they give direct insight into human psychology. They’re entertaining and fulfilling because they reveal the diverse mindsets of human beings, and by extension, the diverse mindsets that fictional characters should have. But maybe we don’t want diversity? Perhaps we want people, along with fiction characters, to remain inside a box of our own creating?

What do you think of negative reviews? Are you as addicted to them as I am?

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2 comments

  1. I don't do a lot of reviews, but when I do I rarely give out five. Conversely, I've never given a one. The only time I really pay attention to lower-star reviews is when the book in question is posting an average five-star. I am suspicious of overly-praised novels. I figure the truth is usually somewhere between one and five. It's not so much that I like reading bad reviews as that I am skeptical of the average amateur reviewer.

  2. Mike, I place value in amateur reviewers. Why wouldn't I? They're the target readers. And I'm an amateur. I also tend toward extreme viewpoints. A 1-star or a 5-star review is like placing an exclamation point at the end of a sentence.

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