Thursday, July 3, 2008

Everyone's a critic

I write a weekly book review for my local paper and occasionally a customer will fetch up at the library and tell me they read it and liked it. I'll refrain from cuddling them and saying 'thank you so much. I love you,' while turning Menopausal Red, and say instead, 'Oh! Er, thanks, um, I mean...yes. Ahem. Good. Marvellous.' Or something equally cutting-edge.

There was just such a customer today, but before I could ransack my brain for a response, a man behind him said crossly, 'oh I'm sorry, but I never read it. Half the time you people haven't even read the books you're criticising. Can't stand 'em m'self.'

'Neither can I,' I said, which threw him. I longed to point out the irony of him criticising my book review column without having read it, but he was in possession of a pair of eyebrows that could only be described as "beetling" and brought to mind the sort of man who might harbour a grudge against women who looked like his mother.

The thing is, I don't criticise books I big 'em up, which is hardly the same thing. I'm not in a position to slag off someone's writing, even if it's not my cup of tea. If I don't get on with a book, I don't review it - it's as simple as that. I much prefer to recommend something I've loved, like you would to a friend, bearing in mind that they might not like it anyway as it's all sooooo subjective.

Maybe it's the name of the column that should change. REVIEW does imply possible bitching. 'Book of the Week' or 'Recommended Read' have more positive overtones. 'Local Lady Says Nice things about a Book she read at the Weekend.' Bit long-winded. 'Yo, This Book's a MoFo!' might attract a younger audience. Would befuddle the oldies though.

On balance, I think it'll stay as it is. People know where they are with a Book Review.

As long as they read it first.


KatW said...

Your experiences at the library are priceless. Today's post made me laugh at loud. Especially the irony of the man's comment and his eyebrows.

I prefer to read the sort of 'recommended' or 'book of the week' type book reviews. Like you said, everyone will have a different opinion anyway. Heavy criticism may put off people who would've otherwise found the book fantastic.

Maybe, just maybe - I also want all reviews to be kind from now on so that if I ever get published I won't have to cry over a rubbish review.

Kat :-)

Paul Capewell said...

Personally I think "Yo this book's a MoFo!" wins hands down. :P

I was wondering whether you got much feedback from your reviews - it's nice to know people do say something. :)

Lane said...

Stupid old Beetle Brow. Why do some people have to be so rude?

I'm glad you big 'em up. I think I'd be the same (but my local paper won't let me. Boo).

Reviewer is a whole lot nicer that critic donchya think?:-)

HelenMH said...

Couldn't agree more. I just wouldn't be inclined to review books I haven't enjoyed, I think it's much better to share books you feel positive about and would like to share with other people.

Mickmouse said...

People should read books because they want to have pleasure, excitement, adventure or relaxation. Your reviews do just that as you speak about books you enjoyed.

I know the caterpillar eyebrow look, definitely one to be avoided!There is a self righteous complainer for every 20 heartfelt positive comments but just like a squashy grape they get laid aside so you can enjoy the firm juicy ones!!

Calistro said...

It's funny isn't it...while I'll happily post a bad review of a film on my blog I'd never do the same for a book. It's too easy to empathise with the poor author googled themselves, finding my review and having their day ruined! Also, I don't want to risk making enemies in the book world (thought I'm screwed if I ever want to write a screenplay ;o))

Alis said...

Having been an extremely grateful recipient of your 'bigging up' I'd have to declare an interest in the column being called 'Book of the Week' - sounds like it's won an award! Which, to be honest, it has since you pick the books you're going to review rather than having them foist upon you.


Right, up for a bit of freelancing then m'dear. Next to my bed I have at least 20 books waiting to be read. So your mission is to read them all for me then give me a detailed review on each one. Which means I will only have to read the ones that you score highly. Of course I would pay you with gigantic slabs of cake. Interested ? Tommox

KAREN said...

katw - That's probably what it is - I don't want to annoy anyone on the way 'up' as it were!

paul - I'm rather partial to that title! Apparently people do read it, but whether they're inspired to go and read the book is another matter :o)

lane - Some people are only happy being miserable, in my opinion!

Shame about your local paper as the 'exposure's' good, but then again locals don't pay - maybe you should go national??

helenmh - No, I'd feel very uncomfortable trying to write why I DIDN'T like a book - much nicer to be nice!

mickmouse - Exactly. Why mention a book you're NOT recommending?? Seems pointless when you think about it!

Complaining is a local pastime, I've decided - not one I'm keen to take up any time soon :o)

calistro - Now you mention it, I probably wouldn't hesitate to to mention a film I didn't like! Weird isn't it? It seems less 'personal' somehow. The writer could always blame the actors or the direction or production, whereas a an author has no-one to hide behind!

alis - Book of the Week does have a certain ring! I'd much rather pick the books I read, because if I had them foist upon me I'd inevitably have to write something negative at some point :(

tommo - I was going to plead a month or so of frantic hair-washing, but perked up when I realised there'd be cake payment! Depends what sort though. I don't do coffee or walnut for a start :o)

juliemt said...

Karen, I review books for a couple of websites, but very often, I find that it's your reviews which readers are keen to criticise rather than the books being reviewed!

I remember someone telling me once that my reviews are too lovey-dovey! I told her I can't help it if I actually enjoy what I'm reading!


Right, an award awaits you over a my place. Wally has gone home for the weekend Tommox

Yvonne said...

What a miserable sod! God forbid he should ever stick his neck out and do something useful...rather than just moaning about things he doesn't know anything about!

Fiona said...

You're very wise and very restrained. Respect. I expect Beetle Brows went home and bored his wife with his account of 'putting that book reviewer straight.'

Tam said...

People do like to put others down, don't they? I try to find something diplomatic to say about most things but in the face of the extreme provocation you had, I'd have told the old duffer to poke it!

womagwriter said...

LOL, well at least some people actually read and enjoy your reviews, and the beetling-eyebrow man is the one who's losing out.

Annieye said...

I could just imagine the man - a Victor Meldrew type. I hate the type of reviews that slag off Chick Lit, or 'women's' fiction. In my book, if a story is good I'll read it - no matter what the genre.

Debs said...

Loved your post, as usual. I can just picture old beetlebrow, miserable swine.

I agree with you. If I don't enjoy a book I don't like to criticise it, after all who am I to pick holes in anyone else's writing.

At least you do know that you have a readership who does both read and enjoy your reviews.

KAREN said...

juliemt - Funnily enough, someone at work asked me why I always say nice things about the books I've read. Dur!

tommo - Mmm, chocolate. Thanks for the award, by the way :o))

yvonne - I'm convinced some people aren't happy unless they're moaning!

fiona - Yes, I bet it made his day in the end!

tam - It is hard to hold back sometimes, but the last time I politely 'put a customer straight' they complained to head office about my attitude!

womag - That's true! It's nice to know people do read them :o)

annieye - He was a bit like that! I don't like those sort of reviewers either...there're good and bad in every genre.

debs - That's how I feel - maybe if/when I'm published myself I'll be able to say mean things and not care, but I doubt it!

wordtryst said...

'Yo, This Book's a MoFo!'

ROTFLMAO! Karen, you're a riot!

Summer's arrived early

The cover for Summer at the Little French Cafe has landed and really evokes that seaside, sunshine feel - lovely when the weather is curr...