Sunday, April 24, 2016

How a Vicious Review Opened My Eyes

This is one of my favorite photos from the RT Booklovers Convention in Las Vegas last week. Darynda Jones and I were on a panel and I think we were laughing here about people dissing fantasy heroines as unrealistic while loving Conan.

Hard to say, but it makes me smile every time.

Speaking of problematic labels... It's come to our attention here at the Bordello that our moniker, while entertaining in a snarky way, has become a problem. Apparently most firewalls object to the use of "whores" in the URL and, well, everywhere else on this blog. So, while we shall remain forever Word Whores in our hearts (and elsewhere), we've decided to rebrand.

And we're looking for suggestions for a new blog name! Put your ideas in the comments and we'll select our favorites, then run a poll in the sidebar. The winner will receive their book of choice from each of the seven of us! Caveat: our selection will strongly depend on domain/blog name availability, so you might check on that if your eyes are on the prize.

This week's topic is: Reviews.

Just that, and only that. Not like it's an enormous topic or anything, people.

The first thing that springs to mind is my very first encounter with a book review. Not a book report, which I feel like I began writing with a #2 pencil when my first grade teacher asked me to put into words all my feels about a book. No, this came a bit later, sometime after I was forced in 6th grade to read The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper. (A book I loathed with the fire of a thousand suns - also a first for me.) I felt alone in my hate. The teacher who forced me to read it certainly didn't understand - and did not appreciate my mouthy opinions on the topic. Everyone else who'd already learned to loathe reading didn't understand either. My parents, friends, everyone I ranted to, responded along the lines of, "So? Everyone has to read books for school that they hate." But I never had read a book I didn't like before.

A horrible thing to discover.

At any rate, some time later - maybe a year or two - I came across an essay by Mark Twain called, "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses." (Apologies in advance for some of the racist language in it - you know how Twain was.) Reading that terribly snarky essay LIT UP MY WORLD, people! Twain detailed everything I hated about The Deerslayer and taught me more. Through his eyes I finally understood why I'd loathed the book.

This is what a good review does.

These days it's anathema for one author to so viciously criticize another. It's not even acceptable, in many circles, for a reviewer to completely eviscerate an author's work this way - though it can and does happen. A huge difference here is that Twain does so with wit and incisive intelligence, which not all modern reviewers can lay claim to, particularly of the internet troll variety.

Still, a well-thought out essay on why a book did not work for a reader can be a wonderful helping hand. From Twain I first began to understand how a book could go wrong for me. He walked me through how to parse prose from plot, character from ... well, whatever Fenimore Cooper used to transmit dialogue.

Do I like it when I get a scathing review of one of my books? Of course not. But a well thought-out discussion of why a book didn't work for a reader reveals important qualities of the story to other readers. And it makes us think, which is always a good thing.

33 comments:

  1. "But a well thought-out discussion of why a book didn't work for a reader reveals important qualities of the story to other readers."

    This. What part(s) don't work, what parts do. Both can be valuable to readers and prospective readers...and even to the author (who may not admit to reading the reviews but totally does anyway).

    ReplyDelete
  2. This reminds me of the time in school I had to compare a book by Karl May with a book by Dee Brown and I totally trashed Karl May. The teacher turned out to be a fan of May...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My two cents on the name of the blog:
      Word Addicts
      Word Lovers
      Word Slaves

      Delete
  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm going to recommend that we change the name to Molière's Legion.

    ReplyDelete
  5. You are absolutely right, and the "internet trolls" have given all less-than-perfect reviews a bad name.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "this rule is flung down and danced upon in the "Deerslayer" tale." hehehehhe. I shall take the essay as classic instruction on the art of the review.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm expecting fine things from you, Nicola!

      Delete
  7. How about Word Purveyors?

    I guess if you change the name of the blog, you'll have to change the url, too? Gee... what a pain.

    As for reviewing books... I'm a horrible reviewer. I'll comment on a book and give it the appropriate amount of stars, but I can't tell you WHY I like something, just that I do, or don't. And I hate it when I don't...and I know the author. Worst thing EVER.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not that big of a pain - we can export everything to the new blogger site and URL.

      I totally get that take. It's *hard* to articulate that kind of thing!

      Delete
  8. What about w[ord]hores, or w-ord-hores or word-hores ... not sure what special characters you can use in the name, but a change like this could fool the firewalls, but basically leave your name the same ... I also like book bordello suggested above.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I've always liked Marshall's analogies to mining for words. How about something like "The Underwood Lode"?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. aha! very nice one! apt on several levels

      Delete
  10. You could make a reference to spinning yarns and call the site "The Pointy Spindle". I was going to suggest "Spindle Prick", but that just gets you back into the same filter troubles...

    ReplyDelete
  11. Oh, yeah, and, like, good post and stuff.
    I probably should have led with that.
    But, you know, eyes on the prize and so forth.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Word Harlots? Doxies? Trollops? Tarts?
    Wordsmiths of Ill Repute?


    I also like the suggestion up there of 'book bordello', but I think I might've seen that somewhere before.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Terry Pratchett would use "Authors of Negotiable Virtue".

      Delete
  13. I remember writing a book review in middle school that was of an assigned book on the reading list. I opened with. "This book is, without a doubt in my mind, the worst book I've ever read." I then went on to eviscerate the plot, every TSTL character and the gaping plot holes you could drive a train through. I can't for the life of me remember the book now, but I remember the report because of the teacher's note on my paper. She wrote: "A+ This used to be my favorite book. But now you've ruined it for me. Good job." �� I'm still not sure whether the last bit was sarcastic, but I took the A+ home hapoily. My mother frowned a little and sighed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha! Cutting a wide swath even then! I bet the teacher meant it sincerely, because you did such an effective job of dissecting the book. :-)

      Delete
  14. Replies
    1. Heh - extra points for that word!

      Delete
    2. I think it's a word we should use more often. As a metaphor, of course. Not for the real thing--ugh!

      Delete