Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Everyone's A Critic

As newspapers and periodicals fold, downsize, and decline in popularity, it's getting harder and harder to get books reviewed.

Reviews sell books. Not necessarily because a book critic recommends it, but because a review makes readers aware a book exists. If a reader is looking for the next book by a certain author, or is looking for a certain genre or type of book to buy, reviews serve as a reminder or a spotlight, sort of like advertising, but with relevant content.

But as the Internet continues to infringe upon print, more and more people are reading reviews online. And the majority of these reviews aren't from paid critics, but from laypeople with blogs, or who post on websites like Shelfari or Goodreads or Amazon.com.

While I mourn the gradual demise of professional print reviews, I embrace this new form of critiquing books. And I'm not the only one. I've lost count of the number of Harriet Klausner reviews (Amazon's #1 reviewer) I've seen on books, some even on the back covers.

Rather than read the NYT Book Review section, more and more readers are deciding what to buy based on blogs they read, or the average star ratings on Amazon. This grass roots type of reviewing is less like advertising, and more like word of mouth, which readers of this blog know I prefer.

But it comes at a cost. Because the world wide web makes it possible for everyone to post their opinion, many people do just that. And because the Internet offers distance and a certain amount of anonymity, many people see no problem with viciously ripping apart books they don't like.

On one hand, everyone has an opinion, and all opinions are valid.

On the other hand, you'd think reading some online reviews that the author being described is an illiterate pinhead, barely capable of stringing words together, who hates his fans and should have never been published in the first place and should be monetarily liable for the time the reviewer wasted reading the first two chapters.

I'm all for personal expression. And the Internet is truly a bottom-up (as opposed to top-down) way to communicate. We no longer have to rely on professionals, or corporations, for our news or entertainment. We've become a world where everyone can be famous, where all opinions can be heard.

This mentality has lead to uploading videos on YouTube, sharing pictures on Flicker, being able to create and edit our own encyclopedia with Wikipedia, posting news and op-ed on blogs, publishing ourselves on our websites, creating our own flash movies and games, and basically becoming the creator rather than being content with staying the consumer.

Unfortunately, for everyone who desires to create, there is someone who seems compelled to destroy.

The number of 1 star reviews on Amazon.com, and on the movie site IMDB.com, frankly astound me. Apparently it's easier to hate something, and there's a lot more to hate, than I ever imagined.

The reality is, most movies and books don't suck. There are some bad ones, sure. But each had to meet some minimal standards in order to get produced. Books released by major houses are acquired because the house believes they have some value, and will make some money. Many people are involved in a book's creation.

Yet the cavalier, dismissive attitude of many online amateur critics is a symptom of a larger problem within society, compounded by the fact that there's no accountability.

The problem I'm speaking of can be summed up in a single word: haters.

Haters tend to be quick with opinions, actively judge without fully understanding what they're judging, and have little concept of the effort it takes to create a story, film, book, TV show, or any other form of media.

Rather than create anything on their own, which is probably too difficult for them to do, they enjoy the sound of their own whining while tearing down what others have created. Because the Internet doesn't require accountability, they write things they'd never say face-to-face, which makes them cowards as well.

Personally, haters amuse me. In most cases, it's obvious these folks are clueless. Authors should NEVER EVER respond to haters, because it legitimizes them. No good can come from responding, and the fleeting satisfaction you'd get from calling someone "a waste of carbon" even if they truly are a waste of carbon, is a loss, not a victory.

But I urge anyone who has ever publicly lambasted a book, movie, TV show, song, whatever to consider these criteria before rushing to your one-star review.

WHAT HATERS NEED TO KNOW

1. Opinions change, including yours. Have you ever seen a movie, hated it, then caught it again and realized it was pretty good? A myriad of things can affect whether or not you enjoy something that has nothing whatsoever to do with anything intrinsic in the work.

2. Art is labored over. It involves time, effort, and often love, usually from many people involved in its creation.

3. Make an effort to understand art before you begin to cut down art.

4. You're a big stupid unhappy idiot, and no one likes you, and not a single person gives a shit about your snide comments or unhelpful opinions, and if you could pull your head out of your ass long enough to realize that fact you would do the world a favor and eat a bowl of Ambien and then go for a swim. Also, you smell bad.

Don't be a hater. If you dislike something, go ahead and voice your opinion, but be thoughtful in that opinion, and respect the artist. No one likes a whiner. Don't be one.

Now I challenge anyone who has ever given a negative review to defend that review or remove it. Or are you too cowardly to do so?

47 comments:

Chris said...

This post sucks.

-1 Billion/5 Stars

Chris said...

Since I did such a wonderful job reviewing it, here's my real take.

I agree with you on all but a few points:

"The reality is, most movies and books don't suck. There are some bad ones, sure. But each had to meet some minimal standards in order to get produced."

- First, what minimal standards? When movies like Gigli can get green-lighted for no other reason than having two big stars in the film, trust me, there are no minimal standards (except "money money money!!!") that are being met.

Although books (for the most part) tend to be held to higher standards than movies, many many MANY movies are released just for the sake of making money, which is why I'm seeing my childhood being raped as studios release subpar remake after subpar remake. (You hear they're remaking the Karate Kid? And Nightmare on Elm Street? And The Last Dragon?)

This has nothing to do with "standards" or "quality". It has everything to do with the quick buck.

Do I think that a lot of movies deserve 1 star? No, not really.

Then again, I don't believe that most movies deserve 5 stars.

So, what validates the opinion?

Are "lovers" just as bad as "haters" in your opinion? Are people who give the latest Paris Hilton crap-fest a ***** review just because they're fans any more justified in their opinions than the ones who give it a * review?

So, you say that someone needs to "understand art" before they can "cut it down", to which I have to call "bull****!"

Because, by saying it that way, you're dictating what people are allowed to consider "art". And I hardly call studio remakes, which generally (with a few notable exceptions) have all of the care and artistic merit of something I found in my daughter's diaper the other day, "art".

I'm not saying they're justified in their ridiculously low opinions of something (more often than not, people who post really low reviews never actually saw or read what they were reviewing), and they certainly should take care in what they post, but it is what it is.

And, remember, even before the Internet, there were always haters. The same people that bitched and moaned about King and Koontz not being "serious" writers. The same people who would hate a movie just because everyone else loves it.

The difference is, now the "haters" have a bigger audience.

Then again, so do the "lovers", so it generally balances out, leaving the rest of the people, the normal people, to give a more balanced review.

pattinase (abbott) said...

If the number of stars on amazon is going to be new arbiter, maybe they need to "vet" their reviewers.
I'm all for democracy but this goes too far. I can see that certain "reviewers" go from book to book posting negative reviews just because they can. Really disheartening. Blog reviews are also problematic.

Rafe McGregor said...

Good point: it's much easier to ridicule than criticize constructively.

macbeaner said...

I review for bittenbybooks.com. We had long conversations as reviewers about giving a book a negative review. I think each and every one of us search for something good in a book, but sometimes you have to give an honest review.

We do respect the author's feelings because we know the amount of work that has gone in to writing and publishing the book, but sometimes, the book is just not well written. But I think we all try to find a way to be respectful in our review.

I'd rather go to a site like ours that does give out 1 and 2 tombstone ratings than a site that gives only 4 and 5 ratings to every single book. That makes me suspicious that they are just rating them so that the author will keep getting them books to review.

Another thing though. You talk about a book getting published. Authors can go out and self publish their books now. I've reviewed a couple of those and I think if they'd had a good editor, the book may have been worth something, but since they chose to publish it themselves...the book was sorely lacking.

Stop by and read some of the reviews we write. I think you'll find we try to be honest, yet respectful.

jnantz said...

Joe,
I think the biggest problem with your challenge (which I agree with, to whatever end it might come) is that plenty of these people publish under their own name and say, "But I'm not being cowardly and anonymous...that's my real name." Nevermind that they are a nobody whose very existence, if suddenly snuffed, would make a whole in a grand total of 5 or 6 lives. Maybe.

Worse yet, the people who actually NEED to hear what you're saying, are the exact ones who either won't listen, or will listen but won't understand, and will cheer you for mocking people just like them.

Basically it just shows that our gene pool needs a skimmer. Where's Jonathan Swift with a new Modest Proposal when you need him?

jnantz said...

Sorry, that should have been "...a hole in a grand total..."

sara said...

I agree with most points, except that it sounds like you're conflating a negative review with a blatantly bashing review. I've read books that were truly awful and which made me regret wasting my money, because the reviews at Amazon were all four or five stars.

In one such case, I left my one-star review (backed up all my points, left no needlessly hateful remarks) not because I needed to hate on the author but because I was shocked that there were no other negative reviews to warn people that this book might not be the sterling work of art all the other raves suggested. If there had been a bit of a range in the reviews, I would have thought twice and not wasted my time. It's about informed buying for me, and while some people try to game the Amazon review system, I still find it useful. Mysteriously my review was deleted almost immediately, and I will never buy that author again.

Also, I don't trust blog review sites whose ratings are all 4 or 5 stars. If they like everything, I don't trust their taste to be discriminating.

JA Konrath said...

I see your point, Chris, but bad as Gigli was, it still took a lot of effort to make. Watch the credits, count the hundreds involved. The writer tried, the actors tried, the director tried. It may be universally panned, but efforts were made, and minimal standards were more than met by the production and crew.

I think that "lovers" are as bad as "haters" in that everyone should realize why they feel the way they feel about things, rather than knee-jerk respond. And even if a work of art provokes a knee-jerk reaction, that should be analyzed too.

By "understanding" I'm not askign haters to empathize with the work that goes into being a key grip or a second unit director, but to figure out why they don't like something, rather than simply state they hated it.

it's a funny thing about hating---the more you learn, the more you question, the less you hate.

Dave Zeltserman said...

Joe,

As an author I'm not going to review a book unless I like it. If I don't I keep quiet--there's no point in making enemies. I gotta disagree with you--I think a lot of these so-called hater reviews are in response to the overly generous five-star reviews being written by family, friends, and sycophants. A lot of these "haters" are probably pissed off that they wasted time reading a mediocre book that was praised up the wazoo. I find a lot of the one-star reviews on amazon to be more honest than the 5-star ones. I do find the hate out there given to Harriet Klausner kind of bizarre--from the reviews she's given my books, she clearly read them and got what I was trying to do with them.

I'm tempted to discuss the large publishers--how they're more interested these days in the overall packaging and platform than the quality of the books they buy, how editors at every level are afraid to show books that aren't safe (as explained to me recently by an editor at a large NY house), and how all this tends to lead to mediocrity, but I'll skip all that.

Gayle Carline said...

I come from the world of engineering, where I had to write performance appraisals. I learned how to target both the good and the "needs improvement" points of my employees, so when I'm asked for an opinion of a book or movie, I try to be as specific and thoughtful as when I was writing PAs. And when I'm reading Amazon reviews, I read as many of the different stars as I can, to see if the 5-star people share my tastes, or if the 1-star people hate it for the same reasons I would. I completely ignore the people who can't articulate why they love/hate something, and wonder why they even waste their time writing so much to say so little.

Perhaps my next murder mystery could kill some of these "haters" off... but would anyone care if we found the murderer?

Zoe Winters said...

I have negatively reviewed a book on my blog before, but it's one of the very few negative reviews I've given.

Most books I don't like, I just don't review.

But the negative review I remember I reviewed it because I loved it's potential so much, and as a reader I felt so betrayed. It felt like the author (or maybe the editor later) didn't follow the expectations of the story.

Sometimes that can be good. In this case, it wasn't. The writer had the opportunity to do something really cool, and chose not to.

But I didn't rip apart the author or his book, and I did point out that the author clearly had a lot of writing talent, but that I was just very disappointed in the ending, and found some of the choices the author made very problematic.

The purpose of that negative review was to save someone else the reading experience I had. But a reading of the review also would have encouraged someone who would like the book (maybe even for the reasons I didn't like it), to go out and read it.

But I agree that ranty mean "hating" reviews are pointless. I think sometimes people think they are funny and don't realize how cruel they are coming off and that nobody is really laughing.

And holy crap, sorry this is such a long reply.

Jim said...

Joe, I've been pretty fortunate to have been reviewed almost exclusively by reviewers who are are professional and understand the skills it takes to craft a good book.

On occasion, though, the mindless 1-star Amazon hater pops up from out of nowhere, does his thing, and then crawls back into his little anonymous cyberspace-hole.

It's weird stuff from weird people and in the end says everything about them and nothing about the thing they are seeking to destroy.

Haters. That's a good way to put it. Unfortunately, creaters must put up with them.

eviljwinter said...

Actually, I cringe every time someone puts Harriet Klausner's blurb on a book cover.

R.J. Mangahas said...

Joe, I agree most with number four. I also love those "reviewers" who say "Well, I bet all the good reviews came from friends and relatives because how could anyone really like this drivel?"

BTW, I'm still trying to make it out there for Love is Murder, but I'm still not sure yet.

Chris said...

"I see your point, Chris, but bad as Gigli was, it still took a lot of effort to make. Watch the credits, count the hundreds involved."

That's hundreds of people who should all be very, very ashamed of themselves. Damn you, Key Grip!!! ;-)

Anyway, point made.

However, I still have three words that will invalidate all of your arguments:

"The Phantom Menace"

John McFetridge said...

I've been hearing so much lately about the long tail and niche marketing that I would add one more to your list about really negative reviews: This one's just not for you.

With so many books instantly available now it's fairly easy to find the styles you like. And to ignore the ones you don't.

ehadams23 said...

Amazon.com recently changed the way they rank reviewers - they are now ranked based on how helpful people voted their reviews were. So Harriet is no longer #1 but now #445. Still pretty high considering the thousands, if not millions, of people on Amazon. But perhaps this is one way of combating these unjustified positive and negative reviews from people.

Jennifer said...

I tend to review harshly on the basis of quantity vs. quality. There are millions - MILLIONS - of books I'd love to read out there. Knowing I will never have enough life to read them all, investing time in a clunker is irritating. At best.

That said, unless a work is truly heinous - and you are right, not many that actually see the light of day are - I would never give it a blanket panning. I would, and do, however, rank it in terms of available lifetime reading hours exhausted vs. worthiness of the material in question.

Heather Harper said...

Agreed.

To post an intentionally ugly review (of a book, a performance, you name it) that is nothing more than a personal rant/an insecure ego booster/a look-at-how-witty-and-literate-I-am attempt for attention says more about the poster than the subject.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused. I always wondered if the hater might be useful. Doesn't the hateration go like this:

Hater: I hate Gigli (or whatever). I hate it with all of my heart and soul. I would give my first born child for it not to exist.

Innocent Bystander: I feel stupid. This is some random bit of pop culture that has not filtered down into my substantially more meaningful life. What the heck is Gigli (or whatever)?

Hater: Um, I guess it's a movie (or whatever), but it doesn't even deserve that name. It's scum I tell you, scum.

Innocent Bystander: That's a pretty strong reaction to have about a movie (or whatever) that I've never even heard of because I'm a complete cultural ignoramus with a life way busier than yours.

Hater: Oh, trust me it's bad.

Innocent Bystander: Wow, you are so sophisticated and knowledgeable. I will have to make a special effort to see this movie (or whatever) so that I too can tell very busy people how colossally bad it is. Then they will think that I am very smart.

INNOCENT BYSTANDER SEES MOVIE (OR WHATEVER)

Innocent Bystander: Wow, that was nothing to write home about. I would not say that it was, in any way, like a root canal. Hater must have a great deal of trouble making small talk. Well, back to my busy life now.

Gigli (or whatever) People: Muah! Royalty check, I think I love you. Whoo Hoo! You haters just make us more famous. We would hire ya, but y'all do it for free.

Hater: Grrrr! Poop!

The End.

JA Konrath said...

pattinase--there's no way amazon could police their reviews--way too many--and I'm not sure censorship is the answer. But maybe the star sytem should be abandoned for a simple "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" rating system.

macbeaner--you're already way ahead of the curve. :)

jnantz--I agree with the skimmer idea.

sara--if the review is well-thought out, I can't see how it can be one star, because there has to be something appealing about the work that allowed it to get published in the first place. I can understand one star for barely-literate POD self-pubs, but if something was published by one of the pros it infers a certain level of professionalism, opinion notwithstanding.

dave--I also only review books I like. But when did Amazon require east coast/west coast rap response songs? If a person sees a five star review, does posting a one star review really negate it? And vice versa? If you were suckered into buying a book you didn't like because of good reviews, can you really blame the reviews?

gayle--I agree.

zoe--those are the reviews I like; even when the reviewer dislikes the book, she offers enough to let me make my own decision.

jim--the smarter the writer, the tougher the skin.

bobby--come to LIM

chris--I didn't like Phantom Menace, but it was carefully made and everyone involved tried hard. It wasn't Igor and the Lunatics, though, god help me, i may have enjoyed Igor more...

john--nicely said.

ehadams--I didn't know that. Interesting.

jennifer--if I don't like a book, I put it down. I wouldn't review a book I didn't finish, and wouldn't finish a book i didn't like.

heather--you said it better than I did.

Dave Zeltserman said...

Joe, you've got to be kidding. Crap never gets published by mainstream houses?? Really???? Sorry, I don't buy that. I've read more than my share of crap books that probably do deserve 1 star on amazon and elsewhere. I also don't buy your argument (Phantom Menace for example, or Hostel as a better example) that just because a bunch of people work hard on something that it has any merit. Movie studios put out good movies but also their share of crap, mainstream publishers put out a lot of good books, and also some crap, or at least books that make me sad for the industry.

About my earlier post, there are clearly some 1 star reviews put out by haters, but there are also quite a few put out by readers who are simply pissed off that they were suckered into buying a mediocre book--which I think is an understandable human reaction. Maybe they might be over reacting and should've given the book 2 or 3 stars, but again, it's understandable, and I find those reviews more honest than the bogus 5-star reviews (not saying there aren't genuine 5-star reviews, but the bogus ones are pretty easy to spot, and prevalent).

JA Konrath said...

Here's a well-review, four out of five stars, from The List mag in the UK.

Starting with a plane crash and ending with a coyote-on-human chow down, Afraid by Jack Kilborn is a rattling good read for those who have the stomach for it. When a mutant military force turns up unannounced at the friendly law-abiding town of Safe Haven (population 907) there is bloodshed aplenty. They are looking for the sheriff’s brother but nobody knows where he lives. Meanwhile, a single mum, her child and a firefighter are just trying to stay alive and make it through the night.

Borrowing liberally from HP Lovecraft and Stephen King, debutant Jack Kilborn’s gripping account of a very violent invasion of a largely innocent community is unrelenting and thrilling. His style is effortless but well paced and finely characterised, and he clearly has an eye for shock, gore and other related cruelties. If you’re looking for an easy late winter holiday read this is certainly unputdownable. (Paul Dale)


I should be able to cull a quote or two from there. :)

But what I like about it, other than the kind words, is the reviewer lets the reader know what type of book it is, and that it may not be for everyone. He seemed to like it, but even if he didn't, he gave enough of the plot that someone who was into horror would still be interested.

Concise, well-written, and a smart way to review books.

JA Konrath said...

Dave, I loved Hostel. And I know people who loved Phanatom Menace (especially compared to the next two.)

"Crap" can be both subjective and objective.

If a narrative, in this case a movie, has a clear beginning, middle, and end, rising action, conflict, competent actors, professional editing and score, decent cinematography and special fx, I posit it can't objectively be a one star movie because it meets a certain minimum standard. You can't compare Phantom Menace to something two teenagers shot and put on YouTube.

Yes, you didn't "like" PM, but that doesn't make it suck. It still follows the established formula.

Objectively, PM is a well-made movie that basically hits what it aims at.

Subjectively, Lucas should be spanked for creating Jar Jar Binks.

So perhaps our definitions of "crap" differ. I don't think something made by a major studio by thousands of people can truly be one star. But if you look at some grindhouse flicks done by people who had no idea what they were doing, (Igor and the Lunatics, anything by Andy Milligan, Dr. Gore, Manos Hands of Fate, most HG Lewis) then you see bad acting, sub-par editing and cinematography, no narrative, poor or non-existant scores, etc. These are truly one star movies.

I posit that it is the same with book publishers. Anything vetted by the industry has to meet the minimal criteria, and that means better than the crap that is never published, which indeed is truly crap.

Hating a book doesn't make the book bad. It just means you hated it.

Gayle Carline said...

I write for an equine magazine and was asked to review a book they had been sent. It's the one and only time I could not recommend a book to anyone. The only "star" I might give it is that the grammar was good. It was a non-fiction book on how to do barrel racing (a western riding competition), purportedly for beginners. Not only were some of the instructions wrong, some took those miracle leaps of knowledge. (Kind of like when Steve Martin explained how to make a million dollars and not pay taxes: "First, get yourself a million dollars.")

But the kicker for me was that the author of the book claimed to have won an Olympic gold medal for barrel racing. Her team won at an exhibition, something the host cities offer as part of their Olympic activities. She is not an Olympic gold medalist. Trust me, I investigated this with the Olympic committee before just discounting it.

The magazine chose to not include my review, since they like to use their review space for things they think people will like. But why did it get published in the first place? I can only guess, from reading the book, that the author's ego is so large, she was able to convince the publisher (and editor) that she knew what she was talking about.

The worst part is that this book is now in my library. It's full of too much misinformation to be useful to anyone, and I can't stand to throw books away. I'm just glad I didn't buy it.

Dave Zeltserman said...

Joe,

We'll have to agree to disagree. Bad movies and books get vetted all the time, especially when the goal is to make money as opposed to creating/publishing something worthwhile. Of course it's all subjective, but if a book is boring, condescending to the reader, dumb plot holes, characters acting stupidly just to advance the plot, or overly precious writing, I will usually hate these books, and whether they're 1-star or 2-stars, does it really matter? It gets the point across, doesn't it? Now where I will agree with you is that people have an obligation to write fair/honest reviews, and not crap over a book for personal or vindictive reasons.

sara said...

I must agree with Dave on this one. I don't agree with slinging around words like "crap" or "useless" or "shouldn't have been published" around carelessly, but I must emphatically disagree that everything published has merit. Or rather, that NOTHING on Amazon deserves a 1-star review.

You may give the artist much more credit than others, but I think there are some things that are truly bad, and I think some of those truly bad things get published, and when I'm suckered into buying one because of a lot of overenthusiastic reviews, I am totally justified in writing my own 1-star review. People may not agree with my opinion, but if a thoughtful (read: not vitriolic, not spewing diatribe) analysis of why I think a book was not worth my money helps someone else make an informed decision, I think there's value in that 1-star review.

Anonymous said...

The thing that I find interesting about reviewers is that they get so upset if someone else then critiques what they have written. They fell like they can critique an author to death, but if the author or some other person turns the tables and says they're just some stupid ingrate, they act like there's been some breach of protocol.

An author subjects his/her written words to critique when he/she writes them. But so does the reviewer.

Reviewers should also remember that authors are free to like or not like anyone they want, for whatever reason they want. Reviewers who trash an author shouldn't be suprised if that author then doesn't like them or has no respect for them.

The simple fact is that lots of reviewers are just mean little a**holes.

Picks By Pat said...

Good post, but I don't agree that all opinions are valid. Some opinions are worthless, and for the reasons you described...they usually are the opinions from haters.

I review books on my blog, but rarely review one I don't like. Why? Simply because I don't have time to waste on something I don't enjoy when there are so many good books out there that I would rather talk about.

stevemosby said...

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course, but I think I pretty much agree with Joe here. I can see the point of 'balancing' out several 5-star reviews. But then, it's always possible the potential buyer you dissuaded may have loved the book and so you did them a disservice.

One problem for me isn't the individual reviews, but the averaging of the scores into a single mark. It loses all the nuances of whatever points were made and suggests a real, objective score for the work. I mean, it's natural for people to organise stuff, but it seems weird to think that a book - or any piece of art - can be summed up with a mark out of five.

Nick Kelly said...

As the indie guy at Horrorview.com, I've had a chance to review some amazing work, like "Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon".

I've also had to sit through things like Redneck Zombies. Some movies are crap.

I always review material based on two criteria. 1. What were the filmmakers going for? 2. How close did they come to hitting the mark?

This works in music, as well. You can hate a particular type of music, but still respect the artist for being really, really good at it. The goal might be to impress 14 year old goth girls by whining or to impress Julliard musicians by playing the most technical wizardry ever to cross a fretboard. Either way, you can be good at it, or terrible.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

While I think there are valid points in this post, I think we need to keep in mind that these are our customers. Some of them will hate. Some of them will love. But the fact that they are our buying public gives them credibility.

Brad R. Torgersen said...

In the Army we do what's called an AAR: After Action Review. Any time you do anything, whether it's a major mission, or something as simple as a one-our block of classroom instruction, there is always an AAR, which is a roundhouse group effort to identify the following:

1) The purpose of the event or mission everyone just participated in.

2) Whether or not the actual mission or event was carried out as described.

3) Three "bads" or aspects of the event or mission that fell short, need improvement, or went just plain wrong.

4) Three "goods" or aspects of the event or mission that were positive, went well, contributed to success, and that should be sustained in future efforts.

Never is an AAR intended as a knock against the people who conducted the mission or event. It's a holistic approach to unit improvement that assumes everyone either succeeds together, or fails together.

I often wonder if some media reviewers wouldn't be well-served by adopting the AAR model. As Joe notes, most books and movies have at least a few things to recommend them; even if the overall enjoyment level has been poor.

I've posted the occasional review at Amazon.com and for the few very negative reviews I've given, I always try to explain why I am so down on the book, or music, or movie I am reviewing.

Someone up-thread said they don't give negative reviews at all. I sometimes think this is a good policy, especially as a producing artist. Let your silence speak for itself. Gush over the stuff that deserves to be gushed over, and for the poor and the terrible... Chirping crickets. Lord knows if I had a book out, and I sent it to other authors for review, and all I got back was silence, it would be a loud and clear message that my book was probably not a very good effort.

Emily said...

"Our critics are our friends, they show us our faults."
-Benjamin Franklin

This is funny, because I totally just got in a discussion about this over at livejournal. To sum up the situation, a writer asked general opinion if she was allowed to tell other writers that they suck. No one had an answer.

The way I look at it, there are two kinds of critics. I've seen haters who are just annoying little whiners that are jealous of the writer's success, but I've also seen critics who honestly disliked a book and are willing to defend that opinion.

I'm part of the latter group. I have read books that in my opinion, should never have seen the light of day. Now I'm not saying these books are worthless - every book has some merit, something the writer did well. But one redeeming quality is not enough to base an entire positive review on.

I've written reviews on books that I disliked. I think some books are crap and I'm willing to defend my opinion. Maybe I am mean, but I don't think all books deserve a good review. People purchasing books have a right to know exactly what they're getting.

Criticism is a difficult topic because opinion is so subjective, and it's extremely hard to take.

Rebecca said...

Everybody likes something, thank God. Otherwise, who would read my books. LOL.

I can think of many examples of movies or books that I didn't enjoy on first blush, but later came to appreciate simply because it took a while for the work to sink in. For example, I know that I originally hated Charlie and the Chocolate Factory because the original version of the movie creeped me out when I was a child. Now, watching the newer version, I'm not nearly as creeped. It might be the Johnny Depp factor, it might just be that as an adult I could see the story in a whole different context based on experiences I hadn't yet had as a child. It might be that things look very different to you when you are sober than they do after three or four margaritas. Who knows? The point is, I agree with Joe. Most people in today's society judge blindly and without having any real idea what they are actually judging. Part of a larger problem, indeed. That, my friends, is why we write.

Erica Orloff said...

Hi Joe:
I am with you on this, for the most part. I've been fortunate to be mostly well-reviewed. I don't mind when I see a lukewarm one, or even a "I didn't like this because . . . ." one. But you are right when you see something dripping with snark and loathing, or worse, just bashing the author, I don't get it. I have a dear friend (author) who had a review that questioned her IQ and wwas filled with so many personal INSULTS that it was offensive. I don't get the motivation of that kind of reviewer? What is so personally bothersome? So you read a book you didn't like. Big effing deal.
E
P.S. And I know the two of us had a discussion a while back on my blog about violence in books--but in that case, I am up front in that I don't read that and wanted to know why some people love reading torture books or seeing torture films--a real curiosity on my part. But I would never review a book that from the outset I know isn't my thing--that right there is such a bias. But there are reviewers who will bash a romance or bash something, who aren't up front that they simply wouldn't like ANYTHING in that genre.

Ali Karim said...

Speaking of Reviews

http://www.shotsmag.co.uk/reviews2008/reviews1108/afraid.html

Bloody Brilliant

Ali

Dal Jeanis said...

JA -

If you're defending Gigli, and saying that the very making of an effort prevents the assignment of one star, then why have the option for one star?

The purpose of a Likert scale (ie 1-5) is to assign relative merit, not absolute merit. You earn the first star by existing. Everything above that is hard-fought. The worst twenty percent of all books and movies should get 1 star.

That being said, I've recently had the problem of trying to review a book that I honestly didn't enjoy, and trying to figure out how to fairly describe the qualities of the book. Because it's extremely well written, just not my brand of cookie.

This is J.M. McDermott's Last Dragon. It's a book that honestly deserves to get either 4-5 stars or 1-2, depending upon what you as a reader enjoy! The book is written in this wonderful, dark and fragmented voice, the form reflecting the story, and the whole novel locked up in this puzzle-like structure because of the aged and confused condition of the narrator.

If you like dark, if you like literary voice, if you like puzzles and like to work to understand a story, then this fantasy novel gets 4+ stars. It's even on a couple of top-ten lists for the year (such as at omnivoracious).

On the other hand, if you just want to read a story and understand it directly, then avoid this book at all costs - it'll be a 1-2 stars at best for you.

So, how do you fit a review like that into the way that Amazon works? Average and give it a 3? Give it a 2? Give it two different reviews?

I honestly don't know. I guess the important thing is to clearly describe the book, and who you think would and wouldn't enjoy it. The more useful you make your own reviews, the less it matters what the snarkers say.

Anita said...

Hey, next month my lovely local newspaper, the Colorado Springs Gazette, is actually STARTING a book recommendation column, and (ta-da!) I'm the writer. The column will be different from a book review, because the books are all ones I love. I'm writing every week, about all genres. Doesn't matter when the book was published or whether the author makes a million bucks a year, I simply have to love the book. I'll have a blog, too, and will be putting the address out soon---watch for it and be prepared to send me lists of your favorite books (aka books you all have written).

DeSeRt RoSe said...

As a reader who is also a Shelfarian, I have been introduced to dozens of authors by reading their reviews. Sometimes even bad reviews make me curious so I look for other reviewers and so on. One review leads to another and one book lead to another ;)

I do sometimes write my personal reviews on my blog on on Shelfari but it's just an opinion. and surely not a professional one!

I liked your post and will be reading your book Whiskey Sour very soon since I already have it. Just as soon as I get to it in my TBR pile that is :)

marcinko said...

I saw a movie once that I really hated. True, I saw it under very bad conditions -- a downtown theater as noisy and chaotic as you could find only in Philadelphia in the '80s. It was a lousy day and I may have even had a nasty headache. The movie was slow-paced and gloomy and not at all what I was expecting.

Later I saw it again on a double bill with The Road Warrior and decided that, you know, there is something to be said for that movie. I've seen it many times since and now count it as one of my favorites.

That movie is Blade Runner.

I don't think I'm THAT wishy-washy. I can admit that I was wrong.

So what he said about haters. Though I only use that word myself when I talk about Sarah Palin.

HerOdyssey said...

This is an interesting article. It's true that people are too liberal with their negative opinions. I know that when someone simply mentions the movie 'Titanic' I start professing all the horrible things about it I can think of, so we're all a little bit like that I suppose.

I think, however, there is a separation between hater blogs and blogs who are performing a service; and contrarty to what people say, POD reviewing is indeed a SERVICE. It can be a real task to trudge through some of the stuff that is published, and I'm sorry if I sound like a hater when I say that, but it's the God Given truth, so help me. There is A LOT of junk out there, and yes, from people who can't string two words together... It's hard not to be a bit harsh about it when as an author, you're expecting someone to pay money (and more money than usual in the case of POD books) to read your work.

Yes, there's always someone who's going to disagree with our reviews (although most of the complaints come from the authors themselves)... but that's life. It's what to expect when you put yourself out there for the world to see. Haters are just a consequence of that choice.

The good thing is that when people are adding single stars, and are really super-vocal about their dislike of something, they tend to erase their own credility with their own behaviour, so it's like they just cancel their opinions out. THe sad part is that their one-star rating will screw up the average...

At Odyssey, we don't publish reviews on books we think are 2 stars or less in quality. This is out of respect for the author's feelings on the most part.

A lot of people seem to glean some sense of relevance being able to affect the sales of a book. It gives them worth to tear something down. It's a bad practice, but at least it's transparent to the rational souls like us.

SQT said...

You're right about so many things. I've been doing reviews for awhile and I'm a layperson. I do have a journalism degree and some newspaper/television experience and have had reviews published before. But I never had to submit a resume before I started a blog.

I try not to be a hater. I read everything I review and carefully go through what I do and don't like about it. I have only given one or two really negative reviews-- I think the rest have been more on the positive end of the spectrum. But I also cringe as the always-love-everything-Harriet-Klausner type of reviewer too. Klausner has no credibility-- nor should she.

But since everyone has a voice now you have to be discriminating on who you trust. Is the person doing the review just trying to get free books? Are they trying to get attention for themselves? Or are they a genuine fan? The only way to know these things is to know the reviewer and that takes time.

Aidan Moher said...

A review should never be judged on the opinion held by the author, but rather by the honesty with which they express that opinion.

~Aidan Moher
A Dribble of Ink

CaroleMcDonnell said...

A reviewing blogger sent me this url because he thought i needed to be healed of a really cruel hater who reviewed my book. This was a great post!

Ana said...

I've read books that made me think I just wasted my money and watched movies that I couldn't watch more than half an hour of. You have every kind of art going around, it's only natural you can't like everything you see/read. If we all liked the same things the world woul be a very boring place.
Yet, when I make a review for theses books/movies I always voice why I disliked it (I never use the word hate because that's very personal and I don't think it can aply in theses situations) and I also mention what I did like and why I believe others liked it what I didn't. There's good things in everything if you look hard enough, but that doesn't change the fact that said book/movie bored me to death.
What I mean, of course, is that I agree with you on this. Going around saying one writer shoul die just because he wrotte something (I saw this in a blog), is seriously the most stupid thing I've heard/read in my life.