Wednesday, August 12, 2009

gush or gripe?

I have this bad habit of reading the negative reviews of books on amazon. I call it a bad habit because it annoys me that I do this because I remember lots of little, negative details. I try to keep myself from doing this, but I just did it again.

Right now, I'm reading The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs. I've barely started and, so far, it's likeable enough (for me). The amazon ratings are pretty evenly spread out from one (worst) to five (best). Of course, I immediately clicked on the one-star icon and began reading about how the characters were so flat, completely underdeveloped, about how the main plot points are completely contrived, yadda, yadda, yadda.

I didn't stop with the one-star reviews this time, though. In fact, I didn't even read them all, although I was tempted to. After a short bit, I switched to the five-star ratings. One of the first I found there raved about how well developed the characters are.

Of course.

This is part of why I have such a difficult time giving my own opinion. I never want to give it as authoritative. I want to hedge, I want to qualify with a 'to me,' or some such phrase. One of the most common pieces of criticism I get in my Other writing is that I use these qualifying phrases and I'm not supposed to. I'm supposed to just go out and assert stuff and pretend that what I say is some kind of dogma. I'm pretty incapable of this. I feel like such an imposter, because I don't know anything for sure (something I've been thinking more about, but I don't want to go too much into that right now). Right?

Anyhow, I'm on an extended break from my required reading lists. I've needed it. It's like I've been detoxing il quest estate. This brings me to another point. Sometimes, I feel like people read books expecting every one to live up to their standards of great literature, whatever those standards may be. I think (ha! another of my doomed phrases) that we need to be realistic about why a book is written. What's its purpose? Who's it audience? Did I expect The Friday Night Knitting Club to be some esoteric intellectual exercise? No. I'm reading it because I want to enjoy it. I want to escape from my own anxiety-filled life and focus on the people in this novel. I want to not have to look up every twentieth word. I do enough reading of great (or 'great') works of theory and literature nine months a year, and now I want a break.

So, on with the 'frivolous' books and screw the reviews.


kate said...

So, on with the 'frivolous' books and screw the reviews.


lotsofglue said...

I absolutely cannot read the comments/reveiws left by others before I pick a book out. Other people opinions cloud my own and I cannot enjoy or hate a book on my own.
So yeah, I am with you on that.