So far I'm happy with reviews of my book so the following thoughts aren't coming from immediate personal disappointment. But in the past (and surely in the future) I'll find a blogger of fiction or a review on any number of sites that says:
* (one star): Maybe I was tired or something but I hated this book and couldn’t read it.
*1/2 (one and a half stars): I got halfway through this book and put it down. It was boring and I hated the characters.
Reviewing in the Cloud is so new, it reminds me of the Wild West--a place that's dangerously self-governed yet has pardoxically produced the Zen Review of Books—an ultimate exercise in emptiness. (As De Tocqueville said, after he visited us:This is America, where everyone has an opinion.)
Most potential readers know not to take these reviews to heart. Yet, in an age where stars seems to count, writers are disheartened by them.
They mustn't be, though. It's happened to almost every writer who has written.
As for reviews--anyone who's written a serious review knows it’s one of the hardest forms of writing and that it involves considerable skill as a writer:
One must pit personal reactions against objectivity that’s the result of sheer time spent reading, thinking about writing, and understanding preferences. One must work to craft ideas and get readers of the review to think—at least a little—about the relationship between literature and the world.
There’s also a moment that every good reviewer has had if there’s nothing to say that’s good about a book: I tend to think this moment is the true Zen Review, because it requires objectivity about personal reactions—and is a certain kind of meditative moment in which one asks:
Is it worthwhile or meaningful to say that I hate the book? Or is this the equivalent of a tweet saying that I was disappointed in the latte?
Critics who have honed their skills over time—ranging from James Wood (The Broken Estate: Essays on Literature and Belief) or Pauline Kael (the famous and sometimes prickly movie reviewer for The New Yorker)---have earned the right to be bombastic and tear into a writer. Yet even ornery reviewers must write far more than a sentence. They must write an essay and have developed a creative standard for thinking about art.
Indeed ornery reviewers get people to think—violently disagree, or vehemently agree, or see a new lens on the world itself.
So, writers, take heart: Even if the one star reviews pulls down a rating, no one takes them seriously. Many many writers get one star, ranging from literary sensations to genre bestsellers and most potential readers learn to ignore them.
Over time, as the cloud readjusts, I hope more reviewers understand that criticism is its own art—is indeed a kind of writing. If you don’t like a book you have to go to great lengths to say why, and to measure it against the standards of its genre, as well as the baffling demands that any current age makes of artists of all kinds and art itself.
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Kiva Doctors without Borders Care2