My day was considerably brightened by Matthew Baldwin's column at The Morning News in which he posted a selection of one-star reviews for books from Time's list of the 100 Best Books of all times. If anything these reviews prove that some readers are not afraid to have their say! Here are a few of my favorites:
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
“Obviously, a lot people were smoking a lot of weed in the ’60s to think this thing is worth reading.”
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936)
“Well, it’s a girl’s world. The world of Gloria Steinem and the popular feminism, as distilled on TV (including CBC shows, not all fundamentalist Hollywood garbage) of my youth is GONE. Now the girls run the show. You’re not allowed to call them sluts. And it’s impossible to call them virgins. They’re all doing Rhett Butler. So what are they? Idiots… Hope you like the Gangstas. It’s what you deserve.”
Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1955)
“I am obsessed with Survivor, so I thought it would be fun. WRONG!!! It is incredibly boring and disgusting. I was very much disturbed when I found young children killing each other. I think that anyone with a conscience would agree with me.”
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925)
“The only good thing to say about this “literary” drivel is that the person responsible, Virginia Woolf, has been dead for quite some time now. Let us pray to God she stays that way.”
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (1962)
“I guess if you were interested in crazy people this is the book for you.”
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926)
“Here’s the first half of the book: ‘We had dinner and a few drinks. We went to a cafe and talked and had some drinks. We ate dinner and had a few drinks. Dinner. Drinks. More dinner. More drinks. We took a cab here (or there) in Paris and had some drinks, and maybe we danced and flirted and talked sh*t about somebody. More dinner. More drinks. I love you, I hate you, maybe you should come up to my room, no you can’t’… I flipped through the second half of the book a day or two later and saw the words ‘dinner’ and ‘drinks’ on nearly every page and figured it wasn’t worth the risk.”
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
“I don’t see why this book is so fabulous. I would give it a zero. I find no point in writing a book about segregation, there’s no way of making it into an enjoyable book. And yes I am totally against segregation.”
You can read the rest here.
As a writer, I've received plenty of one-star reviews, consequently this article cheered me up a lot. Actually, I do understand that some people start reading a book and discover subject matter that they dislike so give a bad review. That's not unusual and every writer knows you can't please everyone. What aggravates me as a writer is when the poor review is for something there is no way to control—the reader doesn't like the genre, but then why did they buy it? The reader thought the book was a novel even though the description stated it was a short story. The reader didn't like the subject matter even though the subject matter was plainly stated in the description.
Recently I got a mediocre review on a boxed set of my three novels. The reviewer said she liked the stories but thought they were much too short. She said she was just getting into the story when it was over. Yet the Product Description says the collection is 1200 pages long. Each novel is an average of 400 pages long. Not a lot of people would consider that too short.
The bottom line is, you can't please everybody. Some people will be contrary just to be contrary. Lots people buy books without reading the description. Just as writers write at all levels of skill, so do readers read at all levels. It's just the way things are.
Sometimes I actually like getting a couple of 1-stars because it adds a certain legitimacy to the reviews and, especially if the comments indicate that the reader shouldn't have bought the book in the first place, lets potential readers know whether or not the book is for them. It has happened to me—there are more than a few books that enjoyed tremendous success that left me thinking “what the heck?”
It's a safe bet that the books above will outlive the reviewers—even if Virginia Woolf continues to stay dead.
Thanks for reading.