Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Lid for Every Pot

Photo by bookminder, used with permission, cc license.

"There's a lid for every pot" was an expression my grandmother used to use. She used it in relation to finding a spouse, but I think it has a much broader context. The reality is that not everything is to everyone's taste and that certainly applies to choice of partners, but it also applies to all preferences, large or small. Including books.

This is why negative reviews (unless they constitute a personal attack on the author) don't really bother me. How can a matter of someone else's taste be an affront to me?

While the holy grail of every writer is to craft a book that will appeal to every reader, the truth of the matter is that's utterly impossible. Look at the amazon page for your most beloved book. There will be one and two star reviews of the novel you could not put down or stop talking about. If you read those reviews, you might even wonder if the reviewer read the same book as you did.

A clear case of the lid not fitting the pot.

A case in point: The book "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell" won the Hugo Award, was listed as Time Magazine's book of the year, received honors topped by honors. I *hated* this book. Couldn't finish it. I barely got through the first few chapters before deciding I had better things to do than spend hours and hours reading a book I didn't enjoy. My more stubborn spouse slogged through the entire thick tome before he would admit he also hated the book.

How could we both hate a book that was lauded as the top pick of 2004 by reviewers and publications all over the world? Wrong lid to the pot. A matter of taste.

Jonathan Strange has 944 reviews on its Amazon page. A full 25% of them are two and one star reviews.

From one of the five star reviews:
"It is often beautifully written. it's one of those books where you'll pause over a line to reread it or let its effect linger a little while, whether due to the simple beauty of description, the efficiency of its brevity, or its dry wit. It is a true pleasure to read. Not to find out what happened. Simply to read."

From one of the one star reviews:
"I guess some people really like this sort of thing. Hundreds of pages prose with characters speculating about what they are going to do, then doing things that don't seem to have a whole lot of connection to their speculation or to the fantasy-reality world that the reader is supposed to imagine."

Just because I agree with the one star review and not the five star, does that mean the book is bad? No, of course not. I didn't like it. Clearly, it wasn't written for me.

Today, I saw a review of THE BETWEEN, my debut YA fantasy that was fairly critical.
"I am hav­ing  a hard time writ­ing this review. While I enjoyed the book and could eas­ily give it 3–4 stars, I truly dis­liked the main char­ac­ter and the pat end­ing. The writ­ing is flow­ing and descrip­tive mak­ing for a quick and enjoy­able read.

While the main char­ac­ter might find its tar­get audi­ence of teenagers a match, I truly found her to be annoy­ing. In only one scene does she even seem to have a spine. She lets those she sees as more pow­er­ful then her lead her around. She runs and hides at every con­fronta­tion until there is no where left for her to run. She lashes out at those threat­en­ing her only when backed into a corner."

This, in contrast to a different review, describing the same character:
"Lydia is a complex, strongly-drawn character. Her reaction to the situation she finds herself in is not only completely understandable, but also utterly relatable. She is angry, frustrated, sad, confused-and also incredibly powerful, which makes for a fantastic fictional combination. I love reading strong female leads, and Lydia did not disappoint. Her strength in the face of intimidating situations was bracing, yet also delightfully juxtaposed to her despondency and desperation at being torn from her adopted human family."

A matter of taste, of lids and pots and fit. Both reactions and opinions are valid. I appreciate the time each reader took to put thoughts to paper about my story. 

1 comment:

  1. Lisa - my grandmother used the same expression in the context of finding a spouse, LOL! And I agree with you, you can't sweat the poor reviews. Taste in books is like taste in food -- some people like olives (my spouse) and some people hate them (me). Nothing personal against the olive =)