July 22nd, 2012

Lately I’ve been trying to broaden the pool of authors I read.   In part it’s because I tend to read voraciously through the series of an author I like and inevitably end up bereft and drifting yet again when done, but in part, I consider trying new authors good karma:  if I try out them, somebodysomeday will give me a chance too.

So, Kindle app in hand, I follow the winding trail of searches and suggestions to try to find new people to read.  More karma-inducing reasoning ensues:   I justify spending anywhere from $.99 to $13.99 per book to “research” the authors that float to the top since soon I hope to be one of those.    (And yes, for this particular post  I’m focusing on Amazon and Kindle, though there’s a reference to mysterybooklovers.com also.)  I have now learned from a series of frustrations to always, always check out the sample chapters and lately, I always, always check out the two star reviews.

Why the two star reviews?  Because that’s where I know I’ll find the comments on the quality of the writing and grammar that a persnickety reader like me should take into account.  It’s these reviews that influence me to go on to either the higher or lower ratings.

Recently I ignored my own advice.  I googled “If you like Joan Hess”, and mysterybooklovers.com obliged with a recommendation.  I glanced at the ratings for the first book by this author which were heavily skewed to four stars and above.  The plot involved a premise I knew I’d love (history professor solves old and new crimes via digging into the past).  It won the Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s Press Best First Traditional Mystery Award.  It was about midnight and I wanted something to read me to sleep.  I bought it.

I wanted to like this book.  I really, really wanted to, even though it was absolutely nothing like Joan Hess except it was set in the south.  Overall, the plot itself was okay.   It was the writing which became so irritating I just began skipping to the end to see if I guessed whodunit right (I had).

Jennifer, our old writing teacher, used to dun into us one of the prime rules of writing:  Show, don’t tell.  That can be a hard lesson:  Why can’t I drone on for five pages about the history of my fictional town starting on page 2?  Why can’t I use an adverb in every other sentence?   The writing issues didn’t stop there, though this was the worst problem.  Point of view changes were abrupt and disorienting.  I enjoy tagless dialogue as much as the next person, but often there were no paragraph breaks between quotes from different speakers.   Tense and subject-verb agreement problems kept cropping up.  The prose was often stilted, the phrasing awkward.  At the end of the book, it was as though the writer just decided she’d stop typing.  I ended up frustrated, even more when I skimmed the plot descriptions of her other books, which I thought sounded great, but I knew I couldn’t make it through another book with this author’s way of writing.

In the Kindle Store, there was only one each of the one and two star reviews.  I still should have read them (one frankly wondered how this book had won the prize it did).  So now, the question arises:  should I add to them?  The idea of karma immediately returns to haunt me, which is the very nature of karma, of course.  Do I weigh in at two stars and say exactly what I think?  Or was my grandmother right when she said that if I didn’t have anything good to say I shouldn’t say anything at all?

Will I hurt this author’s feelings?  Am I just trying to make a deal with the universe that if I don’t hurt her feelings with a bad review it will keep the bad reviews from my book?  After all, I’ve dragged my feet forever about getting my work out there, and she actually had a book published (and seven others too).   Do I have any right to criticize her?  I mean, what if I’m being blind about my own work?

I invite you to chime in on my existential angst on this topic.



One Response to “To review or not to review”

  1. Thanks, Deb. When I lived in big city Philly, it never really occured to me to censor my opinions about other people’s creative work. Small town life has made me more sensitive, for many reasons. And being more aware of the guts it takes to put one’s creative work into the world….I’m thinking about this. May post again.