Everyone’s a Reviewer – Alison Healy on One Star Book Reviews
Did you ever suspect that some of the facts of the day on these desk calendars are made up? I imagine someone in an office saying, “Quick, we don’t have a fact for April 22, give me one,” and a colleague suggesting, “Just say that the person who made up the dot of interrogation was born on this day in 1540.”
I began to have doubts about the veracity of the facts when I leafed through our own calendar last month and saw the claim that when the M6 Toll Road in Birmingham was built in 2003 it was lined with 2.5 million pulp Mills & Boon novels.
But my suspicions were misplaced, and it seems the road to true love is going very well in Birmingham, thanks to unwanted copies of romantic novels.
Apparently the books were pulped at a recycling company in South Wales and used to hold tarmac and asphalt in place and act as a sound absorber.
A BBC online article quoted project manager Richard Beal as saying Mills & Boon’s books weren’t used as a statement about how we feel about the writing, but because it’s so absorbing. They may be gooey to many people, but it’s their “non-gooey” that is their appeal to us.
Some 45,000 pounds were needed for each kilometer of highway.
Books from other publishers were also used, but no authors were verified in the article, which was just as well. What author wants to hear that thousands of copies of the book they’ve worked on for years have been reduced to a pulp and buried under the road? That’s almost worse than finding your book in the trash with a 99 cent sticker on it.
But if an author wants to feel really bad about their work, all they have to do is hit the reviews section on the Goodreads or Amazon websites.
There will always be a disgruntled reader giving a one star review for the most ridiculous reasons.
I’m thinking of the person who bought the screenplay for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald and then gave it a star because they thought they were buying a novel “and who would buy a stupid screenplay?”
I doubt the one-star review has shaken JK Rowling’s confidence, but maybe it’s just as well that some writers aren’t alive to read what some modern readers think of their work.
When James Joyce was finishing Ulysses in his Paris apartment, he might have been demoralized had he known that, more than a century later, the book would garner almost 10,000 one-star reviews from readers of the Goodreads site.
What would Joyce have thought of Chad, who advised people to strangle anyone with a stick if they described Odysseus as wonderful? Chad went on to say that the Irish have a great sense of humor, but sometimes they go overboard “like with the IRA and this book”. He didn’t elaborate on his inexplicable decision to link the IRA to our sense of humor.
Cat lover Gary said it was “the worst book I’ve ever read; the only redeeming quality is that there was a cat”.
And Dan haughtily proclaimed that good books should engage in conversation with the reader. “I made the mistake of inviting Joyce – via Ulysses – to join my literary conversation. He’s not very talkative. He mostly sat in a corner mumbling incoherently.”
If you feel bad for Joyce, you’ll feel even worse for Anne Frank. When she wrote about her darkest fears while hiding in that Amsterdam attic during World War II, she hoped that her work would one day be published. But could she ever have thought that an American named Alex would read her diary nearly 80 years later and complain that there wasn’t enough about the Holocaust? He moaned that he only represented the boredom of living in an attic. Did he expect her to risk her life and leave the attic to get a better mental picture of Nazis dragging people through the streets?
But Alex put the final nail in the coffin of his literary credentials when he confidently said, “In the pantheon of literature about being locked in an attic, Flowers in the Attic is still the gold standard- gold”.
Nor were Samuel Beckett’s metaphysical reflections immune to harsh criticism. One Amazon reader described Waiting for Godot as gibberish, saying, “I don’t know what Beckett was smoking when he wrote it, and I don’t know what the critics were smoking when they reviewed it, but it was not cigarettes”. .
But let’s leave the last word to a reader who called himself Alphakid42. In his review of Waiting for Godot, he stated that he would rather have open-heart surgery without anesthesia than undergo the part again in any form. “It’s so bad. No, it’s worse.
It is safe to assume that Beckett would not have cared about the literary criticism of Aphakid42. He probably would have taken a sip of his double espresso and said, “I can’t take it anymore. I will continue. And at least my books aren’t smashed to make a road in Birmingham.