Reading and Writing (No ‘Rithmatic)

Looking through the Kindle $3.99 or less offerings for November got me thinking about book reviews, as well as my own writing.  Yes, I realize that “thinking” about writing and the act of writing are not the same thing, but there is some benefit to thinking:  I consciously decide what I want from my writing.

First of all, I’ve learned to not put much stock in book reviews because I know that some authors ask certain readers to only post favorable reviews.  When I buy something, I want to know the good, the bad and the broken – not just how shiny the good stuff is.  I wonder if publishers put the authors up to it, or it the authors just want their ratings to soar to make them look good.  I may never know.

I found a memoir that intrigued me.  Interesting, since I’m not a fan of memoirs.  This book happened to have several two and three star reviews, so I read them and found the same issues noted over and over.  Poor editing, purple prose, good story but bad writing, etc.  One review (which happened to be a four star review) gave two sample descriptions from the book.  My eyes rolled, so I decided I’d better look closer.

By the end of page one, I knew I couldn’t handle the purple prose.  (I like purple, but not when reading.)  I found the flowery details used to describe a person’s real experience distracting.  Descriptions are like salt:  a sprinkling adds flavor.  Here are a few examples from the first couple paragraphs:

“Midmorning heat rippled with fury.”

“Sprinklers scattered wet jewels…”

“…tearing up a dust storm in its steely wake.”

There’s another thing about salt:  some people have a higher tolerance for it.  While I found the above examples to be too strong, someone else may think they are perfect.  At any rate, I will be more conscientious as to how I season my own writing.

What makes you pass on reading a book?  What makes you decide to give it a try?  Do you read online reviews? 

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33 thoughts on “Reading and Writing (No ‘Rithmatic)

  1. nrhatch November 10, 2011 / 2:52 PM

    I do read reviews . . . starting with the low ratings. If reviewers mention my pet peeves (all of which you’ve identified in this post ~ bad grammar, sloppy writing, purple prose), I pass on the book.

    There are too many good books waiting to waste time with any we don’t adore.

    • jannatwrites November 10, 2011 / 5:39 PM

      True, Nancy. So many books, so little time!

      I like to read the less-than-glowing reviews, too. I rarely read 5-star ones.

  2. momsomniac November 10, 2011 / 3:08 PM

    Funny to see this post today. I was just thinking about this.

    When I posted my novella “The Pied Piper of St. May” on Amazon for 99 cents, I sold a few copies right away. People commented on Facebook that they enjoyed it but when I asked them if to review it on Amazon…they didn’t. I eventually got one review. It was written by a friend and though she gave the story five stars, I was confused by the content of the review – and I wrote the story!

    That said, I do read reviews and weigh them according to how many of each type is given…and then how well written the reviews are! Probably not fair, but having some information on the worth of spending our time and/or money is a good thing. I will admit that I asked people to comment on my blog rather than Amazon if they were going to pan the story or give constructive criticism. I had intended to “sleep on” any criticism and decide if I need to edit the story (again…for the fourth time) and re-upload it. But I never got any of that either.
    Maybe one day…

    It’s a shame about the purple prose you mentioned above. My thought is that the writer relied upon (him or) herself to be her own editor, which is almost always a mistake. I can’t afford a pro, but I have some smart friends who love to read and who are willing to give input. Though still not perfect, I thought the friend who edited “Pied Piper” for me was pretty thorough – and she saved my from some unfortunate typos too. Most of us can at least ask for that input.

    • jannatwrites November 10, 2011 / 5:54 PM

      I don’t think I could do a review on work done by someone I know. It’s impossible to be objective when you know the person, and if they are a close friend, there’s the concern of accidentally hurting their feelings. Reviews are a gamble, but for me, I would prefer that they were honest. Of course, it would be disappointing to get a negative reivew, but it can either be taken as constructive criticism for future writing, or discounted as someone who just didn’t like that writing style.

      By the way, the author that I wrote about did have an editior – one reviewer mentiioned that they didn’t understand why the author was so grateful to the editor. I hope your editor did a better job for you, Momsomniac 🙂

      • momsomniac November 11, 2011 / 10:47 AM

        I hope I didn’t NEED that much editing. : ) It’s too bad that someone with a potentially interesting memoire ended up with….what you cited.

        And you are right about friend’s reviews! The review was written by a painfully honest friend (I love that about her, but she loses friends for it too). So tha’s SOME comfort. But reality is – at this point – a friend’s potential review is all I’ve got! I don’t exactly have a fan base (yet?)

        I had a HUGE lesson from my friend who edited for me. My story had been “held for consideration” several times. Eventually, an editor kindly pointed out a flaw in the narrative (that contributed to her final decision NOT to publish) and I realized I had more work to do. I had relied on my own editing skills* (setting the story & coming back weeks later) and hadn’t thought about narrative flaws. I rewrote the story & asked a friend to proof-read my revision. What she gave back was much more valuable than what I had requested. We did 3 more rounds before I thought, “You know what? I want to publish this!” I am sure it’s not flawless, but I am not ashamed of it.

        *Reviewing and writing technical documents is a huge part of my profession and I have done some fiction editing on the side. What I learned is that I can correct my own grammar and spelling, cut some excessive phrasing and the like…but I can’t see me own narrative flaws.

        Anyway, the ability to self-publish has a terrible and a wonderful side. I don’t own an e-reader, but I might get one if I could read some of your novels on them. And yes, I’d be willing to pay for them too.

        • momsomniac November 11, 2011 / 10:48 AM

          Man, I’m wordy this week. Sorry! : /

        • jannatwrites November 11, 2011 / 9:59 PM

          No worries, Momsomniac. I love the discussion!

        • jannatwrites November 11, 2011 / 9:21 PM

          I think it’s natural to not see the flaws in our own writing. We’re so into the nitty-gritty that the big picture gets fuzzy. It takes someone else to point out my loose ends.

          I haven’t considered self-publishing because I think I could use an editor. I’m not confident enough in my editing skills (and I don’t have a writing group or another reader who can ‘make it bleed’). I don’t want to put out garbage and have it ruin the chances of someone buying my work in the future. So I wait…

          P.S. I do appreciate your support and kind comments, Momsomniac 🙂

  3. Judith November 10, 2011 / 3:09 PM

    I agree with Nancy – too many good books waiting..
    Yes I do read the reviews but don’t really put much store in them

    • jannatwrites November 10, 2011 / 5:55 PM

      I think we can all agree that there are many good books waiting, Judith 🙂

  4. Carl D'Agostino November 10, 2011 / 3:22 PM

    Book reviews just like movie reviews become a literary form in themselves with unique word flavoring. No other prose is written like reviews. Nobody talks like that either. These reviewers live in their own realm of language. They try to make the rest of as appear as ignorant peasants with their snobbery. They’ll see. When the Revolution of the Workers comes they will meet their deaths first. If you like a particular genre even the worst works are appealing to that individual so I put no stock in any of it.

    • jannatwrites November 10, 2011 / 5:57 PM

      I’ve read that kind of review, Carl. I don’t often read reviews by professional critics. Those can be plain mean. I find reviews done by average people are written in ‘normal’ language and are more appealing.

  5. pattisj November 10, 2011 / 5:10 PM

    I’m with Nancy on that.

    • jannatwrites November 10, 2011 / 5:59 PM

      She’s got a good process and her opionion is popular! Thanks for yoru visit, Patti 🙂

  6. clarbojahn November 10, 2011 / 7:34 PM

    Same here: with Nancy.

    However, that said, I always read the New York Sunday Book Reviews. I find many good books to read that way. I only have the pc version of Kindle and so don’t get the reviews of a book there. I only download books on writing and marketing there. I still like to read paper books and get most from the library.

    • jannatwrites November 10, 2011 / 8:55 PM

      The library is an excellent source for books, Clar. I’m glad you’ve found an additional source for book reviews. We make the ultimate decision on whether to read a book or not, but it’s nice to use someone else’s opinion to narrow the list down 🙂

  7. pattyabr November 10, 2011 / 11:15 PM

    I don’t get much out of reading online reviews of books. I like reading book reviews that tell me about the book. Getting an overview of the book is enough for me to decide whether I want to read it or not. Online reviews are a bit too opinionated for me. I guess that is why I left two book clubs….too many opinions spoiled my perspective of the book.

    • jannatwrites November 11, 2011 / 9:24 PM

      I’ve never done a book club, Patty. I’ve always suspected I might not like the schedule of reading and discussion. Interesting point about their opinions spoiling your perspective – didn’t think of that one before.

  8. Widdershins November 11, 2011 / 1:33 AM

    I read reviews … you get more of a feel for the reviewer than the object of their review-ness sometimes though … and I still make up my own mind via the excerpts or blurbs, or just plain cussedness!

    • jannatwrites November 11, 2011 / 9:37 PM

      Book jackets are how I decide if the story interests me, but the reviews can help me figure out if the story is well-executed. Not all criticisms are deal-breakers for me, so I like to read a little myself just to see.

      Thanks for sharing a little about your method, Widdershins. Contrariness seems like a good reason to pick a book to me 🙂

  9. 2blu2btru November 11, 2011 / 5:04 AM

    I am more likely to read the description and a sample before a review. The only movie reviews I read are written by Roger Ebert. I like that he gives what he found good and bad, and tells you who might enjoy it. I find reviews to be either too positive or too negative–it’s either the greatest thing ever or it absolutely sucks. Most of the time neither is true. The descriptions are sometimes really vague and don’t say much. The only way to know how I’ll feel is to read an excerpt.

    As for what will make me pass on a book: well crafted but no story/point, a main character I can’t feel anything for, an enormous amount of typos and poor editing, or it turns out to follow every genre convention–and not very well. Anything with a great title, an interesting premise, or by a favorite author at least merits a chance. Oh, and authors who make their books sound interesting in interviews.

    I don’t know how I’ll handle reviews when the time comes. I won’t want to read them, but I suspect I will. I’ll take them with a grain of salt and hope the reviewers actually read the book and not just description/sample.

    • jannatwrites November 11, 2011 / 9:46 PM

      It is hard to know how we would react to reviews…until we are actually in that situation 🙂

      I kind of follow your process in selecting a book and agree that the only way to know for sure if we’ll like something is to read a little bit, to at least get a feel for the writing style.

      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on reviews and why you would or wouldn’t read a book, 2Blu.

  10. Debbie November 11, 2011 / 9:06 AM

    I do read reviews, but I tend to take them “with a grain of salt”! Reviews are just opinions, you know, and everybody has opinions. What one loves, another might hate. And there’s a perhaps-jaded part of me that wonders how many raving reviews haven’t been bought in the first place?!

    • jannatwrites November 11, 2011 / 9:52 PM

      I must be jaded too, Debbie, because I wonder about the source of the reviews, too. I didn’t really think about it until I was asked to do a review, but only if it was 4 or 5 stars. The grain of salt is definitely helpful 😉

  11. cuhome November 11, 2011 / 9:40 AM

    A matter of taste, kind of like opinions: everyone has one. If a book catches my eye, I don’t bother much with reading the reviews. I read the synopsis on the inside cover, read a little about the author him or herself. Then I scan through the table of contents, see if anything interests me further. If I want the book, I look at the price. I rarely buy full-price, hardcover, irst run books. Way too expensive. If I can, I’ll buy a book at half-price or second-hand stores. The way I figure it, the words are all still there, whether it’s already been read or not. Readers that got to the book before me can’t steal any of the words out of it. But reviews? Don’t matter much to me. I’ll form my own opinion after reading it.

  12. jannatwrites November 11, 2011 / 9:58 PM

    Cuhome, I’m with you on paying full-price for books: can’t afford to do it. I had a list of Kindle books I wanted but wouldn’t pay $9.99. I was excited to find that two of them are $2.99 in November. Yay! Likewise, I still read paper books, so I stock up during the summer when Barnes & Noble has wonderful sales.

    Second-hand stores are a good place to pick up deals, too. I don’t go often because I haven’t found one that is close/convenient for me to go to. I do give my read books to a friend so she can read them and then resell to a store by her.

    Thanks for sharing how you use reviews. I’m glad you stopped by!

  13. Barb November 14, 2011 / 12:52 PM

    What makes me pick up a book: 1) cover 2) book blurb (I wanna know what it’s about) 3) if I know the author. I don’t need reviews to choose – unless the blurb is too generic, then I’ll look for more infos on the plot in the reviews. If the blurb is clear, I’ll gladly skip them.
    But I know many people buy books or watch movies based on reviews… it’s just not for me! 😉

  14. SAS Fiction Girl November 14, 2011 / 4:11 PM

    I also start with the bad reviews. It’s pretty easy to sort out those who have a bone to pick from those who raise legitimate issues.
    On the flip side, I never write reviews for books, even if I have complaints. That may change, given the book I am currently reading. The book was a gift, so I feel obligated, but holy moly is this stuff bad.
    Example: “Hi Bill, meet Haley. She’s from Connecticut.”
    A little later…”I saw you talking to Haley from Connecticut. What’d you think?”
    Five sentences later…”Anyway, what do you think of Haley from Connecticut?”
    A couple pages later…’Bill glanced over…and saw Haley from Connecticut.’

    I swear to you I am not making that junk up.
    In fact, I could quote every sentence from the book as an example of what not to do. It goes something like this:
    “Hi Dave, meet Bob.”
    “Hi Bob. Say, Bob, have you met Jill? Jill, this is Bob.”
    “Hi Bob, I’m Jill. Meet my cousin Larry.”
    “Larry, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Bob.”
    “Gosh Bob, I’m so glad that Wally introduced you to Dave and then Dave introduced you to Jill who finally introduced you to me. Let’s go start an introductions business together.”
    “Can’t, Larry. I’m too busy planning funerals. You see, both my parents perished in that tragic motel fire in Honolulu over Christmas break, even though we’re Jewish on my great-grandmother’s side. She raised Beagles, you know.”

    But no one – not a single reviewer – mentions the horrible writing. So it may be up to me to save the world from overuse of proper names, bizarre character introductions, and awful expository writing, even if it’s not my own.

    • jannatwrites November 14, 2011 / 10:12 PM

      When no one else comments on something, do you ever think, “Geez, maybe I’m just overly critical?” I do. I start to doubt if it’s as bad as I think (until I get back to reading it.)

      Your example is hilarious (but scary)! I completely lost it at the raising Beagles part. If something like that can be published, maybe the rest of us are simply trying too hard.

      I am getting ready to do my first book review. I’m willing to do it because it was mostly good and I would recommend reading it. If it would have been a complete waste of time and I couldn’t find much positive about it, I’d probably refrain from doing a review because I’d feel brutally mean. I can’t tear apart someone’s work like that.

      I’m curious about which book you are reading, which doesn’t make sense. Why would curiosity drive me to consider reading such a mess??

  15. Jackie Paulson (Author) November 15, 2011 / 2:18 AM

    Hey thanks for coming by my blog today I have a reading one or book reviews one at http://getreadingnow.wordpress.com
    I do honest reviews…if I don’t like the book I exclude it and tell the author my true thoughts…I do not just do “good” reviews. Great post today.

    • jannatwrites November 15, 2011 / 5:53 PM

      Thanks, Jackie. That is good of you to not do the review if you don’t like the book. I’m sure the authors appreciate that!

  16. SAS Fiction Girl November 15, 2011 / 9:28 AM

    Why would you want to read it? Possibly because it’s so bad that it’s good. She writes the way I wrote when I was 12 and didn’t know any better. She mentions an editor, but I suspect that was a friend, not a professional. The author also owns the publishing company; it’s a vanity production, so anything goes. I’ll e-mail you the name of the book and the author. Even though it’s poor writing, I feel bad putting her name out here.

    • jannatwrites November 15, 2011 / 5:56 PM

      I’m a glutton for punishment, I guess 🙂 This is exactly why I’m afraid to self publish anything. I’m not too proud to admit that I could use an awesome editor! I got the email and I’ll check it out tonight. Thanks, Jen!

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