Why I’m NOT good at writing reviews

(Warning:  There will be cussing and harsh language.)

I have come to the realization that I’m not good at reviewing books, at least not in the way book reviews are typically done.  I look at too many things that are irrelevant to other readers.  I cannot help that.  My opinion of a novel (or short story) is always affected by things like comprehensible grammar (which doesn’t have to be the same as correct grammar), correct spelling (mana, not manna!), and punctuation that doesn’t make my eyes bleed (a colon where there should be no punctuation at all is like a speed bump in the middle of a highway).  My opinion of a novel (or short story) is always affected by things like the characters not acting out of character without some sort of explanation.  My opinion of a novel (or short story) is always affected by the writing being free of factual errors and misinterpretations on the part of the author.

I’m not good at giving a synopsis of a novel without giving my opinion of that novel in the process.  A synopsis doesn’t say a damn thing about the quality of the writing, etc.  I don’t want to read “This is the basic premise of the book but I’ll leave you to find out for yourself if the real thing is any good or even if the basic premise is fulfilled in the novel.”  I don’t want to write a review of that sort, either.

I’ve read some excellent indie-published fiction lately.  I’ve read some that were less than absolutely brilliant in the way the words were strung together, or had a fairly predictable plot, but were nevertheless good, enjoyable, solidly written stories that didn’t leave me feeling as if I’d just wasted a few hours of my life and ought to apologize to the electrons that were forced to form the digital edition of the book on my Kindle.  I’ve also read some that were a waste of electrons to have made into an e-book.

It’s like this:

I have a pretty damn eclectic knowledge base, a result of my “misspent youth.”  I read too much, and I acquire information without meaning to, and to make matters worse, I put those bits of information together to make more bits of information.  I can overlook occasional typos in a book, because that sort of thing always happens, and I see nothing wrong with the use of the element Handwavium in instances where precise scientific explanation is neither necessary nor desirable.  But if you write something that says “Earth is the only planet in the galaxy”– full stop, no qualifiers such as following that with “that we know is home to intelligent life” — I’ll call you on that bullshit.  Even if I never mention your name or the title of your crappy, making-SF-look-bad story.  (How many hundreds of exoplanets have been found so far?  And it’s not as if they were a new thing, or known about only by a few astronomers, back when that story was written.)  I like science fiction that is about the people and the events more than about the science itself, because I have this weird notion that stories are about people going places and doing stuff and learning things, but still, if you cannot get it at least plausible, leave it out rather than get it obviously wrong.  Readers, clever life-forms that we are, are gonna notice any overwhelming stoopidness in the writing.  And worse than major mistakes because you don’t know any better are major mistakes because you don’t respect your craft, or your audience, enough to look something up every once in a while.  Or, y’know, at least run some word processing program’s spell check over your manuscript before you throw it up on Amazon or wherever for the whole world to see.

Clearly, I cannot be trusted to give my opinion without ever saying anything negative.

Maybe I should stick to giving books however many stars as a rating, but keeping the details/”review” to blog posts.  That way, anyone who doesn’t mind the occasional “I liked these things about this novel, but this part here wasn’t so good” can come here and read about what I really think, but if someone believes that all authors — especially indie authors (and their clones) — ought to never find fault with anything another author writes, they can avoid seeing my evil, arrogant negativity and insistence on goddamn end punctuation in dialogue.



About Thomas Weaver

I’m a writer and editor who got into professional editing almost by accident years ago when a friend from university needed someone to copyedit his screenplay about giant stompy robots (mecha). Having discovered that I greatly enjoy this kind of work, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use ever since as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom. I'm physically disabled, and for the past several years, I’ve lived with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have six cats. (The preferred term is "Insane Cat Gentleman.") I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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7 Responses to Why I’m NOT good at writing reviews

  1. Teehee, thanks for that – I found myself nodding along while reading this great post. I’m not an editor, but I, too, find it hard to look past bad spelling and grammar when reading things. Heck, I have a hard time reading an online news article without thinking the author must be a moron (or the editor, or both) to let such a badly-written article get published. Do they no longer teach grammar in school? Wait, I have kids in school, and they do learn things, but I get cranky when I read things from their teachers with grammatically questionable content, or even when they get a marked assignment back and I need to sign it, but I feel more like marking the errors the teacher didn’t find, or the teacher’s comments… *sigh*.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have a degree in education, and I remember my university classmates quite well. Trust me — teachers are no smarter than the rest of the population. Nor, unless they are specifically English/Lit teachers, did they even have to learn more than the barest essentials of grammar and such to get through university, and that’s not much.

      Not long ago, there was one professor at the local university who had students FAILING his class because they couldn’t figure out what the hell he was talking about in the assignments he gave them, due to HIS bad grammar, punctuation, etc.


  2. svrtnsse says:

    What’s your take on the evolution of language in recent years?
    I’m thinking that things like sending text messages on the phone or chatting online is having quite a lot of impact on the way people write today, and on how they perceive writing. For a lot of people it’s enough to get the point across and if they don’t then it’s clearly the fault of the reader and not of their writing.

    When I first discovered internet “lol” was still an acronym for “laughing out loud”, but these days it’s more of a word/statement in its own right.
    I can see how something similar can happen with hash-tags. They’ve been used on twitter for years to link statements together but now they’re appearing on facebook as well and it seems like they’re being used more as a way of summing up a situation or emotion than anything else. Is this the beginning of a change where people will use single words to replace entire sentences/paragraphs in order to convey a message? #languagedegradation

    Liked by 1 person

    • First, someone SAYING the lack of understanding is the reader’s fault and not the writer’s doesn’t make it true. Second, limiting the words people have available to express what they think leads to limiting what they CAN think, what they DO think. Bad enough that this could be imposed on anyone from the outside (as in the novel 1984), but for people to CHOOSE to have fewer words and for it to be enough to them just to get the barest point across (if even that much)… People are free to choose “txt” or whatever as their preferred way to communicate even when not texting, but I don’t have to be part of it, and I don’t have to encourage it.

      The fact that you used real words and real sentences instead of “txt” or whatever to comment suggests to me that you’re not in favor of doing away with the old system, either.


      • svrtnsse says:

        Correct. I’m not in favour of it, but it’s something I see a lot of on a daily basis (I work in online customer support). Specifically, I often have to review chats between people having an argument of one kind or another, and it’s not pretty.

        I’m not sure there’s much of a choice though, at least not for everyone. Being able to read and write is becoming less and less important for more and more people – because they don’t have to. Once the internet is up and running they’ve got guides for everything on youtube. The longest texts they read are the captions on pictures of texts, or the occasional clever-sounding quote.
        It’s a little bit worrying.


  3. bwfoster78 says:

    Reading between the line, I’m guessing that one of the authors whose book you reviewed wasn’t that great at taking criticsm. I feel for you.

    It had been my practice to freely offer critiques to people to help them improve their writing. After a couple of recent experiences, I don’t think I’ll be doing that any more. At the very least, I’m going to be a lot more selective.

    Entertaining post, though…



    Liked by 1 person

  4. Laura L. says:

    I rarely find book reviews to be of any use. I find that the ones that I come across are so incredibly positive, as in hard to believe positive. Never a negative word. I think what I’m looking for is an honest, constructive critique. I get the feeling that bloggers who do book reviews, and who plaster positive prose paragraph after paragraph, are just looking for similar rewards in the future—or at least no instant negative karma.

    Liked by 1 person

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