Monday, July 20, 2015

The Subjectivity of Reviews, redux

image from Open Clip art, in the public domain

First: some caveats/ground rules. Please, no nasty comments directed at the reviewers. In fact, no arguing with reviewers at all. If you wish to express solidarity by sharing some of the 'best' negative reviews sent your way, you can excerpt them or link to them in a comment. Attacking a reviewer on behalf of an author you enjoy is also neither useful or appropriate.

I never, ever engage with reviewers, except on rare occasions to thank them for their time (and only when they are book bloggers/reviewers I have reached out to, rather than readers who review on Amazon, etc.) I don't think I need to explain why arguing/badmouthing a reviewer over a negative review is wrong.

But that doesn't mean we can't talk about reviews and use examples of both positive and negative ones to illustrate the incredible subjectivity of opinion.

I've talked about this before: Reviews are opinions. And as such, they aren't inherently 'right' or 'wrong'. They are a reader's reactions and experience. There may be times where the creator is bemused by the reviewer in that they see something that was not actually in the piece being assessed. That, too, is subjectivity at play.

I wanted to illustrate this with two recent reviews I received for ITHAKA RISING. One was a glowing, five-star review from a book blogger who has read and enjoyed other books of mine. One was a critical two-star review from a book reviewer who obtained the book via NetGalley.

What fascinated me was the different experiences of the two reviewers around the same issues: characters who are competent and gifted in several skill areas.
Barre lives, breathes, thinks and communicates in music. He is genuinely gifted, but unappreciated by his career military physician parents, although respected by his younger brother, Jem the resourceful coding genius. Jem exceeds Halcyone Captain Ro Maldonado’s coding talents by light years, which is saying something.

Jem is speshul. [sic] He’s a brilliant and caring kid that behaves better than his parents whom you just want to hug while ruffling his hair. . . .  The characters of Ro and Barre are also brilliant and super speshul. [sic] They can hack any system, fix any ship and find a hidden planet that the Commonwealth with all their military might, have not found in 40 years,…. in a day. Riiiiiiight.

And this, in looking at characterization:
Featuring a feisty lesbian heroine, a multicultural cast spanning three generations and a search and rescue mission involving a handicapped pre-teen, a wounded woman warrior with a prosthetic limb and a crone coding goddess, Ithaka Rising delivers diversity in spades.

The characters just fell flat. Developing all the characters that wear their emotions on their sleeves does not create depth nor does it balance the character in opposition to their brilliant genius personas.

Of course, one of these reviews was a huge ego booster, the other, not so much. But beyond that, they are both valid commentary. My only reaction to the more critical of the two reviews is my own personal aversion to snark. It's far easier for me to take in feedback when it's presented free from the emotional overtones, but even that is just a personal thing. The reviewer is not writing the review for the author, but for other readers.

I recently had a conversation at Readercon about the book turned mini-series JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORRELL. I pretty much hated it. Couldn't read past the third chapter. I found it overwritten, pretentious, and poorly paced. My lunch companion had loved it, and was enjoying the TV adaptation. We did not try to convince the other how 'wrong' they were. We did not devolve into calling one another stupid poopy heads. We simply laughed and kept talking.

Of course, there is a difference between a critical review and a personal attack. And I have received reviews that bordered on the latter (sidebar: I don't consider this one to be in that category). I still don't believe in engaging over an ad hominum attack. Why not? Because I actually think that kind of obvious nastiness is pretty evident to readers of reviews and reflects more poorly on the reviewer than the item reviewed.

And finally, even one's favorite, most beloved, award-strewn book will garner one- and two-star reviews. I'd be wary and concerned if my work had none. What that would tell me is I hadn't reached a wide enough audience.

If you are a book blogger/reviewer, ITHAKA RISING is available to request via Net Galley through the end of August.

It is also available in all eBook formats as well as in trade paperback. Purchase venues can be found here.


No comments:

Post a Comment