Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Friday, February 11, 2011

Brilliant Writers are not always Brilliant

Following is my Goodreads review on South of Broad by Pat Conroy, which I gave 2 stars. Just so you know, I don't make a habit of advertising when I read a disappointing book, and never when it's a debut author or a friend. But sometimes we all need to be reminded that the bestsellers out there aren't necessarily the best books. And that rich and famous authors like Pat Conroy can put out a stinker same as the rest of us nameless newbies toiling away in our back bedrooms, wondering if we will ever get good enough for publication.

"After reading The Prince of Tides, my first and only Conroy novel, I had great hopes for this one. It disappointed me. There were some serious problems-- shallow character development, contrived scenes, many things alluded to but never explored like the brother's suicide and the evil stalker guy's drowning. How do you take a villain and solve the problem by having him drown off scene in a hurricane? So much better in The Prince of Tides where the heroic brother lets the tiger into the house and thus destroys the stalker/villain. My recommendation is to read the prologue and forget the rest. The prologue is pure brilliance, the rest of the book is a weak follow up."

 An interesting note about Goodreads reviews: Many of the reviews on this book had similar complaints as mine (and much more thorough and cleverly written)-- written by ordinary readers, not professional reviewers. In fact, the professionals gave South of Broad glowing reviews. Sometimes you wonder if these media people even read the books they review? Or do they just look at the author and say, "Oh yeah, he's good, here's my canned bit of praise for the back of the book"?

Have you ever read an acclaimed, bestselling book that got stellar reviews only to say "HUH?"



34 comments:

  1. This is so refreshing!! Thanks for this!

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  2. Yes, often! Glowing reviews for The Terror confused me, as I found it boring and overlong. Proves that reviewing is subjective.

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  3. It's just so subjective. I know what I like and what I don't like, and yes, sometimes I get confused after reading glowing reviews for a book that, to me, seems flat and contrived. Like you said, some reviews could be a result of who knows who and other kinds of persuasion. It happens in the music business all the time.

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  4. The one book by him that I haven't read! Thanks for the warning. The first book I read by him was "The Great Santini." After that I was hooked. The next book of his I read was "The Lords of Discipline." Loved it also...

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  5. I've become so jaded with blurbs and reviews I barely give them notice.

    Famous writer or not, if they can't catch my attention within the first few pages, I pass.

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  6. Do you ever watch Castle? He got a box of books from his editor and he didn't even read them. He just held them up to his head and made up a blurb. I'm wondering if that's what they did for this one.

    INteresting..very INteresting.

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  7. Have I ever read a bestselling writer and thought 'huh'? YES. Several times. That's when I stopped thinking of good literature in terms of what was bestselling. In fact, I don't think I ever thought of good literature in terms of what was bestselling or even what was acclaimed and preferred my own opinion.

    The things about very successful writers is that their editors stop editing them. It's considered that they're readers will read their work even if it's bog standard so why bother doing the work?

    Jai

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  8. I agree with Amy's comment. Reviewing IS subjective. And with the current state of affairs (on Amazon etc.) friends and family can write reviews for an author. Even the author could put up five stars on his/her work!! So, are there or aren't there literary "standards" against which we judge a work?

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  9. Ann, And clearly the supposed professionals can't always be trusted either. I guess that's why I like Goodreads. Can 60 avid readers all be wrong?

    Jai, You are so right about the lack of editing! In fact, one of the recurring items that kept coming up in the Goodreads reviews on South of Broad was the number of grammatical errors. Several wondered how that got past the editor. We might ask "What editor?" This happened with Mark Twain with his later books as well. Which is why some of them are unreadable.

    Magan, LOL that is so funny! No I never watch that show but maybe I should, I think I could identify.

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  10. Pretty much I only trust 3-star reviews. ;)

    Well, OK, not all the time but I do read those first. I figure a majority of the 5-star reviews were written by supportive friends and neighbors, which is nice. But, come on, GREAT books are truly rare.

    Also, I look at what I call the "Amazon profile." Like, seriously, just turn the bars sideways and look at the shape they make. The really good books always have the same shape -- a big first step, smaller second step, and then they trail away to practically nothing.

    And like you, I am always amazed when good writers write bad books. Did no one have the heart to tell them to go back to the drawing board? I really hate to think it's a matter of, "doesn't matter how bad it is, people will buy it for the author's name alone."

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  11. KarenG! I want to read this book now!! I hope I see it in my library so I may borrow it instead! Thanks for the info and the review!! I would say this about amazon reviews - they're so open!! I once read a review of a certain book and this reviewer gave the book 2 stars because there was some problem with the postal delivery!
    Oh dear! :-) Take care
    x

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  12. ...what Magan mentioned above is absolutely true. My editor once told me that many author blurbs from "the pros," are plastered on the back covers of their peer's work simply as a way of advertising their own upcoming releases. They never actually read the book, yet speak of a glowing story, in order to see their name on the cover, with the quote..."author of the upcoming novel..."

    Great post, Karen, and yes, this has happened to me many many times. It seems lately that it's become the norm...which is troublesome.

    Have a great weekend, fellow storytellers:)

    EL

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  13. It's all so subjective, but interesting the gap between professional reviews and those of the common people!

    I like your premise here - if brilliant writers are not always brilliant, then pretty ordinary writers may not always be pretty ordinary... Right?!

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  14. SF, oh yes such a very wide gap. One would say it isn't fair but still, the great Pat Conroy has paid his dues. Just not with this particular work imho.

    Elliot, Well that certainly explains a lot doesn't it?

    Old Kitty, If you truly plan on reading South of Broad, you must read The Prince of Tides first. Because to me, it is an absolutely perfect book. I guess I'm still just a little bit in love with Pat Conroy. It was a brief but passionate affair, ending badly and really best forgotten, but there's still that little spark....

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  15. Great review. 2stars isn't horrible. You did finish the book. And everyone's taste is different. There's tons of books that just didn't tickle my fancy. It's not always the writer, but my own personal taste in the world they create for me. Thanks for reviewing honestly.

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  16. I have never read anything by acclaimed author Pat Conroy. In fact I haven't read many books that have been best sellers so I actually can't think of the example you're asking for. I don't read as much as I'd like to and the books that I do read tend to be all over the genre lists with most of them being non-fiction. I do love reading fiction though--it's a time issue.

    I realized that you weren't listed on my sidebar. Now you are there.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out and the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge 2011

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  17. My brother-in-law is a fan of Conroy and I gave that book to him for his birthday. He has never commented and now I wonder if he enjoyed it.

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  18. Oh my goodness, yes! Too many times to count. There's one particular 'bestseller' which I could never get past page 5 on. The voice just grated with me and I've left it on the shelf. I won't see the movie either. ;-)

    Have a lovely weekend! x

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  19. Answering your question: Yes, and the novel at stake is Jonathan Frazer's acclaimed Freedom. I stuck with it for two hundred pages, feeling my energy drain, and the minutiae stretching for two hundred more pages. Much ado about nothing, I thought.

    But, who am I to judge?

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  20. It's sad when an author gets to a level of "stardom" and forgets to care about the basics of good writing.

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  21. There is one "aclaimed" author I LOVED. Then she started writing terrible books and I can't read her anymore.

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  22. Thank you Karen for your honest review. Yes I read a book or rather tried to read a book by an acclaimed authour and shook my head in despair. It was so convoluted. The authour has a PhD and it seems she wanted everyone to ram it down her reader’s throat. But that was just this humble readers opinion! I am reading the Canterbury Tales at the moment and really enjoying it. I give it five stars! But again my opinion.

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  23. Yes.. there are a few... but I guess it IS all subjective. Everyone views things differently, but I agree with you... sometimes you really just stop and say.."HUH?"

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  24. I do often read online reviews before buying books. It's like you said; if all or many of the reviewers have similar complaints about the book, then they must be on to something. There are popular authors out there who I've read who I just didn't "get". And I felt like I was missing something that everyone else apparently seemed to understand.

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  25. This just backs up what agents and editors say: it is a subjective industry.

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  26. You're right. Just because we publish a few books doesn't mean we can slack in our writing. We should feel proud of everyone of our stories.

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  27. The Lovely Bones really disappointed me. I thought it'd be great but it was one of the worst books I have ever read.

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  28. Yes most certainly but I have never not finished a book or a movie. I am such an optimist I just keep hoping something good will happen!

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  29. YES! And now that I'm attempting to be a career novelist it both frustrates and frightens me. Frustrated b/c they've gotten lazy. Frightened b/c nobody tells them so~ :D Thanks, KG~ :o)

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  30. LTM, Still, it might be nice to be of that caliber where your publisher says "out the door with you, you're so good you don't need editing." And then there are the vanity presses: "out the door with you, you're so bad editing won't help and we've already earned our money off you."

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  31. I thought I Came by here before! Sorry:( yes, I have a few books like that. And I hate that we spend money on them. I read reviews on B & N or amazon anymore, or on blogs. Hope your next read is better!

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  32. Oh definitely! But I usually think it must be *me*, because most people like certain books I've detested. It just reminds me how subjective this business is. Still, if most of the reviewers are complaining, then there're problems.

    I'm sorry I've been such an absent blog-friend lately! New babies do that to a person, I guess. ;)

    Take care, Karen!

    Amy

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  33. Oh, dear! I'm sorry my comment above is so weird looking. I was lying in bed and trying to type on my ipod. Yeah....that's going to take some practice!

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  34. Happens often. Not going to mention names here but this helped inspire me to write. I thought if this person could write and publish this dribble, then why shouldn't I give it a try?

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