Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Why I Don't Review Books... Plus, A Book Review!

You know, there was a time when I used to review books. What a royal waste of time that was. I stopped after reading a particular self-published book that I thought was a piece of garbage and ranted about how awful it was. I felt bad about it afterwards and made a sorta promise to either say something nice or nothing at all going forward. I mean, I write too. It takes guts and a thick skin to put your stuff out there for the world to judge. What if someone read my book and not only didn’t like, but actively went out there and called me hack. Ugh.

So, I try not to review books anymore. If I only say nice things about books then who would believe me if I never mentioned a book that I didn't like? I want to be an author, a published one, it feels like a conflict of interest for me to be judging the worth of something. Especially if I’m not too certain I can handle if it were my work being judged so harshly. However, sometimes something comes up and I want to just say a few words about it. I think I’ll try to refrain from reviewing books by folks I know, even nominally, and probably avoid most small press/indie authors altogether. But I feel like reviewing something from one of the big boys is fair game for now.

So, I’ve read Patrick Rothfuss’ books over the past couple of months. Is it possible for novels to annoy you and thrill you at the same time? I love the world, the story, and the characters. But I get that sinking feeling that the author is trying to drive a point home to me, the reader, and is almost mocking me for not being smarter.

The story of these books are essentially the life and times of the greatest Wizard to ever live, I guess. A legend that is spoken of with hushed awes by anyone who ever speaks of him at all. I guess it’s like the respect given to Voldemort – but if he were a good guy. Well, I guess that makes him more like Harry Potter.

In fact, I don’t think that’s a bad comparison, *spoiler alert* he’s an orphan. His young life after losing his parents is awful. He goes to a school of wizarding where he learns, often better than his professors, how to wield magic.  All while trying to discover why his parents were killed.

I get annoyed with the story though because a pattern starts to develop early on where he starts off poor and ignorant, then learns until he either becomes quite competent at something, or masters it altogether, falls ass first into money, then he gets swept away into a new environment or setting, becoming penniless and ignorant all over again. Rest assured, he'll build his way up to greatness again.

The ways that this pattern becomes annoying is that each segment is so detached from the previous, the books feel more like a series of loosely connected novellas moreso than true novels. At times I wondered why in the world he wouldn't use the skills he developed in an earlier part of the book to help himself during latter portions when those skills could have been used to save himself from a lot of grief.

And eventually, I grew tired of it. Not so tired that I stopped reading, but tired enough that I as soon as he would wrap up some dilemma I would hope the remainder of the book was was going to focus on some of the larger story threads the author introduced. But no, just another adventure. There were too many coincidences in his life for me to fall hook line and sinker into the world of these books.

They’re good, I’d recommend them, but they aren’t perfect.


Danette said...

So if you wrote poorly, you wouldn't want anyone to tell you? Granted that after you publish is a bad time but I personally would rather have some truth then to only hear good things and never hear any criticism. Especially from those people I respect. My best friend once read what I wrote and never told me the truth about what I wrote and when I had a hard time getting it published and couldn't figure out why, she just wished me well. I am not sure, looking back that she did me any favors.

On the other hand, if someone says terrible things because they are jealous or simply has no taste then that kind of review is worthless. Telling you you're a crap writer is not a review, it's childish namecalling, junior high rubbish. As an author, I guess you have to be smart enough to figure out what you're getting: real criticism which is worth you're time listening to or childish rants.

mooderino said...

I was thinking of reading this but I don't think I'll bother. Do you know of any other recent fantasy novels that are worth reading?

Moody Writing

Rusty Webb said...

Danette - you're right on both counts, the time for harsh criticism comes before it's published. Once you're asking people to hand over money for the pleasure of reading it then I'd expect the author must think it's pretty good. I'm not going to be that one person who pops onto Amazon and gives a one star review - I just can't. I'd rather encourage indie's. I do think getting honest critiques can be tough though. Your friend probably only wanted to encourage you though. Sometimes having someone support you can be good too. A lot of folks in my life roll their eyes when I tell them I write.

Mooderino - I might have come across a bit more negatively than I intended. I'd at least pick up a copy and try it to see what you think. I'm a bit new to the genre myself, having read sci fi and avoiding fantasy for decades. I did pick up Peter Brett's The Warded Man after hearing good things, but I haven't read it yet.

mooderino said...

I know nobody wants to come across as being unfair to another writer, and in the end it all comes down to opinion and taste, but the things you describe feel pretty objectively appraised and ignoring your occasional cries of frustration, i think you presented the issues in a balanced manner.

I don't want to read a book that's sort of okay, bits of it are good, it's not the worst thing ever etc., so this review saves me precious time. After all, the world ends next year.


Matthew MacNish said...

It IS a conflict of interest for writers to review books. We need to leave that to the critics. However, I review books too, from time to time, but only if I love them and have nothing but great things to say about them.

Rogue Mutt said...

There are few professional book critics left and the ones who are left aren't going to review many books other than the award books and bestsellers. Either we do it or no one does it.

I'd only consider it a conflict of interest if a book were directly competing against mine, which really doesn't apply to any. But when Stephen King goes on record saying Twilight sucks, that's a conflict of interest because they're competing for floor space at B&N; he has a vested interest in people not buying Twilight and instead buying his books.

Whereas those of us who aren't rich, famous authors (or even traditionally published) as Homer Simpsons said, "Does anyone care what this guy thinks?" The answer is probably not. But maybe if I read a really crummy book and give it a 1-star review it will keep other people from wasting their hard-earned money on something that sucks. If they want to tell me that I suck, then fine, it's a free country, so long as they write a real review and not just a revenge review because they're mad at me. (Though I use an alias in reviews anyway.)

Stephen Tremp said...

Thanks for the reviews. I'm moody about doing them. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. If its a blogging friend, then sure. Other than that it's up in the air.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I prefer to avoid frustrating reads. One Dan Simmons book taught me that.

Christine Rains said...

I felt the same way. I liked the first book much more than the second. You definitely got the feel that the second book was the middle of the trilogy. It was more a collection of stories that happen to Kvothe rather than a whole novel. I worked up some muscle hefting that book around too! I've met Patrick Rothfuss a few times and attended panels and workshops at Gen Con with him. He's a nice guy and highly intelligent.

Laila Knight said...

It does take a tremendous amount of guts to write and publish for the world to see. Our writing brands us, labels us. I like good wizards. Don't you hate it when you grow tired of reading a book, specially if you went out of your way to purchase it. I used to finish reading on principal alone, but lately that's not enough. Thanks for sharing your reads. :)

The Golden Eagle said...

I know several bloggers who only review books that they like, and that seems like a wise policy to me as a writer. I do review books I like and don't really like, but I try to make sure the reviews are balanced; if there's something negative, mention something good.

I've never heard of those books before. They don't sound like something I want to read, though; thanks for the review!

Andrew said...

I'm not sure how I feel about reviewing. I'm not sure that it matters much because, generally speaking, people aren't going to listen to you unless they trust your opinion, anyway. Actually, I think it can be important to state whether you enjoyed a book or not. Of course, you also want to tell where the book works and where it doesn't work.
I suppose, in the end, I don't want people to be scared to review my book even if they don't like it. I have to have that same attitude toward other books.

mood: If you want to try something fantasy (and haven't already read it), try The Belgariad by David Eddings. It's formulaic, but that was by intent. It has great characters. Just don't read beyond that series.

Rusty Webb said...

Mooderino - fair enough. I was fair I think.

Matthew - Rogue does make a good point that there are very few professional critics anymore. But I do agree there a lot of folks out there that are dedicated to reviews. For the most part I'll leave that to them. Or at least leave serious ones to them.

Rogue - Part of my dilemma is the thought that if I find something horrid and I don't warn others about its awfulness then I'm complicit. I guess I'll have to just come to terms with it.

Stephen - reviewing a fellow blogger friend's book is something I don't know if I could do. There is so much personal stuff there. I'd really have to consider that carefully.

Alex - I hope it wasn't Hyperion, I loved that book. That horror book he wrote about that ship stuck in the ice in the late 19th century though, that wasn't so great.

Christine - thanks for stopping by, I'm glad you're in agreement. Makes me feel better about the way I feel. It seems like he's so well loved now that I might be labeled a heretic for being critical, even though I still liked them.

Laila - I used to finish everything too. I did man up last year and finally started giving up on things I didn't like. It's been hard though. It's like throwing away a plate with food still on it. Even if I don't like the food, it just seems wrong to get rid of it.

Golden - Good attitude to have. I would do well to follow your example.

Andrew - I don't think many people care about what I say at all. If I did my posts would look much different. I usually don't know what I'm talking about until I'm a few paragraphs into my post. So I tend to write about whatever is on my mind, often without developing my thoughts first. I just type and see what happens.

If by some miracle I ever start attracting large number of people I'll put more work into making the posts more fitting.

Gail said...

Since Alex said you rocked, here I am.

Your book review is amazing and be assured that is not a series I will jump on any time soon. Seems to me, he is trying to ride the Harry Potter train and I shall not ride with him.

I admire anyone who can write a book, and triple admire someone who is published and can make a living. I used to have dreams of writing but, like many dreams, they fell to the way side.

I play at writing a blog, there are no rules, no deadlines, and the joy is in the writing.

I am so glad Alex sent me.

Andrew said...

I don't know. You've got a fairly good number of followers. I mean, compared to me, at any rate. And I care about what you have to say. I wouldn't read your posts if I didn't :P