The Quiet Scream in the Library: A Cynical Rant About Literature

I don’t always like fiction.

This may seem weird to say since I am a writer, I have an MFA in the field, and I used to do book reviews on NPR (actually I did those reviews for over three years, you can find them here), but it is true. Painfully, painfully true. I just don’t always enjoy reading fiction.  And it is rare on a relaxing Sunday afternoon that I feel like turning to a piece of fiction to pass the time.

I know… I know… blasphemy!

The problem is I believe that I have studied and analyzed literature to such a point that I have practically (and academically) taken the pleasure out of it.

It’s the great college conundrum! A question every college student has to ask him or herself- Do you go into a field around the subject that you love? Yes, you will enjoy the classes more than you would, say, in a different field but it also may impact how you view it for the rest of your life.

In other words, once Dorothy sees the wizard behind the curtain you can’t put the wizard back. English majors like me are Dorothys. And no matter how much we wish it, we can’t bring the “magic” back.

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The Troll Under the Bridge: How to Write a Good Bad Book Review

A TrollFor the last few months I have been happily on top of my bridge.

My new book A Jane Austen Daydream had been out for a while, and to my relief it was getting great reviews, even from the Jane Austen Center and AustenProse (two reviews I was scared about). And on GoodReads I was averaging above 4.25 with a majority of my reviews being 5-stars. Happily, the responses there seemed to be between loving it and simply enjoying it. Yes, there were one or two that didn’t enjoy it, but that is fine. That’s life! Suffice to say, I had let my guard down and that is when trolls like to jump and grab you. And one finally did on Amazon:

When will I learn not to trust a book’s 5-star ratings? If they aren’t written by Momma, then they’re paid for.

If you prefer low-level reads (around  4th or 5th grade in reading difficulty), and poor writing, you might be able to  slog your way through this. For me, not even Jane Austen could force me to finish it.

Glad I borrowed this and kept my money. Then again, Amazon makes it easy to return garbage books.

After reading that review I was understandably angry, which was exactly what the troll wanted to have happen (kudos to him, he succeeded). I think what bothered me  the most is that it crossed a line by attacking the other 37 reviewers of my book (at the time of this writing), claiming that they were paid for and shouldn’t be taken seriously by readers. Of course, this is not true, and I have even written a post on this site (here) discussing my disgust with that practice.

Whatever the case, I kind of feel sorry for the reviewer because, frankly, he doesn’t know how to write a bad book review and in the end the review makes him look worse than me or my book… he just doesn’t realize that yet. See, like most things in writing there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Here are some things to remember when you have to create the dreaded bad book review.

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The Thin Muddy Line of Online Book Reviews: A Writer’s Thoughts

GangstersA few days ago I was given an offer, much like in The Godfather, that I supposedly couldn’t refuse.

At least that is how the offeror thought of it. See, there is a Facebook page I, from time to time, visit where writers will share links to their books and give updates on their writing. I do as well. Anyway, I had posted about my new book A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM, and underneath the book, the fair offer was given. It said, in so many words. “Hey, I’ll write a review on your book, if you write a review on my book.”

Of course, what the offeror was forgetting in that comment, but was definitely implied, was “positive review.”

If this was only a one-time occurrence of a back alley review deal, I would brush it off, move on, but the fact is I get about four to five offers like this a week. Sometimes they are through Facebook or Twitter, but many times they are over e-mail. Occasionally, the person offering the arrangement is playful in the asking, and some (like this guy in the comment) have no problem with anyone seeing the plan.

Usually, I try to be very kind when someone places such an offer to me, I bring up how busy I am with my own writing right then (which, honestly, is very true and I have had to say no to friends handing me things to read as well), but it always makes me feel very uncomfortable, because at the heart of such an exchange there seems to be a certain level of trickery.

Maybe trickery is too harsh a word, but you can’t escape the fact that reviews created in such an arrangement are put out there to convince a reader, someone who possibly doesn’t know better, to buy a book that might or might not deserve the rating it was just given. Leaving that future reader with the equivalent of a horse’s head in the bed when they wanted the full horse. Continue reading