The Goodness of Bad Reviews

This post, by Justine Larbalestier, originally appeared on her site on 5/20/09.

Daphne over at the Longstocking blog was talking about the Worst Review Ever blog and mentioned her shock at the meanness of some of the reviews:

I’m actually a reviewer for Publishers Weekly and while I’ve read some things that were kind of poorly constructed, I’ve never had even an urge to be even half this harsh, not even secretly if I strongly disliked the book. Too much work goes into a book for anything to warrant this kind of nastiness and seriously nothing is so bad it deserves to be called “a candy-coated turd.”

I have condemned books in stronger language than that. When I hate a book, I really hate a book. I totally get writing such vicious reviews. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons I don’t write reviews and only discuss books on this blog if I love them: the knowledge that were I to write an honest review of a book I hate I would most definitely hurt other writers’ feelings, alienate their fans, and lose friends. Also the YA world is small and writing a bad review of another YA writer’s book leaves you open to charges of sour grapes. Life’s too short.

I say that as someone who has received very mean reviews. I know exactly how much it hurts. Reviews have made me cry and scream and kick my (thankfully imaginary) dog (poor Elvis, he knows I love him). But I believe people are moved to write such nasty reviews because of the intensity of their relationship with books. That’s awesome!

I feel that too. When I read a book I was expecting to love and it sucks I feel betrayed. When I read a book in a beloved series and the characters are suddenly transformed beyond recognition and there seems to have been no editing at all and the writing has gone to hell, I am OUTRAGED. I want to kick the editor and the author. On the scale of things, I think writing a mean review about the book is way better than assault.

Passionate reviews, good or bad, are fabulous. It’s great that people care enough to rant or rave about a book. I don’t think it’s unprofessional to vent your spleen at a book. Some eviscerations of books are wonderfully well written and a total pleasure to read. And some passionate raves about books are appallingly badly constructed. One of the reviews of my books that embarrasses me the most was a rave. An extraordinarily badly written rave in a professional location1 which so mischaracterised my book that it was unrecognisable. The reviewer clearly loved the book. They also clearly didn’t understand it. No review has annoyed me as much as that one.

Read the rest of the post (and the footnote) on Justine Larbalestier’s site.