Book reviews

I made it a firm policy many years ago that I would not give a bad review to someone else’s work.

A book I really did like – review tomorrow on WriterlyWitterings, YouTube

It’s not because I am a particularly kind person. I have most definitely read several books that truly did not deserve those hours of my life. Those are hours I could have spent with the kids, with the dogs, or just walking on Dartmoor. Or, better, writing my own books so I can buy another camera. There is little excuse for writing reviews that slag off other people for no reason, other than either showing what a clever fellow I am. Some novelists do just that – and it doesn’t make that look very bright.

Seriously, what is the point? I have read a number of superbly written, engaging and inventive books – one such, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, is going to be reviewed on my YouTube channel tomorrow evening – and I have damaged my eyes trying to read some which were dire, some which were fatuous, and others which were just plain appalling. And by that, I mean appallingly badly plotted, appallingly badly written, or just appallingly bad, revolting subjects. One or two managed to hit all three, but they were few and far between.

Books I have hated have been those written by some of the world’s very top authors. But I took the decision not to review books I hate because, apart from anything else, reading a book is an entirely subjective occupation. I may hate them, but if, say, I detest a book by a million-selling author, what exactly is the point of saying so? A form of snobbishness, where I show off my greater knowledge of a specific subject? Perhaps it would be trying to justify my own lack of comparative sales? In which case I would either sound like a plain moron or a jealous moron, neither of which particularly appeals to me.

And if I am writing about a book which other people adore – what purpose would that serve, other than to alienate millions of book buyers?

So, I have generally not reviewed books negatively. I have reviewed the books I enjoyed, and not talked about the ones I didn’t like.

But now I’m gradually coming to the view that maybe I should speak my mind about books that don’t appeal. Perhaps it is only fair to describe what I don’t like as well as what I find good?

I would have to be careful in how I presented such reviews. “I didn’t like his use of language,” or “The way he set up that scene was atrocious,” are not really suitable. And when it is a book like the one which I did throw away in disgust, having reached my usual boundary-marker of page 100 (if I cannot find anything redeeming in the book by then, I might as well throw the damn thing away), perhaps it does deserve a comment or two.

When there are so many excellent books, why waste time with drivel?

The problem often is, and you can see this in almost every famous author’s work, that when they have reached a certain level of advance, they become inviolate. Their words are to be treated as pristine at all times. No copy editor who wants to retain her contract can possibly touch a glowing line. No, she must pull away and treat the work with the reverence it deserves. Suddenly writers who were economical with their words send off manuscripts bloated with adjectives, plots that were always tight become sloppy, and when 130,000 words was always enough for a final copy, suddenly the authors begin to spread themselves, and their books gain weight alarmingly, rising to 150,000 or 160,000 words.

Many a dreadful book has been ruined by agents, editors and copy editors not daring to upset the genius. And that is how their reputations become diminished.

So, what do you think? I have been asked for reviews on books I have truly hated. There are quite a few that would fall into that category. But is it time to throw off the shackles of my critical inhibitions, or should I wait a bit longer.

I don’t know.

7 Responses to “Book reviews”
  1. Lindsey Russell says:

    That’s a difficult one at first glance – do you expose the Emperor’s new clothes, cheer along with the masses, or keep your disappointment to yourself? I think it becomes easier when you stand back and look at the wider picture. Personally I think self preservation has to play the biggest role. Like you say – why alienate devoted fans of a bestseller who might become your fans? Or make an enemy of the bestselling author when it’s their work you have a gripe with and not the person? Yes there are some truly awful books out there but readers usually get put off a writer by discovering the shortcomings themselves rather than have those faults pointed out to them – and it is readers who matter in the end, not the egos of other authors.


    • I do agree – which is why, certainly for now, I’ll be sticking to the old formula of only recommending the books I like, and not dissing the ones I hate… although there are some which deserve to be pulled apart. Maybe I’ll just have to seek out a slightly different forum for those ones!


  2. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    Sage advice from Michael ;)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jack Eason says:

    I wonder how many of the haters will read and take notice of this post Michael. Will it it jar their conciences? I doubt it, don’t you? In my own case nearly every one of mine inevitably gets slagged off by cowards who hide behind pseudonyms, many of whom reside in the States. Its worthy to note that most of my detractors have a poor appreciation of the English language…


    • It’s very kind of you to assume that the haters have “consciences”! I think most of them write what they do as a form of self-approbation. The more anger they inspire, the more they feel vindicated in some warped way.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Peter Martuneac says:

    I think you mentioned the crucial key: subjectivity. A book you really didn’t like may be just what another reader loves. Perhaps if you want to write a critical review, you might preface it with a note that this is your opinion alone, maybe someone else would like it? Or you could add a quick synopsis before getting critical, adding that maybe this will appeal to some but it didn’t to you?


    • Exactly my thoughts – clearly I like many books that other people don’t, and vice versa. However, I rather like your idea – synopsis then what I like, what I don’t like … yes, that might just work!

      Liked by 1 person

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