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"It doesn't have a major theme or anything"

A while ago, I went dumpster-diving in Amazon for bad reviews of good books. As I'm still recovering from a winter chest bug, and consequently not up to anything cognitively challenging, I thought I'd share some more with you.

The methodology is simple: (a) Think of a famous book. (b) Look it up on Amazon.com. (c) Cherry-pick the one-star reader reviews. (d) Mockery ensues.

It's cruel, I know, but what can I say?

Let's start with "Sense and Sensibility" ...

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen:

a customer opines:

It is a great pity they allowed her to die a natural death.

The story is about 3 daughters and a mother who are reduced to visitors at their own home after the father dies, which allows the son to inherit the estate. After that, Austen pulls in this idea about Sense and Sensibility.

Let's put it this way: NOTHING HAPPENS! Elinor and Marianne fall in love with two men, who end up breaking up with then off and on throughout the book until the end when one of them actually marries one of the men. And it is the most boring piece of garbage ever to be written. I'm going to burn my copy after I'm done with it, which should be soon. This book is for women. Not for a man such as myself ...

That's telling 'em, He-man!

Meanwhile, Lotte (in Baltimore) wants us to know:

The book was very boring, with long unending sentences and characters that made no sense. Yet, I kept reading and reading until I was done. I think I was determined to make some sense out of it. After words and words of whatever, the ending came to a short, brief end.

Well yes, that's what normally happens in a novel. What were you expecting, an index?

Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth:

A customer says:

I cant believe I payed for this book! I am not a prude, but I sure could not find any reason for the raunchy sexual writing in this book. I can write a book this good. Would not recommened this book to anyone.

That's "paid", dear. And "recommend".

A customer (the other one) adds:

It was very tiring for me to read a book thats written enntirely in this style.the impression you get is that this guy is hitting his head with a hammer to get ideas to fill the pages of this book instead of visiting a psychiatric and talk about his childhood.

Doc Stross says, "take two aspirin."

Moby Dick by Herman Melville:

ironman96 demonstrates his stamina thuswise:

As much as I hate to criticize a classic, this book was extremely difficult to get through. I read because I enjoy it but sadly this book was a chore. The story starts out with an intriguing plot, then it goes awry when the author inexplicably inserts chapter upon chapter discussing whale anatomy, whale history, whale legend, a dissertation on the whaling industry and more. Then the story starts up again only to be interrupted by more chapters on the science of whales. By that time, I had lost all interest in the story. After reading another reviewer, I skipped to the last 3 chapters which completed the story. This book obviously presents a very interesting story--it just does so in such a strange way that I can't believe this book became as popular as it did. If there is an abridged version of this book that eliminates the whale facts, I'd recommend it over the full version.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley:

A customer (another one?) says:

This was the dullest book I have ever read in my entire existence. The theme behind this book is excellent, but the writing is quite dry and wordy. Who ever named this so-called Story a Classic is not someone I would like to meet. Only the theme kept this book from being a ONE.

And if that doesn't convince you, over to Skippy McGee (who comes up with these screen names? Oh, I know: the same people who come up with these reviews):

I was forced into reading this for my senior AP humanities class over the summer. I began about three weeks before school started, and it took me a week to get though, despite being a relatively short book. I literally almost fell asleep every ten pages. Mary Shelley almost as much in need of a good editor as friggin' Frank Norris with his stupid novel McTeague. She spend eons talking about how lovely the mountains are, then spends around five seconds explaining the birth of The Monster. This tendancy to skip over the exciting parts as though they were unimportant may have been intentional (that's what my humanites teacher tells me) but it still bored me. Also, I don't really care what the mountains looked like. Victor Frankenstein whines his way through the entire novel, which is really irritating because everything that happens to him is his own fault.

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller:

okwoodworker writes:

I forced myself to finish this book because it was heralded as "one of the greatest novels of the century." I found it an amazing chore to trudge through page after page of absurd, repetitive babble, replete with needless descriptions of depraved immorality.

Jackson, tunnelling in from the other trouser-leg of time, heils:

A traditional "liberal" deconstruction where little is recognized as good with the exception of its own juvenile narcissism and egoism. I would not describe this work as even a novel and it has little to recommend. Given that this is a critique of WWII, the novel puts in place the antecedents to today's antisemitism within the left's worldview.

I'll give the final say to Scott (surname redacted to spare his parents the embarrassment):

I personally don't read that many books, but this is one of the worst books I ever read. First, they're are too many characters. This book has too many characters that I can't remember even one of them in my head. They include many minor characters that nobody cares so you get confused about it. Second, it has too many mini-stories. It has lots of short stories that doesn't relate to any of the other stories and they are usually pretty boring. Third this is none sense. It doesn't have a major theme or anything and it's just talking about air force men being board of the war and just being crazy.

Moving swiftly onwards ...

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad:

Or friend A customer writes:

Not so hot; phony intellectuals are told this is a great work so they make up all sorts of lies about layering and craftsmanship, when it's really just a so-so story and the ending with the guy Marlon Brandon played in the movie (Apocalypse Now) going crazy and Conrad never explaining why there should be such a fascination with him. It might be a nice book if there was a story here. But these modern phonies do not understand that writing is supposed to be enjoyable.

Chris adds:

A very well written novel? Well, Conrad surely knows how to make a student's learning experience miserable. Five stars for boredom.

Finally ...

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkein:

Foe Sterling writes:

I was given this book by a friend to read, and received nothing of what I expected. No doubt that Tolkiens stories have reached world popularity; however I found it to be tediously dull, and alarmingly unmoving. Tolkien was indeed one of the countries finest authors, but to say that he is the best is taking it out of context. Simpley because Tolkien was the first successful fantasy novelist, does not mean he was the best. I can understand why people would take his books as almost a religion, but I could barely trudge through the first 100 pages. I account this to my own preferences. I value character development very highly, and of which there seemed scarce to none in Lord of the Rings. Tolkien I feel focused more on places; the then and where. Understand, that I desprately wished to enjoy this book, as I hoped to learn from the master, since I hope to someday strick my own mark in fantasy writing.

Our old and tiresome friend A Customer adds:

It may be my age but I unfortunatly found this to be one of the most boring books I have ever laid my eyes on. I have read many other great fantasy authors i.e. Feist, Jordan and McCaffrey but I read this book and thought I was going to be absolutly amazed at how good it was supposedly according to almost all of the people who reviewed it. I dragged myself through two of the books in this trilogy and I will never again pick up another Tolkien book.

Another dissatisfied A Customer boggles:

I can't stand this book! These fantasy things are really getting to me! I don't see how someone could read such un-true and so unbelievebly weird stuff! Sorry if I offended you. And don't say these are the greatest books. Try reading something more true like Gone With the Wind or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Shantonu feels the need to denounce:

... this book fails because of its incessant praise of war. The Nazis were evil because of the Holocaust. What did the Allies do to stop that? Not much (didn't even bomb the tracks leading to the death camps). War is simply evil; the sad lesson of the 20th Century is that warriors only contribute to the problem (Hiroshima) and only peacemakers fight evil effectively. (MLK, Ghandi, Einstein)

Tolkein should be criticised for glorifing war because he: (1) wrote for children, is very popular, and (3)is credited with greatness. But Tolkein set up a world where war is becomes the essentially bloodless killing of evil subhumans or spirits. As in Beowulf, there's no horror, just glory. The enemies, who live in a "black and evil land" can't be reasoned with, only killed.

I'll give the final word to Dr Seamus Jones, PhD:

Tolkien had WAY too much time on his hands. Just think about it - spending all that time creating imaginary worlds, peoples, languages and events? With a huge appendix explaining it all? It's insane! Talk about wasting his time! Tolkien would have used his time much better if he had used it to cut the grass for an elderly lady, work as a volunteer in a soup kitchen, or collect money for the blind. Anyone who has the time to make so much time in his imaginary world, let alone write a stack of books about it clearly has WAY too much time on his hands.

That's enough for now. What are your favourite one-star reviews?

231 Comments

1:

Hmm, in addition to the sounds of other zombies feeding, it looks like you may have found another Zombie attractor.

2:

"Tolkien would have used his time much better if he had used it to cut the grass for an elderly lady, work as a volunteer in a soup kitchen, or collect money for the blind. Anyone who has the time to make so much time in his imaginary world, let alone write a stack of books about it clearly has WAY too much time on his hands."

I want to use this as my sig file!

3:

Well ...
I still can't cope with "moby Dick"
It is a chronicle of a madman (Ahab) - and we've already got enough dangerous madmen on the planet .....
As for "Catch-22" I have made several attempts to read it, and given up.
It isn't even remotely funny, and is suposed to be full of humour and cyniocism.
And there's DIckens.
Thought he was brilliant when I was about 12, but now ... tedious descriptions and improbable plots.

Will that do to kick the fun off?

4:

Well, I found most of The Lord of the Ring boring. It had very good bits but a lot of that "talking about the mountains" thing :-P

(But I loved the Silmarillion cause it was the concentrated mythology without the travelogue parts, so I'm clearly not right in the head)

...

Just doing my part :-P

5:

Unfortunately, LOTR is the only one in the list I've read (I'm not a native speaker, so they weren't foisted upon me when I was young). I have to say that at the time I read them I fast forwarded through a lot of the description stuff. Definitely a different experience than what you're expecting if you're the fantasy/sci-fi reading type (I read it as a teenager). I probably should get back to it at some point.

Catcher in the Rye has some good ones.

Favourite quote: 'I absolutely hated it. The narrative style is irritating, condescending and boring. It's like reading a diary written by a spoilt, annoying, Emo teenager - self indulgent, repetitive and likely to leave you wanting to just slap the narrator while saying "for GOD'S SAKE, get over yourself".'

Kind of missing the point, there.

6:

"Frank Norris with his stupid novel McTeague"

Oh, Skippy. McTeague is a brilliant comic novel of late-19th century San Francisco. Maybe his insults will bring it more readers, on the theory that anything Skippy dislikes must be good.

7:

Oh! A pearl of wisdom!
---------
1.0 out of 5 stars "Don Quixote"--the pure definition of the word "boring"..., June 10, 2008
By
Ricco "logitech2" (Texas) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Don Quixote (Paperback)
Yep. I read it. Boring? Yes. Boring beyond belief.

It is also mundane, vapid and worthless.

Read Hemingway or Faulkner. Read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Even the "comic section" of your local rag is better than this work of literaly trash.
---------

(Yes, I've not read El Quijote either :-P)

8:

I decided to do something a touch different, and this nugget was the only 1* review of our host's work I could find!

"S. Beyreuth" on "Singularity Sky".

"I had real trouble finishing this book and it was some sort of pain (don't remember why, I must have been in a deterministic mood).

I fully agree with the views of the other reviewers that only gave 1 or 2 stars.

The narrative is quite poor and the plot fearly flat; There is too much, far too much, techno talk - the story suffers from the many details; It makes the impression that the author often felt more excited with himself describing engines and physics than he should have taken time in developing the characters or underlying ideas.
Indeed, the conversations and actions often felt odd and unnatural - even embarracing to read .. that made it hard for me to take the character serious (at least as grown up humans, not to mention some high ranked agents).
I was disappointed because a large number of positive reviews suggested otherwise."

9:

By A Customer
George Orwell 1984

This book's reputation as a classic reveals less about the book than it does about the shallowness and mediocrity of many book critics. It is crude, heavy-handed, superficial propaganda.
*************************************************************
I had no idea that amazon could be such a fun read in its own right :) I remember reading this book at 16 and being totally blown away by it.

10:

#5 Catcher in the Rye has some good ones.

Favourite quote: 'I absolutely hated it. The narrative style is irritating, condescending and boring. It's like reading a diary written by a spoilt, annoying, Emo teenager - self indulgent, repetitive and likely to leave you wanting to just slap the narrator while saying "for GOD'S SAKE, get over yourself".'

I dunno; that's exactly how both my sis and I felt about it, or would have, if Emos had been invented back in the 1970s.

11:

Take a look at ROTTEN REVIEWS AND REJECTIONS edited by Bill Henderson and Andre Bernard for classic ones.

12:

@Greg: The quotation from Seamus Jones about Tolkien is indeed (intentionally?) funny - but it is also false following its own logic. Even if you discount all the "escapist" reading pleasure Tolkien has provided through the decades, the intellectual stimulation readers got via discussions of various aspects of his work (political, linguistic, etc.) there are still the real-world consequences of selling Tolkien's work through innumberable channels. Just think of Peter Jackson's films and the plethora of possibilities that they have given New Zealand and the global movie industry!

Disclaimer: I've neither read Tolkien's LoTR nor watched Peter Jackson's movie versions all the way through :-)

13:

Sorry, I just saw that it was Jim (C. Hines) who I should have responded to.

14:

I was just handing over two books from my stacks to my son for his upper level English class (in Georgia (that means, we read them in high school). As I handed him Portrait of a Lady and The Crying of Lot 49, I told him that by the end of the class he would feel like he read the greatest novel of the semester when Crying came up. Why do teachers/professors order us to read ancient turgid crap? Do they want people to stop reading altogether after they graduate? That being said, not one of the books noted above is in the don't read pile for me. Of course, I do like Sense and Sensibility and Zombies as a fun alternative. Must go off to Amazon, where I never go, and read reviews...

P.S.: Charlie, my handle is a truism, as I was indeed raised by my grandparents, surname "Wolf".

15:

FrF - to clarify, as a fantasy author with six books out, I want to use it as my sig file because that kind of idiocy amuses me.

16:

A Clockwork Orange -
1.0 out of 5 stars Good idea ruined by gibberish, 9 Jun 2009
By Winston Smith (London)
I was looking forward to reading this but gave up after a few pages. I wish I'd thumbed through it first in a book shop. Completely ruined by every 3rd word not being a word at all. It just makes it too much like hard work - couldn't be bothered.

Nineteen Eighty-four
2.0 out of 5 stars not as expected, 7 Nov 2010
By louisedingding - See all my reviews
ok, so i got this book because my boyfriend said i should read it. it took me about a week of solid reading to get from start to finish, when i started to read it i didnt want to put it down, this i think is a good point about the book, it keeps you guessing and wondering about what will happen next. BUT over all i didnt really get a compolete understanding of the book. i found it hard to crasp the idea of the book, it was very interesting and also quite sad at times. BUT as i said i really didnt completely understand what the point was. maybe this is a book that should be read over and over again, and each time you read it it becomes more clear!! to be honest im more of a fantasy fiction novel lover, like princess stories haha! this was proberly a strange choice for me!!

17:

Me too - Catcher is one of my least favourite novels*

I should have realised my first marriage was doomed when I found out my ex loved the book.

*Of course, that doesn't mean it's a bad book. A badly written book wouldn't have led me to loathe the protagonist anything like as much.

18:

HERES A REVIEW FOR THE BIBLE ON KINDLE at amazon

"This review is from: The Holy Bible English Standard Version (ESV) (Kindle Edition)
Shame on Amazon for allowing such garbage to be sold on it's site. The author of this book is a predator and should never have been allowed to write or promote this trash that is called a book of information. How many children will be assaulted because of this? Amazon-take it off your site now!"

19:

I think the writing style in Catcher can certainly annoy (and bore), but it is also a narrative device. Any review that fails to grasp that is, as I said, missing the point.

I think how much you like it is partly determined by how much you can relate to this idea of not wanting to be a phony, while slowly realising how much of a phony you really are.

20:

I found some of those reviews quite reasonable. Most missed the point, but some understood the point perfectly but had reasonable disagreements with it.

Is it that bad to say that Frankenstein was good idea with less-than-stellar execution? That Tolkien lacks character development in a way that really hurts the book? That Moby Dick's whale-fact chapters are weird and break up the story?

All seem genuinely good points that can totally spoil an otherwise great book for some people.

21:

I have to post this just because it amused me...

Halting State by Charles Stross.

I really loved Accelerando, also by Stross, so it was a disappointment to find Halting State to be parochial and dated. With a finale which actually involves one of the protagonists having to play an MMO (online game) session upon the outcome of which hangs serious real-world consequences, the future of the free world, yada yada. Just embarrassing.


Back to me again. Now is it just me or did this reader miss the point fo the book? That real crimes can be perpetrated in a virtual world and that those crimes can have very far reaching and devastating consequences. That perhaps in the future MMO's and LARPing could be covertly used to train real secret agents. Not sleepers per se, but agents that are pretending to be agents whilst REALLY BEING agents, albeit unwittingly. A great achievemnt in my opinion.

Far from being dated,I found it a very intriguing and worrying novel. Though done in a most amusing and fun way, again which I think is a great accomplishment.

ALl I can say is.... so much for mr J Hartley's review. Maybe he should stick to writing books on fly fishing.... Oh no that was JR Hartley and he never actually existed.

22:

I know plenty of people who have that reaction to Holden Caulfield. The interesting question to me is, is this a conscious, intentional decision on Salinger's part, or did he expect everybody to sympathize with Holden's viewpoint throughout without wanting to slap some sense into him?

23:

In all of these cases is the books in question were ground-breaking work of historical significance.

It may not be obvious to everybody, but the art of the novel is a moving target; we stand on the shoulders of giants and more importantly today we're equipped with a toolbox of techniques and methods that we've inherited.

Go and read some random popular fiction from a century ago: the standard of writing is, overall, poorer than an equivalent sampling from fifty years ago, or today. And this isn't just a fashion judgement: we've learned a lot about the making of a solid work of fiction, and we're writing for an audience who have grown up with more sophisticated works of fiction as well.

Whereas the classics are classics because they were the first attempt.

Let me put it another way: compare two aircraft -- the Wright Flyer and an Airbus A380-800 super-jumbo. Separated by a century, the A380 is clearly a more sophisticated machine. Its fuselage alone is longer than the Wright Flyer's first powered hop; it can carry about a thousand times the payload for about a thousand times the distance at ten to fifteen times the speed. But that doesn't in any way invalidate the significance of the Wright Flyer of 1903, does it? Because the WF was the first no-shit heavier than air plane with controllable three-axis flight surfaces, wings designed with the aid of a wind tunnel, and an internal combustion power plant.

Folks who carp at the classics because they don't display the fully-developed characteristics of a good work of modern fiction are like someone who visits the Smithsonian, looks at the Wright Flyer, and decides it's no good because it didn't have a cabin trolley service.

24:

Also note: "Halting State" was written in 2005.

Again, most readers don't check the copyright date when they start a work of SF.

I dare say if you dig hard enough you'll find a one-star review of Heinlein's "Starman Jones" carping about these "slide rule" things his space cadets were using in place of computers.

25:

I found myself giggling a little at the comparison of Tolkien to Feist. Of the two, I prefer the Tolkien doorstop to the Feist ones (for one thing, I don't have anywhere near enough doors in the house to do justice to the works of Raymond E Feist). I can sympathise with the readers who are coming to Tolkien after having read a lot of more recent Extruded Fantasy Product authors, since yes, Tolkien's work takes forever to get started (I wasn't able to get all the way through the whole mess until after I'd watched the first of the Peter Jackson films a few times, and realised I could effectively skip the first eight or so chapters and start reading the action at Bree) and it also takes forever to get finished. My comparison is to the flight of an albatross - beautiful once it gets going, but the take-off is awkward, and the landing is bumpy.

26:

Zamfir makes a good point. I mean I enjoyed the LOTR books but Tolkien really needed a good editor to cut some sections from those books.

27:

But in that analogy, we wouldn't expect people to read those books. We would expect book-history buffs to go to museums and look at the covers of those books that were once ground-breaking.

But it clearly works different for classic books. People really are expected to read them and even to appreciate them in some sense.

28:

Very true, I should really have chosen an older novel or story collection. I did try Dangerous Visions but only got 2 reviews and both were 5 stars. Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles only warranted a 2 star duff review. I got lucky with Iain M Banks Feersum Endjinn though. TWO one star reviews! But that really isnt an old classic either.

At the end of the day its all about your own perception of a book. Were I to review Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon I would no doubt give it one star. I was forced to read it at highschool and hated every word of it. Its probably not a bad book, but I just found it unappealling and dull. Its not my thing. In the end I wrote about The Lord Of The Flies for my exam which I loved, and scraped through with a C, but had I used Sunset Song I would have probably failed.

Its horses for courses but sometimes perhaps its better not to commit your vitriol to page unless you're really very clever and have the writing talent to back your hatred of a given book. Also remember there will be someone out there who loves it and you will be slaughtering their holy cows.

29:

Charlie,

You owe yourself a copy of Nicolas Slonimsky's Lexicon of Musical Invective, one of my all-time favorites. Here's Amazon's product description:

"A supermarket tabloid of classical music criticism."--from the new foreword by Peter Schickele. A snakeful of critical venom aimed at the composers and the classics of nineteenth- and twentieth-century music. Who wrote advanced cat music? What commonplace theme is very much like Yankee Doodle? Which composer is a scoundrel and a giftless bastard? What opera would His Satanic Majesty turn out? Whose name suggests fierce whiskers stained with vodka? And finally, what third movement begins with a dog howling at midnight, then imitates the regurgitations of the less-refined or lower-middle-class type of water-closet cistern, and ends with the cello reproducing the screech of an ungreased wheelbarrow? For the answers to these and other questions, readers need only consult the "Invecticon" at the back of this inspired book and then turn to the full passage, in all its vituperation. Among the eminent reviewers are George Bernard Shaw, Virgil Thomson, Hans von Bulow, Friedrich Nietzsche, Eduard Hanslick, Olin Downes, Deems Taylor, Paul Rosenfeld, and Oscar Wilde. Itself a classic, this collection of nasty barbs about composers and their works, culled mostly from contemporaneous newspapers and magazines, makes for hilarious reading and belongs on the shelf of everyone who loves--or hates--classical music. With a new foreword by Peter Schickele ("P.D.Q. Bach").

30:

ENGINES OF CREATION

from amazon

1.0 out of 5 stars too bad it's all balderdash, January 21, 2007
By **- See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)
This review is from: Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology (Paperback)
It's been twenty years. Over 50 million bucks have been spent on Nanotechnology, and not a single useful thing has come of it.

31:

Zamfir makes a good point. I mean I enjoyed the LOTR books but Tolkien really needed a good editor to cut some sections from those books.
That's not quite the point I was trying to make. In fact, I'd say that the long-windedness of the book made it special,"epic", just like the whale-ramblings do in Moby Dick.

But at the same time, such characteristics can destroy a reading experience in a way I can easily understand.

Amazon review's aren't intended to tell us how great a great book really was. We got school classes for that. Their point is to give potential new readers an idea of what to expect. And long-windedness and lack of character development are definitely things to expect in Lord of the Rings.

32:

I see the point of your argument in para 2, but it's not always true.

See my comment on The Catcher in the Rye for the one side of "books I was dragged through in school", but school English class is also where I was first exposed to, and enjoyed, Stan Barstow.

33:

"A Kind of Loving" - Review by Kate2187 (Was she named after her car or something?)

"I think that 'A Kind of Loving' by Stan Barstow is one of the most boring books ever written (sorry to those of you that think its good). I think that it is far too descriptive and in some cases give you far more information than you really need."

Hello; that "right inside the protagonist's head" viewpoint is exactly what makes it great.

34:

A reviewer of Flatland manages to miss the social commentary as well as some of the mathematical ideas:

"... Flatland, by Edwin Abbott was absolutely horrible. This man should have been locked up when the book was written in 1895 or '96 (whenever it was written). I had to read Flatland for my Geometry class and let me tell you, just by reading the description online sent me into a fury. I had no interest in reading about a two-dimensional world with shapes that move about in a society based on how many sides they have. But I did try to keep an open mind - but that (as you can see) didn't work. You have to be truly TRULY interested in that sci fi dimension hogwash to completely understand and fully enjoy this book. ..."

35:

Concerning LOTR

I really like the depth of both the Hobbit and LOTR. But there is one point that I find slightly offsetting. It's the way in which the good and bad "races" are distinguished.

The good are the fair-skinned elves and the blue eyed blond Rohirrim, while evil is described by the foul orcs and dark-skinned people.

Of course this book is a child of its time and this mindset was, at the time written, normal. But still, I find this aspect a bit disturbing.

Concerning the length and depth of LOTR - it's an epic, dammit - if its a shallow book of 100 pages then it can't be an epic!!

36:

So this is a "I must be clever because I can make fun of people who aren't" post? What a waste of time.

This is a tautology, but worth remembering nonetheless: half the people in the world have a below average IQ. And those below average people still want to be able to express themselves. Have a little kindness.

37:

I would have taken their [sic] being your 'ex' as an even more definite sign that things were doomed.

(Apology: I knew what you meant---one moment after I'd finished the entire sentence.)

38:

No, it's a "my shitty reviews are nothing unusual" post.

(Prompted by a discussion on a writers' mailing list in which various folks who are too professional to vent in public vented in private. Because the first rule of looking like a professional writer is: Do Not Argue With Your Critics. (Or, if you must, then confine yourself to polite corrections on clear points of fact when they get, e.g., the gender of the protagonist of your latest novel wrong. Something of that order of magnitude.))

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion; but if they spread it around, they should be prepared to defend it.

39:

The Rohirim gave me the creeps; they seemed like proud warriors, that is, horrid types liable to rape and rend your folk and burn your schul.

40:

Are you arguing that reviewers cannot create reviews without reference to the historicity of the book, or its absolute merits? Is it unreasonable for a reviewer to frame the review in the context of a contemporary reader? The WF was indeed a piece of genius for it's time, but that is of no value to a contemporary airline.

I feel a certain sense of annoyance when people who see the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" for the first time say it is boring and incomprehensible (the 2nd point is true without reading the book), and "Lawrence of Arabia" described as "that awful sand movie". OTOH, I don't like "Gone with the Wind".

There is a certain "snobbishness" about criticizing people for not appreciating a subjective experience because they are not "educated" in some way to appreciate it "properly". Whether it is being subjected to Robert Parker's taste receptors for wine (John Cleese has adequately mocked that) to the appreciation of any form of art. There does not have to be one (or few) "right" way to view a piece. Reviews, even by professional critics, can be all over the map. If a the art in question becomes a "classic", then the reviewers who didn't like it at the time will in retrospect be "wrong".

41:

Alex, you'll notice that the reviews I culled here share some interesting features: most of them are written by folks who can't distinguish between their own personal appreciation of a work and any objective merit the work may have -- in other words, if they don't like it, it's "bad" -- and have trouble with spotting even honking great in-your-face aspects of the work (like the guy who didn't think "Catch 22" had a theme).

There's a huge cognitive gulf between a review saying "I didn't like the book -- I found it boring" and a review saying "The book is boring".

These are by no means the craziest one-star reviews. The private discussion I mentioned? One of the authors got a one-star review where the reviewer basically said "I loved this book, but I'm giving it one star because it ended half an hour before my flight landed and I had nothing to do."

42:

Reviews for the Count of Monte Cristo

Cole Glover "Reader Guy" writes: After I downloaded this book, I went to change my font; My Kindle froze up, I powered it off, and now it won't turn back on.
Perhaps Mr. Guy believe this behavior by his kindle to be an extremely early attempt by Dumas at a post-modernist statement on inherent meaninglessness?

Kim L. Arnett "Audio Reader" writes: Story has good twists, but there are too many French places and people which makes the audio confusing.
Hmm, too much French stuff. How strange for Dumas!

43:

Huh.

That last one reminds me of a rejection I got from a French publisher, who turned down "The Jennifer Morgue" for being too like an Ian Fleming novel.

44:

John Kovalic recently posted this comic that might help:

I can appreciate that a lot of the books you've listed are classics. In their time they were ground breaking in one way or another. If you're an English professor or professional word-smith you're going to love Dickens.

Me? I can't stand Dickens. I read for entertainment, not to struggle and slog through something originally published as a newspaper serial over 150 years ago. I'd rather grab a Laundry novel if it's all the same to you.

It's more fun to troll Amazon for joke reviews. Witness this Cracked article on the subject. Much more fun.

45:

Goodness, nobody's trolled through Fahrenheit 451's 1 star reviews yet? I checked both posts on this subject and didn't find any in the main post or replies. I must correct this:

Most are from "A customer"

"This book is one of the worst I have read!! Classic or not it still was bad!!! I had to read this for school and I hated it! It was soo simple. Only one thing happens in the entire book and that one thing isn't even exciting!"

-----------

"It was one of the most boring books i have ever read in my life.Why everyone in this society is so narrow-minded.Mildred is the most stupid woman i have ever read for and beatty is one of the biggest liar.So i think Bradbury was probably drunk while he was writing this book."

-----------

Confusing, disturbing, and stupid are some of the few words to use when describing this book. Firemen who start fires?? Come on. Burning every book that exists, this isn't a look into the future. It's a look into Bradbury's twisted little mind. Bottom Line.... Don't waste your time.

46:

Sadly when I read The Cathcher in the Rye, I felt the same way. Holden was self absorbed and uninteresting. I was really disappointed after loving other classics such as 1984, Treasure island etc. I still cant grasp why this book is so beloved.

47:

Racism in Tolkien's work has long been discussed and it certainly is guilty of the typical Euro-centrism that most literature was guilty of until mid 20th century. Many authors considered liberal were nevertheless influenced by the prejudice typical of the times.
Even if it is, in the end, a fight of good versus evil, things are not as clear cut as white blond good elves versus evil black orcs. Orcs are actually pale, except for the Uruk Hai who do have black skin, so color is not really relevant. Aragorn is described as dark, and so are certain Hobbits.
Orcs were created by degrading Elves and Men through torture and manipulation into ugly beings who know no peace or beauty. They represent the Hordes, the faceless Mob, the brutal dark side of Humanity, which cannot be reasonned with , which one can only choose to fight or be enslaved to. And as ideally Good as Elves can appear, their Story is also a long series of excessive pride, entitlement, pettiness and ambition.
I never thought Tolkien was boring. Sometimes it's not just about telling a story, it's about how you get there. I read LOTR 5 or 6 times and it is so rich that every time I discover something new.

48:

Seriously?

L'esprit rebondit.

49:

folks who can't distinguish between their own personal appreciation of a work and any objective merit the work may have -- in other words, if they don't like it, it's "bad"

-->A very important distinction. I hate practically everything written in the 19th century (Twain is the most obvious exception), but clearly lots and lots of other people love the stuff. They can't all be idiots.

------------

I'm trying to understand how LOTR contains endless praise of war.

------------

Of Mice and Men's one-star reviews tend toward two themes: "This book sucked because of [the tragic ending]" or "This book sucked because of all the profanity."

See, those are stupid reviews. If the ending made you cry, then the book drew you in and made you care. That, by definition, is a well-written book.

If a book is depicting characters who speak with language appropriate to the reality of the book, then dinging the book for profanity is not just prudery, it's priggishness.

And then you have the unfortunate victims of Dunning-Kruger Syndrome who are trying to be pretentious and getting it all wrong:

perfectingloneliness opines: "I found several critical problems with this play, including narrative structure, plot thematics, metaphorical irony, and satirical narcissism. Serious scholars need not apply. The books are not for the people to do with Lenny and Carl. Shooting the tragedy in the end is an unfortunate incident for the lives of everyone on the earthen structures. If you're good looking for Steinbeck, I suggest the 'Rapes of Wrath.'"

50:

Glen, I can't stand Dickens either! Indeed, I'm pretty much allergic to the whole overblown Victorian prose style.

But that's my problem. It doesn't mean Dickens was intrinsically a bad writer (indeed, the evidence is that by the standards of his day he was a bloody good one). It merely means that I don't like his work.

I can tell the difference between my subjective appreciation of a work and a more objective assessment of its merits. Give me a good enough reason and I'll even sit down with the complete works of Charles Dickens, read it, and get back to you on its merits. I won't enjoy the process, mind, and "a good enough reason" approximates to, say, a year's gross income in cold cash, but I will admit the possibility. (I'll even admit the possibility that I might change my mind and decide I like Dickens, although I think that's fairly unlikely.)

Too damn many people can't tell the difference between their own preferences and universal truth. Who'd have guessed?

51:

Primitive art-works in a genre are "classics" not just because they are "the first". The idea of the genre that the classic invented is clearer, in a sense more sincere, than the later developments.

You may not ride in a Wright brother plane -- but if you're an engineer, it's better to study a primitive simple plane than a fly-by-wire jet-fighter with stubby wings that is incapable of unpowered flight. A computer engineering student is better off learning to turn an 8088 into a calculator than developing a javascript web-page calculator on a cloud vm.

And if you want to read the fantasy genre, rather than just read one fantasy novel as a one-off, you're best off first reading Tolkien. Terry Pratchett is only funny if you actually know what the sincere genre is.

52:

Madame Bovary:
A rather harsh one star since "This edition is in French, not English." But on the other hand, an English edition gets one star for not being in French. And in any language, "Garden-variety romance - even more tedious than Austen or Bronte. Suitable only for teenage girls."

Twenty thousand leagues under the sea:
It's not 20,000 vertical leagues "under" as you would expect him to dive into alien worlds at the bottom of the ocean unreached, but 20,000 leagues horizontal, as captive on the mysterious Nautilus

Jude the Obscure:
Being an English AP student, I was given this book to read over the summer. I was hoping for a book with at least something entertaining or positive in it, but I found this book to be the most useless piece of fiction ever. There is nothing interesting, happy, or even worth while in this book. This is the MOST pathetic thing that I have ever read. Jude is a pathetic loser, Sue has no control over her emotions, and they are both idiots. If you would like to read a book that is worth the time reading it, I highly reccomend 'A Tale of Two Cities' by Charles Dickens. At least it has some likeable characters. This book does not even deserve one star.

I love this two-star review but can't decide whether it's a joke.

The Odyssey:
"The story is good, and the interesting mythological creatures and encounters are what kept me reading it. The characters make a square look less two dimensional and I can't, in all honesty, say I liked the good ones. I found Odysseus very arrogant and the gods hypocritical and the actions of them morally questionable. The style was also patronizing in places, by always addressing characters with an adjective describing their character, which we should make our own minds about, and not be force fed what we should think of them."

53:

You raise 2 issues.

1. Reviewers who cannot explain why a book is good or bad. (Or they may explain it, but their explanation isn't very useful).
2. Absolutist views - "I found this book book boring" vs "The book is boring (implied for everyone)".

I think we can all agree to dismiss issue 1. Amazon allows reviews to be rated (useful/not useful) and generally reviews of this type are graded with low useful scores [and we like our own reviews to have high useful ratings :)]. One can also comment on specific reviews with which you agree or take issue with.

Professional reviewers almost always talk in absolutist terms, but usually back up their opinion with reasoned argument.

See this 1 star movie review by Roger Ebert as an example.
http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20101123/REVIEWS/101129987

However, as is readily apparent, movie reviews (like book reviews, art reviews) are opinions and therefore tend to have a wide spectrum of scores. Those views may also change with context over time. But if reviews are so varying, they must be highly subjective opinions, so why should professional critics write with such an absolutist viewpoint" And why shouldn't non-professional reviewers mimic that form? In practice we quickly learn which professional reviewer[s] best matches our tastes and focus on those reviews, and filter out others.

Which segues to the problem of Amazon reviews. The reviews are opinions from a wide range of people. Sometimes you even get bi-polar distributions (see the reviews for "The Stones of Summer", a past NY Times good review and the subject of a documentary).
Ideally Amazon should offer an optional filter that applies a "reviews by people who like what you like", much like their suggested other products approach.
That would at least allow one to filter out the opinion noise, at the cost of potentially continually narrowing choices. [On reflection, this is not dissimilar to Facebook's hoped for monetization of the social graph data they have].

54:

I'm going to be hypocritical and pick a 'classic' which I didn't really *get* myself (though I'm quite prepared to believe the failing is mine, and not the author's:

The Great Gatsby

"The only things that happened in this book happened in the last fifty pages. It's boring, and the only reason I read it is because it was an English assignment. The plot was dreary and I did not like it! "

"The Great Gatsby contained nothing more than can be found in a TV soap opera. All of the characters where one sided and underdeveloped. The book makes a poor attempt at exploring human nature, which pales in comparison to great novels such as "Catcher in the Rye". It was one of the most boring and shallow books that I have ever read."

55:

@36 This is a tautology, but worth remembering nonetheless: half the people in the world have a below average IQ.

Not actually true, assuming that by 'average' you mean 'mean'; bear in mind, for example, that the vast majority of people in the world have fewer than the mean number of arms and legs, because the mean is actually *fractionally less than two*...

56:

Actually, I think there's something more - and more significant - going on than each generation of authors inheriting improved tools from their predecessors. Each generation of authors is writing for a different audience, and what strikes a reader in 2010 as brilliant prose might well have been dismissed as poorly constructed by someone in the early 19th century.

On a related note, of course, each generation of authors has a different set of cultural expectations and background knowledge (even if we restrict ourselves to middle-class whites brought up in English-speaking countries, to avoid serious culture issues). There are some good modern books that take the themes from Frankenstein and run with them, but those books tend to rely on the reader already being familiar with Frankenstein's take on those themes, whereas Mary Shelley was working with a cultural background in which that theme had never been developed in that direction. If you dropped one of those books through a timewarp to 1820, it would probably not be highly regarded.

So I don't think it's so much that every generation of writers produces better work because they have better tools; every generation of writers produces work that's better targeted (in both style and content) at their generation of readers than any generation of writers before or after will manage. Yesterday's books don't seem as good to today's readers - but today's books would be inferior in the minds of yesterday's readers because the cultural assumptions are all wrong, and the writing style isn't what they like, and....

57:

Good point. I would never leave a one star review of any book I didn't happen to like. Now if the book had major editing or factual failures, that would be another thing.

58:

Actually, it is true given a bell-curve distribution. Which does seem to be in place for intelligence.

59:

Isn't this a case where honesty is more valuable than quality? Average readers of well-known books are not going to contribute much if they try to add yet another balanced view. There are already enough balanced views of such books to last a lifetime.

But there is value in adding a small subjective opinion to the mass, not by the quality of the opinion but by simply being a representation of a real reader. The big value of amazon reviews is that you can skim through them to find a review that sounds like a person like yourself.

If you are the type of person who thinks intellectuals are phones, then it helps if someone warns you that Catch 22 is a book for intellectual phoneys.

I understand that this sometimes leads to feelings of personal insult by writers. But I suspect many people don't realize that writers read those reviews or care about them. It's easy to imagine that writers have an audience of millions, like movies.Too much to be aware of individual responses.

60:

Actually, it is true given a bell-curve distribution. Which does seem to be in place for intelligence.

No, it's in place for iq scores. Because iq tests are actively calibrated to produce bell-curved results.

Intelligence itself is much too complicated and ill-understood to put in normal distributions. It would be like saying that the quality of novels has a specific distribution, or the cuteness of puppies.

61:

Here's a nice one, a novel that was written in 1814, set in 1745, and reviewed in 2006.

Waverley
I have heard alot of talk about how this book is definitive in modern novels, however I would rather stick to novels that actually speak modern language. Such an old vocabulary is no longer used in modern society, so why praise a terrible book that embraces this?

How's that modern language working out for you?

62:

I do wonder if the Steinbeck reviewer is playing for laughs. I dug out his Hamlet review:

"I don't know what Willy Shakespeare was thinking when he wrote this one play tragedy, but I thought this sure was boring! Hamlet does too much talking and not enough stuff. He needs to shape up and show them who's boss. Maybe Shakespeare fans of Hamlet should take a rest on the book tragedy! Ha ha! "

63:

I just found one for John Brunner's Stand On Zanzibar that tickled me somewhat.

I bought and read this based on all the hype on the amazon site. One of the 50 best SF books etc (blah blah). Man, is it dated. It is rooted in the 60s. Which makes it interesting from that POV, perhaps. It's a long book, which I found to be something of a slog. So much of it didn't ring true, and the impression mostly was that the author had a very big axe to grind. I'm glad I've read it but I wouldn't read it again, nor would I recommend it to anyone. Sorry, m8s!

Hm, a book that was written in the 60's being rooted in the 60's? Not really that surprising, and Brunner couldn't really be expected to predict the exact way society would develop in future. I've read this book and I think that with hindsight Brunner did a pretty good job of grasping where the world was headed. And "the author had a very big axe to grind" - what do you expect from a dystopian science fiction novel?
Also, I'm reluctant to open this particular can of worms, but... The Origin of Species - I think you can guess the kind of comments that get put on the bad reviews of that.

64:

Re: the Tolkien reviews - There's no complaint here that Moorcock didn't level when he chose to eviscerate Tolkien.

65:

Ah, but I can rationalize the 'Slide Rule things' as being a retro shaped device that is in fact a futuristic Personal Computer/ Web link communication and reference device. Subject to fashion your Coms ? Device /Personal Assistant could look like anything at all real soon now and the fashion at the time that "Starman Jones "was set was for all manner of 'Slide Rules ' ..next month another fashion.

Likewise the situation in which the protagonist Max runs away from home, taking his uncle's " astrogation manuals " is sufficiently flexible for the ' astrogation manuals ' to be something so complex as to boggle the mind. That term is sufficiently flexible for the 'Manuals ' to take any form that you might wish rather than ink on paper log table type things... though in affectionate historical tribute the 'Astrogators Guild ' manuals might have looked like a book type dead tree based ancient 'Manual '

I rather like the idea of a net-book that looks like an old fashioned slide rule.. the screen and the keyboard would un-scroll from the body of the thing just as soon as paper thin and flexible screens become cheap enough. Apple are probably already planning for a future I Pad that is based on a scrollable touch screen.

66:

We also have the interesting problem of the recent furor over the publishing of a "sanitized" version of Huckleberry Finn, to meet contemporary social mores in the US. This seems to be the natural progression from bleeping out, or changing profanities, in t.v. versions of movies.

The movie world is always recreating new versions of old works based on stories or original movies to make them better suited to a contemporary audience, and even tweaked version of movies (e.g. Director's Cuts). [My kids won't even watch black and white movies, forever cutting themselves off from certain movies and even whole genres.

In many cases contemporaneous events at the time of writing are lost to later readers/viewers. (I admit I don't understand many of the jokes in Shakespeare, so my appreciation of his plays is surely different from his Elizabethan theater goers). Language also changes, changing the perceived meaning of words, and code words and gestures lose their meaning in our less homogeneous culture.

To me, this evolutionary path of art puts a serious question against Charlie's "...more objective assessment of its merits. ...Charles Dickens, read it, and get back to you on its merits." What is "more objective", based on what criteria, and are those criteria simply contemporary?

67:

So I don't think it's so much that every generation of writers produces better work because they have better tools; every generation of writers produces work that's better targeted (in both style and content) at their generation of readers than any generation of writers before or after will manage. Yesterday's books don't seem as good to today's readers - but today's books would be inferior in the minds of yesterday's readers because the cultural assumptions are all wrong, and the writing style isn't what they like, and....

Also, it is often said that fiction is an ongoing conversation between the practitioners, with the reading public being the interested listeners. Today's books are written at least partly in response to what has gone before. Sometimes it's explicit - Saturn's Children, for example. More often it's unspoken. But even those writers who are just 'writing the same sorts of stuff as their fellows' are writing stuff at a particular stage of the conversation.

Going back to a previous stage in any debate, unless it's to review a point that was made brilliantly, is not usually very rewarding. Looking at something five stages ahead would be confusing. The best writers are those who are perhaps one step ahead, addressing the questions that their peers are only just raising.

And sometimes the conversation splits into multiple threads, and parts become so recondite that only those who can afford the effort to follow it almost full time can hope to understand it. This is when deeply experimental stuff may turn up, lauded by professors and pretty much ignored by the masses, because the masses don't have the vocabulary required to appreciate it.

(I think that may explain a lot of conceptual art.)

All IMHO

68:

You may be able to rationalize what a slide means in modern terms, but Heinlein often makes that difficult when he describes operations of technology. For example, Max does calculations in his head, and this is clearly distinguished from his fellow astrogators using look up tables to plan jumps. Personally, having recently listened to the audiobook version of "Starman Jones", I find the idea of slide rules on star ships a quaint, and charming idea, rather like the simple programmable computers on the Apollo craft, that were like the programmable calculators a few years later.

69:

Jane Austen's books are utterly wretched heaps of stale Victorian sentimentality. True, many Victorian authors reveled in knee-jerk sentimentality, but Dickens, for example, at least made up for the lacrymal wangst of his characters (particularly his female characters) by embedding them in wonderfully complex, often arcane plots. Austen does nothing but fill page after page with whiny women and snooty men trying to one-up one another. Ugh.

However, that said, she *did* manage to produce ONE decent--but by no means great--novel: Northanger Abbey. As a parody of Gothic fiction, it's really spot-on.

70:

But IQ tests are intentionally designed to produce scores on a gaussian distribution -- so BY DESIGN half of the scores are below the mean and each 10 points is one standard distribution.

71:

Northanger Abbey: "the book seems to revolve around gossip and social commentary", one star

72:

Charlie, you bring up some good points. while originally reading the post I was thinking that I have to agree with some of the reviewers, but it is more of a preference issue and not looking at how the authors added to the possibilities of how novels could express ideas and stories. For example I cannot stand Faulkner, Dickens, Austen, or even Tolstoy, but I love Orwell, and Shelly just because personal preference towards style and topic. However the point of reviews are sometimes to tease out if the reviewer has similar tastes to your own. For example Austen may not be a bad writer, may in fact be a great author, but her books are certainly boring if your reading preferences lean towards action and adventure. So I might also give low star reviews to some of the novels listed by you, but I would also list what I think makes a good novel or concede my own biases in hopes the review may be helpful to a reader who also shares my biases.

73:

Pay me a year's income to do nothing but read Dickens and I'll happily learn to like him.

74:

Interesting that this thread seems to have attracted precisely the sort of persons that wrote the reviews in question.

People who complain that Tolkien, Dickens, Austen, Melville, Cervantes, etc. are too prolix are disqualified from further comment, since they apparently are incapable of appreciating or comprehending prose. Tolkien, for instance, is really an amazingly economical writer (in LOTR, at least -- the posthumous works are another story), who sets up and describes a scene in remarkably few words. It's just that the scope of his story is immense, and his technique for creating a credible fantasy environment is partly based on including believable day-to-day detail, such as weather and topography, which contemporary hacks skip over as "unmarketable" (they can get away with this because everyone today "knows" what a fantasy world looks like, due to the heavy lifting of pioneers like Tolkien).

The "whale chapters" are essential to an understanding of Moby Dick, as are the "asides" in Don Quixote. I am not saying contemporary authors have to write this way, or even should, but I agree with Charles that persons who disparage the classic works of fiction, while admittedly failing to comprehend them, deserve to be mocked.

75:

This was great! Thanks for a smile at the end of a long writing day. Obscurely, I am much comforted.

76:

"People who complain that Tolkien, Dickens, Austen, Melville, Cervantes, etc. are too prolix are disqualified from further comment, since they apparently are incapable of appreciating or comprehending prose."

ROFL.

And of course, you read Homer, Goethe and Cervantes in the untranslated versions...

77:

I remember coming across a corker in a published book. The book was something along the lines of "Worst songs of all time" where they'd take a modern song and bash it for a chapter. The one that got me was one for Ben Folds Five's "Brick". The author beat it senselessly for being a melodramatic break-up story.

However, somewhere along the editing line someone pointed out that the song was actually about being stuck in a relationship despite a traumatic abortion and the author realised his mistake. Nevertheless they published the entire off-target bashing, prefaced with an embarrassed "we know, we know" mea culpa. Quite entertaining.

78:

Honestly, I cannot see that there is a difference between "I think it's bad" and "it's bad (understood as universally true)" in these cases.
Liking or disliking something is always a subjective experience, and the rationale used for determining a good book/movie/piece of music/whatever boils down to popularity. Dickens and Shakespeare are considered great writers because lots of people like them.

A lot of people like mindless reality shows and music I think is crap. Mass produced garbage meant to appeal to the less savory aspects of human nature. Probably more people like these things now than like the Bard.

Am I an idiot for thinking Big Brother is shit, or am I part of the smart crowd for liking Shakespeare?

79:

Wild Swans by Jung Chang

Two stars. A Customer writes...

"As I am Chinese myself, there are many misunderstandings caused by this sort of novels I would like to clarify. However, I'll make it simple for you. HAVE YOU NOTICED HOW SAD THE STORIES ALWAYS ARE IN THESE BOOKS? I won't go as far as saying this book is a 'chick's book'. But the real Chinese society and it's history are more positive than the stories you read, Trust me."

80:

And just because it's one of my fave space operas...

David ONeal of Austin, TX, gives his one star comments on Excession by Iain M Banks:

"I've only read one other book by Banks and that was Consider Phlebas. That was a good book with a story that kept on moving along with great pacing. This book, however, is horrible. It is a chore to read. First off, it is almost impossible to keep track of all the AI controlled ships (and their incredibly long, boring conversations). The few humans (or aliens) that show up are equally dull. The pacing of the story is terrible. Nothing much happens."

There is another paragraph to this review, but you get the gist.

81:

I agree, plus some books become enmeshed in the culture in ways that warp the original book, to the point that on reading the actual original people can be struck by cognitive dissonance - Frankenstein, is one example of that. El Quijote for a non-Spaniard is missing a ton of cultural detail that the book had in it originally and that has grown around it since.

I find some of these reviews endearing in their honesty, really.

82:

Sorry, but this is fun. Strike three, shall stop after this one, honest...

A collection of one-star comments from a series of A Customers and others about The Algebraist by IMB:

"What's so bad? It's probably the length, actually."

"If you want one metaphor for the lack of credibility of his new universe, it is the Dwellers themselves. Tell me, what did they build their structures from on a gas giant?"

"Most of this book is dross."

"If you are looking for an easy read or one where the plot, the characters or the action is even remotely plausible then skip this one."

"I felt overwhelmed with numerous and all too frequently with cumbersome words difficult to pronounce."

And I was going to go to bed early tonight, heigh ho...

83:

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea does contain some pretty tedious passages consisting of lists of Latin names for various corals.

84:

Haven't contributed any reviews to Amazon etc, but I'll write one for you to mock.
'Something Happened' (which I bought because it was by the same author as Catch 22) - No it didn't.

85:

Ah, the Dorothy Parker school of reviewing.

86:

...And speaking of context, Cervantes was mercilessly parodying a genre of adventure books that no longer exists (Chivalry novels, sort of the superhero comic book of the age) and Dodgson was apparently taking a potshot at modern mathematics (I think I got that from a previous thread here?), these missing contexts later find anchor in other interpretations, sometimes enhancing the work.

87:

Animal Farm
By HarryPotterGirl1020 - See all my reviews
This review is from: Animal Farm: Centennial Edition (Paperback)
To start, despite being the typical boy-crazy, fun-loving fifteen-year old girl, I still appreciate classics and good literature, and read classics for fun AS WELL AS for school. I read Memoirs of a Geisha (LOVE IT!) when I was ten, and The Da Vinci Code when I was ten, and many more classics when I was nine and older, et cetera. What I'm saying is that yes, I do read classics for fun, and ENJOY THEM, and even SOME of the ones I have had to read for school. But this crap? This was forced on me. Animal Farm is easily one of the worst books I have ever read, hands down. Thank goodness I did not buy this, and only borrowed it from school!

Animal Farm describes the slow but steady takeover of the animals (most specifically the pigs) of the farm after the abusive owners (Mr. Jones and company) are forcibly turned out after the animals are informed by Boxer about how they can have power. It goes on from there describing how the slow takeover and metaphorical sense of the pigs turning into humans in the end takes place. Good plot? Perhaps. Good book? HECK no!

First off, the setting was dull. One of the rules of mine for adding a favorite book in my collection is the setting has to be one I love. This did not do it for me. The whole book did not even leave the farm. A little uninteresting!

The characters bugged the crap out of me. Napoleon was an annoying idiot who I wanted to die by the end of the book. He was a jerk. All the pigs annoy me. In fact, I did not like ONE single character. THAT'S how bad this book was. No likable characters, no character development. Zip. Nada. None. Plus, it is unbelievable how DUMB the characters were, not to know what was happening. Even in real-life history, there are smart people who refuse to be taken over by the government and such. NOT PLAUSIBLE OR BELIEVABLE.

The writing. Too simple. Too plain. Too unadorned. In fact, if I EVER hear the phrase/word "COMRADES" one more time, I will SCREAM! That word was repeated EVERY. SINGLE. PAGE. I swear. The song "Beasts of England" and such was annoying.

The plot was UNBELIEVABLY DULL, for such an explosive concept. I groaned at several points throughout this book, per chapter. It was agony. Pure, unadulterated agony. In fact, I was seized (FREQUENTLY!) by violent urges to throw the book across the room while reading several times (again, per chapter)and throttle it.

In short, finishing this crap-fest was one of the most accomplishing and wonderful moments of my life. I do NOT recommend this book. In fact, it's like Charlotte's Web, but with Communism. And I outgrew Charlotte's Web when I was nine.


* In closing, if forced to read this, I pity you. If you love it and buy it voluntarily, frankly I don't understand. BUT I implore people to BORROW it, and NOT buy it. It was an utter travesty, from beginning to end.


Plenty more funny reviews of the book, but none that reached the hilarious heights of not-getting-it this one did.

88:

A reviewer of 'War and Peace' who probably has a valid view and still misses the point.

"Absolutely boring. The characters are pathetic, not unrealistic, mind you , but just weak and puny in the way they think and live. Most of them are of the aristocratic class with large amounts of money, throwing parties and the like to impress one another. I am sure Bret Easton Ellis would have a field day with the social elite that inhabit War and Peace, for they are the most shallow, self-destructive people of that time. I am not one to be concerned with the petty personal lives of others, like the silly little dramas and problems people cause themselves, and that is exactly what Tolstoy's characters do. It all boils down to this: If you like watching people swoon over and fight one another while the more important issues , like defending one's country, are placed as a backdrop for their pathetic lives, than this is the book for you. I gladly threw it away after reading only 500 pages. "

89:

@Bjørn, If you think popularity is the defining feature of great art—in this case, writing—you should look up Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

I do have respect for the one-star reviewers who *finished* their books. I myself failed to finish dead tree editions of Moby Dick, Gravity's Rainbow, and The Silmarillion. A B&N audiobook did the trick for Moby Dick (why didn't anyone tell me that Melville wrote a comedy?!). The jury is still out on the other two. (The Crying of Lot 49 was more accessible, but I'm sure I've missed much there.)

90:

This prompted me to look up my least favourite book A Kestral for a Knave by Barry Hines. I found to my surprise that the ten reviews were all either four or five stars. I then submitted a one star review. A Kestral for a Knave is a common school set text in the UK like Catcher in the Rye is in the USA. I found Holden Caulfield's whinging while having a breakdown a lot less annoying than Bily Casper's passivity and stupidity.

91:

I actually agree with the criticism of Tolkien, in fact there's a lot of well written criticism of his work out there.

92:

Two minor nits:

Jane Austen died well before Victoria came to the throne.

She is also, despite the fact that her topic is generally courtship and marriage, one of the most unsentimental authors I know, with a thoroughly Augustan sensibility.

93:

Tolkien criticism doesn't still well coming from Morcock...

-- Andrew


94:

From Bart Motes' Amazon review of "The Common Law" by Oliver Wendell Holmes:

"The Literature of the past is a bore--when one has said that frankly to oneself then one can proceed to qualify and make exceptions."

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Letter to Frederick Pollack, April 6, 1924, reproduced in The Essential Holmes, edited by Richard Posner, page 19

.
95:

@ 69:

Jane Austen's books are utterly wretched heaps of stale Victorian sentimentality. True, many Victorian authors reveled in knee-jerk sentimentality, but Dickens, for example, at least made up for the lacrymal wangst of his characters (particularly his female characters) by embedding them in wonderfully complex, often arcane plots.

Jane Austen, sentimental? While that's undoubtedly so for Dickens, I've never heard the woman or her writings described as sentimental. Quite the opposite, in fact (this is back from when I was majoring in English in the early 80's, so maybe the prevailing wisdom has changed, though I don't see how on this one.) Hmmm . . . from the wiki:

Austen's works critique the novels of sensibility of the second half of the 18th century and are part of the transition to 19th-century realism.[4][C] Her plots, though fundamentally comic,[5] highlight the dependence of women on marriage to secure social standing and economic security.[6]

Which is pretty much how I remember it from way back when. Sure you aren't confusing her with someone else, say Harriet Beecher Stowe?

96:

O.K. this is not a review of a book, but I believe it is (somewhat) in the spirit of things. It's a flash animation, but it's short (and very funny):

http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/558516

97:

At least these reviews are short and give an opinion on whether the book is worth reading. Nearly all criticism from professors of Literature fails on those points, particularly when discussing "classics".

Many of the books English teachers claim to venerate seem to be acclaimed mostly as social signal of superior status rather than of anyone's actual enjoyment of the works. Books that people actually enjoy reading aren't suitable material for academics trying to maintain their pretense of industriousness and superior intellect.

Sometimes a potentially enjoyable work makes it through the critical academic gauntlet, but this danger can nearly always be headed off by assigning the work to students, thus ensuring that it generally won't be read, or if it is, that it won't be enjoyed.

98:

[ STUPID TROLL EVISCERATED BY BORED MODERATOR. -- cs. ]

99:

Har, har. This is kind of fun. Treasure Island: "I just got finished reading this book. I can't believe this was called a classic this book could barely hold my attention! The only one I liked was Captin Flint because I like birds but besides that I wouldn't read it! wait untill your older! my class read it and no one liked it! Alot of people told me that this book shouldn't be recommended to kids who don't like sea adventure, prirates, or anything under that category!"

Yeah, I'm thinking if you don't like sea adventure, prirates, or anything under that category, Treasure Island may not be your cup of tea.

Incidentally, I've always thought the whale chapters in Moby-Dick are the best part. I dote on Melville. I reread Moby-Dick every decade or so - I'm halfway through my third reading now, actually.

100:

@93:

Tolkien criticism doesn't still well coming from Morcock...
While Moorcock isn't without his failings, they have nothing to do with his ability to judge anothers' work. Well done; you seem to have grasped the essential joke.

101:

You asked for it! Here's a clueless Amazon one-star review for one of my favorite classics: Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five.

Andrew A. Wilson (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)

I had heard that this author died recently so the name of Slaughterhouse five had surfaced in my consciousness because, while I had attached it to the author, I had never had a chance to read it, and find out what it was about. I thought the title was quite cool, and I knew that it was a science fiction novel--and I'm all for that: science fiction and a good read.

But I have to say, with all due respects to the author, this is the WORST book I have ever read in my life. It is disjointed and hops all over the place. There's no continuity at all. The prose is terrible. The back cover says it is funny without laughing, splendid art, a book without tears. Wrong! I am actually crying: that I paid so much money for this. I gritted my teeth to finish reading this book.

When I logged onto this site, I was amazed that so many people gave this as high a rating as they did. I thought more would feel as vehemently as I did, but alas, not. I guess I am not cerebral enough (or maybe too cerebral) because I--do--not--get--this--novel. I am always admirous of writers and wish to praise them for their efforts when I like the book, but I couldn't here. I gave it what I think it deserved. (And why does he keep saying 'so it goes' all the time. Geez, that phrase is just annoying me now. That phrase would be okay if it was used once or sparsely. But over and over again!!!!!!!!!!!!!) Save your money and buy something else!

I just love "admirous" :->
102:

Incidentally, I've always thought the whale chapters in Moby-Dick are the best part. I dote on Melville. I reread Moby-Dick every decade or so - I'm halfway through my third reading now, actually.
I feel the same, but that doesn't mean everyone will or should agree. Quite some people are just wondering what to read next, and think 'hey, Moby Dick, I've heard of that'.

For those people, it's very useful to see a review that tells them to expect hundreds of pages of hallucinating whale trivia, and that not everyone enjoys them.

That bothers me about this laughing about amazon reviews of classics. The joke is based on the assumption that everyone is or should be a well-educated reader, who has already read most of these books and knows enough of the details surrounding them to appreciate them as parts of a greater whole.

But many people are not, and start these books only because they have heard these were supposedly very good books.

103:

"The joke is based on the assumption that everyone is or should be a well-educated reader, who has already read most of these books and knows enough of the details surrounding them to appreciate them as parts of a greater whole."

Yeah, but making fun of people that are dumber than you is one of the purest human joys.

104:

And yes, I'm aware that more than one person being quoted in these reviews could more likely be accused of simply being ignorant (Zamfir's point) and/or intellectually lazy.

Full disclosure: I've been both in my time and I'm pretty sure I will be again.

105:

Yeah, but making fun of people that are dumber than you is one of the purest human joys.
But so is raping sheep. It is still Frowned Upon in polite company.

106:

Good point. Are these reviews supposed to be reviews of the author's work or of the delivered product? If you try and read it and a standard reader gets broken, that seems fair game.

I would think that most works should be able to stand the occasional tech support issue. If it's more than occasional then there is a problem with the delivery channel and the potential customers need to be warned.

107:

I've got to say that I have a lot of sympathy for some of these schoolkids venting about books they've been forced to read. Struggling all the way through a book you really don't like is quite an undertaking, especially at that age.

I can't help feeling that they are being done a disservice by their teachers to some extent. Perhaps the purpose of their English Lit. classes is to provide a historical insight to literature, but shouldn't it also be providing them with an appreciation without putting them off for life? Perhaps a number of shorter, more varied and accessible works would be more useful.

Ok, I'll own up - I never did finish Pride and Prejudice at school. Somehow it just didn't speak to a 15 year old male SF fan... I suspect any literary merits were obscured to me by the massive lack of interest I had in the subject matter. Luckily it didn't put me off reading in general :-)

108:

Based on Amazon's review creation guidelines, it's pretty clear they want the review to be whether the reader like or dislike the book (and why), not a professional assessment of the book itself. So it would save everyone a lot of grief if we just treat Amazon reviews as what they are, just personal opinions of the reader. Maybe Amazon can be petitioned to give professional writers or critics a separate review channel and give each book two scores, one from readers, one from professional writers/critics.

109:

Second that, and I'll go all Auden on the blasphemer who attacked Austin:

You could not shock her more than she shocks me;
Beside her Joyce seems innocent as grass.
It makes me most uncomfortable to see
An English spinster of middle class
Describe the amorous effect of "brass",
Reveal so frankly and with such sobriety
The economic basis of society.

This is the dark undercurrent that in my view gives Austins work depth. The stark economic realities of early 19th century England that are rarely directly referenced but constantly present.

110:

Incidentally, if you're looking for a nice historical overview of the invective contemporaries threw at works of art, literature, music, &c now considered great, there's The Frank Muir Book: An Irreverent Companion to Social History if you can find yourself a second-hand copy.

111:

There are almost certainly objective criteria for judging the quality of a book (caveat: this is a subjective opinion forming a non-exhaustive list!):

1) Is the book well written. This sort of sub-divides into:
1a) The structure of the writing, including such items as grammar, punctuation, and so on.
1b) Does the style of the writing serve the story, or is it bland and/or irrelevant to the story - this is something that really seems to sort classics from everyday genre (or even good genre) work. And I will admit that this can be a bit subjective - some may find a particular style jars them right out of the story, others find it sucks them in further - but it should be possible to look at a work that you personally find challenging or difficult (or boring!) and determine if the style fits with the deeper themes of the work. For example Catch-22 can be confusing and disorienting, and doesn't always seem to have a point - a bit like war (or even life) seen from the everyday soldier's/airman's point of view?

2) Does a story offer some new insight into the human condition/human nature; or does it present some known facet in a new and fresh way?

3) Are the characters true to themselves? That is: Do they behave in a believeable and consistent way within the parameters of the world and story, or are they simply ciphers to move the plot along, with actions determined mostly by what "needs" to happen to get to the next set piece plot point?

4) Does the story remain popular across social and demographic borders, and across time? This could be seen as a measure of (2) - and of course is probably the best test of a classic. I'm sure I remember Charlie pointing out before that the average "shelf-life" of a genre novel is quite short - within 10 years it will be difficult to find many of today's popular novels in print (this is probably changing with the rise of e-readers, but "in physical print" is still going to be a good measure for this for some time to come).

I am tempted to add that the plot must be interesting and engaging, but this is more a subjective measure of popularity - not everyone is going to agree that the plot of a given book is interesting, but the 4 points above should be objectively measureable.

112:


Chritsopher W Kuehnle On Infinite Jest (maybe loses points for being obviously facetious)

If you're like me and have difficulty forming words out of letters, and then forming sentences out of those words, then this is not the book for you. I mean, ... wow, that's a heck of a lot of words. Also, if you're like me and you don't like 'buying things,' then steer clear of this one ...Hey, I like reading just as much as the next guy, but if you're telling me I've got to pay and spend a lot of time doing it -- No Thanks!!!

113:

Dickens and Shakespeare are considered great writers because lots of people like them.

Is this really true of Dickens? What are his sales like these days? How many people really read Dickens for pleasure?
Shakespeare is unquestionably popular - he can still pack in the crowds in any theatre in the western world. Dickens, though?

I don't actually much like Dickens either. I don't think his characters are up to much, his narrative voice is intensely irritating and obtrusive (a problem I have with a lot of 19th century writers - Melville and Twain too).

114:

Dickens?

IIRC, four adaptations of a single work of his were shown on UK free-to-air TV over the Christmas break alone, one of them being the second most highly viewed program on Christmas Day itself.

Conceded - that last one was a very loose adaptation indeed. Also conceded, A Christmas Carol will almost certainly end up being shown during the period if it gets shown at all.

115:

The list of most-downloaded authors in the last 30 days at Project Gutenberg is below. Dickens is now at the top because of A Christmas Carol, but he is usually in the top 5 or so anyway. For the rest: Burton is the translator of "1001 nights", the Indian names are the writer and translators of the Kama Sutra.

Gutenberg gives a good look at which old books people actually want to read. Some are big-C classics, some are not, some classics never make the lists, and some books are really surprising. Book # 59 is the "1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue"

# Dickens, Charles (127838)
# Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir (94080)
# Twain, Mark (90156)
# Austen, Jane (64758)
# Shakespeare, William (60114)
# Burton, Richard Francis, Sir (45575)
# Wells, H. G. (Herbert George) (45194)
# Poe, Edgar Allan (41740)
# Verne, Jules (40891)
# Carroll, Lewis (39597)
# Vatsyayana (38157)
# Bhide, Shivaram Parashuram (37462)
# Indrajit, Bhagavanlal (37462)
# Dumas père, Alexandre (34669)
# Wilde, Oscar (33379)
# Tolstoy, Leo, graf (31946)
# Baum, L. Frank (Lyman Frank) (30922)
# Burroughs, Edgar Rice (29313)
# Stevenson, Robert Louis (28928)
# Wodehouse, P. G. (Pelham Grenville) (28628)

116:

Likewise - I can understand people developing a hatred of Shakespeare based on being forced to pull his plays apart line by line in Eng Lit classes though.

My big issue with Dickens is that, although he's always reprinted in novels, he didn't write novels. He wrote magazine serials, and his structure is concerned with getting to the next payday, rather than with telling a story or even creating a social commentary.

117:

I've really enjoyed reading through all this. Although it's fairly obvious that modern audiences are very different to those from say the 19th century, I'd never really thought about how the writing process might have changed over the last century or so. I know much of what Dickens wrote was originally published as a serial - did he have an agent? How much influence did his publishers exert over content, I wonder? When was the concept of a "target audience" first set out? Can you imagine publishers of these classics using focus groups populated by those reviewers? Now I really want to find out the stories of how some of the classics came to be published (and not just obvious examples like Wilde, Lawrence or Joyce). Maybe I'll trawl Amazon for some books on publishing history that have good reviews. Oh, wait...

As an aside, Terry Pratchett once observed that when confronted with a joke they did not find funny, there's one sort of person who will respond, "That's not funny. What's wrong with you?" and another sort of person who will respond "That's not funny. What's wrong with me?" The first sort of person tends to wrote the sort of reviews that Charlie (and I) get our chuckles from.

118:

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem:

2 stars
A solid and interesting premise, but Lem sadly fails to make it work. I found myself wondering what was the point of the book and waht was happening. There isn't really any mystery (although at times it get creepy) the reader already knows the nature of Solaris. Nothing is really accomplished in the end and i felt almost as if I was reading an incomplete story. Oh yeah, Event Horizon was a ripoff of this book.

I do have to say that everybody is entitled to their own opinion, and there's no reason that an amateur reviewer should not present their opinion as objective truth, given that we allow the exact same behaviour from professional reviewers.

However, when you do so, you do forfeit any right not to be mocked.   8^)

119:
I do have to say that everybody is entitled to their own opinion

Regarding that statement, I offer up without comment the following links which came across my Twitter feed this afternoon: http://is.gd/K2KDfB and http://is.gd/y39E61

120:

I would argue that there's a third kind of person, who says "I don't find that funny; I wonder what differences in our backgrounds cause the differences in our sense of humour", without assuming that anything is wrong with anyone. We call these people scientists :)

(But I quite understand where pTerry is coming from.)

121:

> I just love "admirous"

Well, it's a perfectly cromulent word that conveys the meaning just fine.

I think the best part of those reviews is that people describe just fine exactly what they didn't like about the book - which doesn't mean that I would like it because of that. Quite the contrary.

I think I'll pick up Moby Dick again because of that 1-star review that Charlie quoted. From what I had read before I put away, I would never have expected a whole Stephensoneque obsessive-compulsive technical description. :) And nothing of the kind has ever been mentioned about the book anywhere else, except for a reasonable pissed off reader giving it a one-star review ...

122:

... I should use the preview button at times ...

Of course I meant "people describe just fine exactly what they didn't like about the book - which doesn't mean that I would *not* like it because of that."

123:

There used to be a website with a script that let you put in the title of a book and it would pop up a random 1 star review. Hours of fun.

My favourite, which was meant as criticism, but I can't help but read as praise, was for Joyce's 'Ulysses':

"Like a hardbound knife to the face".

124:

How about some Zelazny. This review of "Lord of Light" really hits the nail on the head:

"The story commences with tales of various Gods with highly imaginative names, places, incarnations and an intricate story line. But then comes that sentence "Yama opened a pouch of tobaco and rolled a cigarette". What!!!! With one stroke the whole illusion in your mind is completely destroyed!! Gods rolling a cigarette?? ... the word ... the connotation!!! You can't really read any futher. After this it all seems such utter rubbish."

125:

Also, it brings to mind this, author Chris Bachelder's pisstake piece regarding Amazon reviews of his first novel.

http://www.mcsweeneys.net/2002/09/24beard.html

126:

Another Great Gatsby review:
--------------
1.0 out of 5 stars The Great Waste of Time, January 9, 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Great Gatsby (Hardcover)
When I was going to high school, I determined that no matter how good or how poor the book, I would always read the English novel assigned to us twice. I was assigned F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" in grade 11. And after reading it over, I concluded that if Mr. Fitzgerald's personality was reflected in his characters, it is quite understandable that Zelda Fitzgerald ended up in an asylum (sp?). That book was the poorest excuse for literature I ever had the displeasure of reading. I did read it twice, but each time, I was disgusted with it. The characters in the story were worthless wastes of human flesh. Daisy was a ditz, Gatsby himself was a possessive stalker and everyone else didn't have enough brains to realize that they were all being used!!

Tom, Daisy's idiot husband, actually took Nick to meet Tom's mistress! How much more stupid is that? Yes, I'm sure everyone with a brain cell wants his wife's family to know he's having an affair. And his mistress, well, all she wanted was to seem important, when everyone knew she wasn't.

Nick was used by everyone, but he did nothing about it. Tom used him, Daisy used him and even Gatsby used him. And all the while, he thought Gatsby was God. He worshiped him.

I wrote my report on the novel and passed it into my professor. I wish I still had a copy of it, because I would post it here. Unfortuneatly, I do not.

In the end, I would recommend this book only to the person who likes to read about stupid people sleeping with each other just to seem important. Or as a cure for insomnia (sp?). I was greatly disgusted with this novel, but that's just my opinion.

------------

Isn't it interesting how many people can read the same book and one sees only the tawdy banality, while others see the exquisite irony.

127:

Excession, by Iain M. Banks:

"I've only read one other book by Banks and that was Consider Phlebas. That was a good book with a story that kept on moving along with great pacing. This book, however, is horrible. It is a chore to read. First off, it is almost impossible to keep track of all the AI controlled ships (and their incredibly long, boring conversations). The few humans (or aliens) that show up are equally dull. The pacing of the story is terrible. Nothing much happens.
Inevtiably in these SF stories where there is some great mystery, some super powerful thing or entity people are searching for, they finally find it at the end of the book and it always turns out to be a dissapointment. (As it HAS to be, I mean, you really think some SF author is going to provide the reader with some sort of universe altering revealtion?) Look at Contact by Carl Sagan. I mean when she finally deciphers the alien code it turns out to be a circle, as in the circle of life. Oh, how profound! I wanted to gag.

Anyway, I don't know why all these reviews are so good. I found this book boring and a chore to read."

A fair amount of ignorance presented on Rothfuss' Name of the Wind:
"I had seen this book recommended on a fantasy web-site and had been put off by the first person narrative contained in the synopsis on the rear of the jacket. Still after purchasing a couple of other books from amazon, this book kept coming up in my recommendations. So I thought I would try the look inside feature, on the amazon site. And I was delighted to find the narrative contained in the passage that I read, was in third person. So - reassured I bought the book and was looking forward to a good read. Imagine my disappointment upon discovering that the passage was misleading and that the vast majority of the book is in first person narrative, because I cannot abide this style and so, will be donating this book to Oxfam A.S.A.P."

And our good friend A Customer on GRR Martin's A Game of Thrones:

"I found this book bleak and depressing. I could not begin to identify with any of the characters. The only reason I gave it one star is because that's as low as the scale would let me go."

128:

And, of course, there is always "Animal Farm" by Orwell...
--------
1.0 out of 5 stars You'll be wasting you time!, February 2, 2005
A Kid's Review
This review is from: Animal Farm (Mass Market Paperback)
This book sucks so bad I couldn't even get through it. I quit reading it before chapter three. I would not recommend this book to anyone you will waste your time and in the end or whenever you throw it away you'll be asking yourself who would write a book with talking animals?
--------
Makes me think of a comedian telling a brilliant joke that
the audience just didn't get.

129:

A fair amount of ignorance presented on Rothfuss' Name of the Wind:
"I had seen this book recommended on a fantasy web-site ...to Oxfam A.S.A.P."

Why do you think this is ignorance? I've never heard of the author, or the work, either. Does this mean that I am ignorant by your standards too? Can I consider you to be ignorant if I can come up with a work that you've neve heard of?

130:

The ignorance in question is that the reader is incapable of dealing with any narrative voice other than third person past tense and throws a hissy fit. ("The Name of the Wind" -- which is on my to-read pile -- has been acquiring a rep as one of the more innovative and ground-breaking fantasy novels of the past decade.)

131:

For an interesting bash at RAH's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress"...
-----
1.0 out of 5 stars What???, July 14, 2001
By
"snitzie" (Denver, CO United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (Paperback)
Perhaps my expectations were a little too high. This book was recommended to me by a fellow Libertarian as a great book on political philosophy.

What political philosophy? There seems to be some lassez faire-meets-utilitarian thing going on here, and shakily-based at that. If I had to pick the book's primary political statement, it's that it's okay to deceive the public to achieve your own ends and/or for "the greater good." In this chronicle of a nation's revolution, hardly a chapter goes by in which the revolution's leaders don't feed fictional news items to the media (or engage in some other deception) in order to villainize their opponents.

Also, this novel is an excellent example of "show, don't tell." Throughout the first half, I was choking on meetings and plans and strategies...and being told HOW a character is GOING to do something isn't nearly as interesting as seeing it actually happen.

There are battle scenes...but you'd hardly know it from the writing style. No suspense, no emotion, no character development. I didn't care about any of these characters one way or the other.

Basically, a good read only if you're a fan of government corruption and weak utilitarianism.

-------
Personally, I thought Mycroft had lots of personality :)

132:

It seems that "Moon" is a rich source for howlers...

------
1.0 out of 5 stars No!, April 7, 1999
By
***** - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (Hardcover)
Well I must admit that this guy has some nifty ideas. The story itself was pretty bleeding cool, but I could not stand the wording. For instantce, where a sentence should have said:

"...He ran across the field, wielding his massive sword..." It was printed in the book like: "...Ran across the field, wielding massive sword..."

What doesn't Robby boy understand that here in America, pro-nouns are quite important? I have heard that it was originally written in German or something, and some words were lost in the translation. Even if this is true, would the translator have the common sense to fill in all those annoying gaps?

I had to stop reading after several chapters. I did not want to pollute my mind with such terrible english.

Oh well.

--------
It would nice to send the reviewer a nice copy of
"Feersum Endjinn" to show how effectively Japanese can
be translated these days :)

133:

And I always thought Moby Dick was an anti-social disease...

134:

"Does the story remain popular across social and demographic borders, and across time? This ... is probably the best test of a classic."

See the end of The Female Man by the godlike Joanna Russ for a contrary view.

Isn't the whole test of time/human nature riff rather conservative? Don't we hope that there will turn out to be no such thing as human nature (or that it'll be infinitely malleable--which may be the same thing), and that even our greatest works will become unintelligible (can't read it or can't see the point) to our descendants/replacements?

I'm just a goofy optimist, I guess.

135:

I'm distressed by the quoted reviews for "Animal Farm" - I have always seen this as very accessible book, one that can be understood to a degree even by young children but also, on a different level. I first read it when I was 8 or 9 I think and it made perfect sense - though I didn't know about the political allegory. After that, when I played with my toy farm, the animals were always in charge.

This is such a simple, transparent book that if anyone older doesn't "get" it - well - they're being badly taught, or there's not much there to teach.

136:

Here is a good one for Dune.

I read the whole book, and only for brief periods of time did I find it the least bit interesting. I don't know how it won a Hugo Award, or how it is considered to be a "classic." It's a sci-fi/fantasy book that doesn't bother to ever create a visual picture of the world. It is extremely dialogue-heavy and the dialogue reads like a poor movie script, where people talk in ways that no person ever does. There is an overwhelming amount of made-up terms that deal with the mythology/religion/culture/philosophy of the Dune world, but it's incredibly painstaking to look up all the different terms every time a new nonsense word pops up.

I'll admit that some of my rating comes down to personal taste. I always reserve one star for my personal preference...but even so, this book is only for really, really, really big fans of obscure sci-if/fantasy...and masochists.

Mind you, I love sci-fi and fantasy - they are about the only fiction genres that I read on a regular basis. I mostly read non-fiction books of every genre and difficulty. I am an avid reader, though, so this review does not come out of ignorance on my part.

137:

When it's just idiots on Amazon it's just annoying, when it's authors and editors it's serious. Heinlein characterized his editor at Sribner's three-time Newbury-honored books as: "dull as ditch water", while she turned down a novel she had already approved on outline ("Red Planet", his 3rd with the publisher) because she didn't like egg-laying Martians and frontier boys using guns for defense against natural hazards.

From Heinlein's "Grumbles from the Grave":

March 4, 1949: Robert A. Heinlein to Lurton Blassingame [his agent]

There is actually no need for you to read this letter at all. It will not inform you on any important point, it will contain nothing calling for action on your part, and it probably will not even entertain you.
....
She [Alice Dalgliesh] asked me to suggest an artist for Rocket Ship Galileo; I suggested Hubert Rogers. She looked into the matter, then wrote me that Mr. Rogers' name "was too closely associated with a rather cheap magazine"—meaning John Campbell's Astounding S-F. To prove her point, she sent me tear sheets from the magazine. It so happened that the story she picked to send was one of my "Anson MacDonald" stories, "By His Bootstraps"—which at that time was again in print in Crown's Best in Science Fiction!
....
As a matter of fact, I don't consider her any fit person to select books to suit the tastes of boys. I've had to fight like hell to keep her from gutting my first two books; the fact that boys did like them is a tribute to my taste, not to hers. I've read a couple of the books she wrote for girls—have you tried them? They're dull as ditch water. Maybe girls will hold still for that sort of things; boys won't.
138:

I'm going to go multiple here:

"This little gem answers all my questions except one...The origin of the species! : ("

"This mans theories have been taken too far. Sure he wrote the book well but the content is laughable. In order to prove the theory proposed, he requires future findings of fossils that, to this day, haven't been found yet. 1/5 Stars for Charlie."

"This book is a very interesting work of fiction. Its too bad that so many people take it seriously, though. Darwin had a great imagination, but with no scientific evidence to support it, its just a fable. I can't believe people are so gullible as to believe the things written in here. I'm judging it as a work of fiction. Its imaginative, but its lacking. One star. "

"Here is an interesting experiment: Empty your garage of every piece of metal, wood, paint, rubber, and plastic. Make sure there is nothing there. Nothing. Then wait for ten years and see if a Mercedes evolves. If it doesn't appear, leave it for 20 years. If that doesn't work, try it for 100 years. Then try leaving it for 10,000 years.
Here's what will produce the necessary blind faith to make the evolutionary process believable: leave it for 250 million years.
The Book of Genesis tells us that everything was created by God--nothing "evolved." Every creature was given the ability to reproduce after its own kind as is stated ten times in Genesis. Dogs do not produce cats. Neither do cats and dogs have a common ancestry. Dogs began as dogs and are still dogs. They vary in species from Chihuahuas to Saint Bernards, but you will not find a "dat" or a "cog" (part cat/dog) throughout God's creation. Frogs don't reproduce oysters, cows don't have lambs, and pregnant pigs don't give birth to rabbits. God made monkeys as monkeys, and man as man.
Each creature brings forth after its own kind. That's no theory; that's a fact. Why then should we believe that man comes from another species? If evolution is true, then it is proof that the Bible is false. However, the whole of creation stands in contradiction to the theory of evolution.
In the Foreword to Origin of Species (100th edition), Sir Arthur Keith admitted, "Evolution is unproved and unprovable. We believe it only because the only alternative is special creation, and that is unthinkable."
Dr. Kent Hovind of Florida has a standing offer of $250,000 to "anyone who can give any empirical evidence (scientific proof) for evolution." Evolution-- true science fiction. His website is www.drdino.com.

(Note: I checked the website, and I don't see any evidence of the prize offered. Perhaps, in the spirit of good Christian charity, they donated it to help someone working on the evolution of resistance in pathogens, weeds, or pests. They could have done some good there. Hope they did.)

Yes, it's Chuckie D's Magnum Opus, 150th Anniversary Edition. If you haven't read it, why not?

139:

"The "novelty" wore off after page 2. The book was tedious, boring and insanely stupid. I just can't understand the positive reviews. It was physically painful to turn the page, it was that bad. The book, the "Ultimate Hitchhikers Guide", contains 5 of his most noteworthy novels. All of them were equally bad. This book was anything but funny, I think my 3rd grade son can write better. [...]"

140:

On Gene Wolfe's _The Book of the New Sun_:

"Cured me of insomnia. It was torture getting through all four volumes of this incomprehensible story of a very far future dying Earth with aliens and cyborgs traveling back and forth through time and all kinds of goofy allusions to mythologies of every ilk and ancient abandoned spaceports used as fortress cities and...Well, you get the picture --- not very original stuff, and to make matters worse, a very pretentious writing style --- so get out your dictionary, you're going to need it several times on just about every page (Hey, I have a Ph.D., so I ain't dumb...)."

141:

I was with them until "not very original stuff", which makes me wonder what kind of awesome wonderland of a library they have at their fingertips.

That's not an especially funny review, though, because it doesn't have the air of arrogant ignorance you need for real lulz.

142:

Let's face it. Moby Dick would have been a much better book if Melville had retained an editor before the book went to print.

143:

Really? Care to explain precisely what you think an editor would have done to improve the text? (Note: not a 21st century editor with copies of the Chicago Manual of Style and Strunk and White to hand, but a 19th century editor ...)

144:

What can I say?
The flame of literacy is an enfeebled, guttering match light, and our friends the one-star review creators are amusing us with their shadow-puppets.
To quote another of my favorite authors, "Do deformed rabbit - it's my favorite!"

145:

I suppose so; but I thought the "I have a Ph.D." bit was amusing.

146:

The first edition was edited. Wikipedia describes it as "expurgated" and also notes that the publisher "botched the English edition, most significantly in omitting the epilogue. For this reason, many of the critics faulted the book on what little they could grasp of it, namely on purely formal grounds, e.g., how the tale could have been told if no one survived to tell it."

147:

Melville may have made the mistake of submitting a manuscript as close to perfect as he could create.

"Of course! You have to give an editor *something* to change, or he get frustrated. After he pees in it, he likes the flavor better, so he buys it."
-- Jubal Harshaw in "Stranger in a Strange Land."

148:

The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov (sold as a single book)

The Foundation is completely undeserving of the fame accredited to it. Had it been more eloquently executed, the collage of textbook style narrative and bad dialogue might have been sufficient to generate a bearable story. All the social concepts Asmov brings up are well worn and ill-portrayed on the backdrop of a generic, illogical sci-fi universe. His writing style is bland and every one of his characters can be found by an other name in star wars.

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

Granted Wells was far, far ahead of his time, but really, his writing stinks. There's no character formation (bland unlikeable protagonists) and no passion for the art of storytelling. If he had a writing partner who could of helped him with these shortcomings, his very original ideas and his true vision of what he was trying to write might have come through better. I'm glad he was there to get the ball rolling for science fiction, but I forced myself to read all his books on the hopes and say-so that these were classics. I'd rather have read Verne, Bester, Miller and Huxley.

149:

You thought I was trolling but I wasn't. Just a silly joke...

:(

150:

it Makes a Truely great movie though - especialy the football match v Manchester United.

151:

@ 142:

Let's face it. Moby Dick would have been a much better book if Melville had retained an editor before the book went to print.

Drawing on my brief career as an English major again, Melville is only doing what most authors in his day did. Maybe life was more leisurely then, or the readers more demanding, but that level of description and detail (I assume that is what the complaint is about) was much more often the norm than otherwise.

In fact, many people credit Poe with inventing (or at least, making popular) the technique of "impressionistic expertise", that is, expertise - in, say, the business of whaling - is not demonstrated with hundreds of pages of text, but suggested through a mere few paragraphs and a throwaway line or three. Still other people maintain that this new technique was one of the tools of those scribblers of that newfangled stuff, "scientific fiction" :-)

152:

I have a slide rule app on my iPhone. It has a top set of scales, a bottom set of scales and a slide with scales, as well as a cursor. You can choose from a set of 60 different scales for various purposes, and select which scales are displayed where. I chose some scales that make it look like my old K&E log-log slide rule that I bought in the 1960s.

153:

Oh I hated the film as well, apart from the PE teacher bit which was genuinely funny. I found it a highly manipulative and horribly dated story that ends up having a tragic ending only because the main character is too stupid and passive to get out of his own way. At several points Billy misses really obvious attempts by adults to get him to actually say what he wants so they could help him

154:

like 19th century Eastenders... thats why Dickens will take a page to describe a damn door

155:

So Charlie, you're saying that saying "I don't like Narrative_Style'first, and only discovered that $Book was mostly in this style after reading an extract which was written in Narrative_Style'third, and buying $Book on the strength of that extract" is ignorance by the reviewer rather than fair comment on mis-selling by the vendor?

156:

Fine; next time you make a silly joke around here, try to ensure it doesn't resemble trolling?

157:

(a) Amazon doesn't distinguish between reviews of the content of a book (or film or CD ...) and what are essentially complaints about their database of products, their pricing quality, and so on.

(b) Where a book is published in two or more editions Amazon frequently pools the reader reviews. So the one star reviews of Lord of the Rings are dominated by complaints about an abridged audiobook edition, a hardcover where the pages appear to have been improperly cut during manufacture, and so on. (Not so helpful if, say, you're a punter looking at the Kindle edition.)

Notwithstanding the above ...

(c) A reader who can't cope with a first-person narrative -- one that puts them in the head of the narrator -- appears to be seeking to avoid exposure to unfamiliar viewpoints or emotional reactions (such as one might expect to find inside another person's head).

Which isn't a good advertisement for their insight into the human condition, is it?

158:

Let's try that again -

"Charlie" (no relation) explains what he prefers to William Gibson's Spook Country:

I'm generally interested in stories involving political intrigue and mysteries, but Spook Country is a book that I stopped caring for about half-way through. Gibson seems to have a knack for trying to lose the reader admist the dialogue between characters. I found myself often re-reading passages to comprehend the true nature behind a conversation, or trying to imagine the mystical characters that Tito "saw". The GPS, locative art, mysterious CIA container, and almost all of the characters were uninteresting. It took extremely long for the story to pick up enough momentum to become interesting. He tries to be detailed, but Tom Clancy seems to do it more seamlessly. For example, Tito wears Adidas GSG9 boots. Tom Clancy would have continued to describe every detail down to the Adiprene material used in the soles and how the current boots are GSG9 II.
And some helpful advice from "Capt. McPl0x" reviewing Slaughterhouse Five:
This without a doubt ranks up there with the WORST books I have ever read. Pointless, poorly written, and incredibly dull.

If you want some great writing, try Ayn Rand.
159:

Well, the "Charlie" who reviewed "Spook Country" seems to have completely misidentified the genre of the book in question; he was expecting a technothriller, and instead he got Art and Semiotics. (At least, I infer that's what he got: I bounced hard a third of the way into SC; on my to-do list for this year is to read the entire trilogy, start-to-finish, so I can contextualize it properly.)

There is no excuse for "Capt. McP10x" other than maybe adolescence.

160:

How I do wish that I hadn't given away my old slide rule to a charity that was collecting them many years ago that they might be sent to schools in Africa. Not that I was really any good with the damn thing - I was heartily glad when the cost of electronic calculators dropped like a stone and they became fairly affordable within one year so that the lab that I set up that contained a couple of dozen calculators that were chained to desks and secured with alarms became obsolete just a few months after I had expended a good deal of sweat and ingenuity on it - but my old slide rule would have made a nice display piece alongside some of my old 35mm cameras and my rather older Bolex H16 16mm cine camera.

I find that I don't take much notice of the fact that I'm now actually living in the 21st century until I start thinking about this sort of thing.It's a funny old Future world all right.

161:

A) Accepted and agreed; however, in the absense of a proper complaints channel, I can understand people using the reviews system to say "this was not what I expected based on Amazon's product info".

B) I wasn't actively aware of that, and can see why it could be an issue. When I'm reviewing soemthing I know exists in multiple different formats, I do say which format I'm reviewing.

C) I don't want to get into perceived or actual flaws in an individual's character etc. I agree with you to some extent, but tastes vary, and it is possible to paint a picture of a character etc in 3rd person. If you disagree, and can find one, skim through Alan Dean Foster's novelisation of Alien, and read properly the passages where he's talking about Jones.

162:

Jack Vance's Dying Earth books:

"Maybe just a bad book. The terribly is because some people feel the author is deserving of a Nobel prize and would get it if his name were perhaps Hispanic and he from a different country (check Google for this). This book is (as far as I could stand to read it) a compendium of fantastical and (this is the difficulty) boring adventures. The second tale which finally made nauseous was a sort of reverse Candide where an definitely not innocent encounters all sorts of adventures with not very nice people and manages to out screw them all. Better authors include, J K Rowling, Ann Rice, and Dorris Lessing. The first two will never win Nobel Prize and the author won't even winning a dress."

I defy anyone to explain the last sentence...

163:

(c) A reader who can't cope with a first-person narrative -- one that puts them in the head of the narrator -- appears to be seeking to avoid exposure to unfamiliar viewpoints or emotional reactions (such as one might expect to find inside another person's head).

Which isn't a good advertisement for their insight into the human condition, is it?
I haven't read the book, but wasn't it more complicated than just a first-person narrative? I thought there was a structure where the narrator at first refuses to tell the story, or something like that. At least something that made the reader constantly aware of the narrator as a person.

If you have no interest in experimental storytelling, I can imagine that this is very off-putting.

You can then react with a polite review, give three stars and some faint praise like "Yet, Rothfuss must be applauded for his efforts to add some originality to the story through its framework". Or you can give one star and say that you don't like weird storytelling. Everyone is better off if you do the last, because it makes clear where you are coming from.

164:

_The Name of the Wind_ has a fairly conventional structure -- it's less complicated than _One Thousand and One Nights_ -- in which a third-person present-time framing story leads to a first-person narration of the past, with occasional breaks back to the framing story. Rothfuss is very good at inspiring the reader to ask "What happens next?"

165:

Could I get away with posting my favourite five-star reviews without being too off-topic? If so, these threads might restore your faith in Amazon reviewers.

166:

_The Name of the Wind_ has a fairly conventional structure

My mistake. I guess publishers can sell the "innovative and ground-breaking" reputation a bit too well.

167:

I know I have a strong puritan-ethic-thing about once having started a book, finishing it, but do any of these people ever consider that if they don't like a book they really don't HAVE to finish it? (Overlooking perhaps, those who are whinging because they've been given an assignment to read a book and think about it, in which case my heart bleeds for the state of their poor overworked brain cell.)

168:

Was amused when the New York Times created a separate children's best seller list, to keep J. K. Rowling off of the main one. Think the literati didn't like being reminded that they wrote for a niche audience.

169:

Confession: I lifted this from Adam Roberts' blog; he came across it while writing the foreword for the upcoming Masterworks edition of Hyperion by Dan Simmons:

[i]At last I abandoned this novel, hiding it under a car seat because I could not bear to look at it.[/i]

Tee hee. Hope there weren't any whale facts lurking under there...


170:

Formatting fail!

171:

If you read the line above the comment box you'll see "you may use HTML entities and formatting tags in comments". Like <i>this</i>.

172:

Wrong kind of brackets! Thanks Charlie.

173:

The Preview button is your friend.

(I'm much more capable of seeing the glaring typo outside an editing box that within it, for some reason.)

174:

(And yeah, Muphry's law struck.)

175:

When it doubt, go to the source.
"Paul Clifford" by Baron Edward Bulwer Lytton.

1-star review reads as follows:
It was a dark and stormy night...
If you ever wondered where that phrase came from, this is the book. Other than that, there just isn't much here.

176:

@ 152:

I have a slide rule app on my iPhone. It has a top set of scales, a bottom set of scales and a slide with scales, as well as a cursor. You can choose from a set of 60 different scales for various purposes, and select which scales are displayed where.

Yeah, slide rules are way cool. In fact, they're potentially much faster than a digital calculation, mathematically speaking. Everything takes place in O(4) time or less :-)

Are there any good images of these sorts of devices (not necessarily slide rules) posted somewhere? I've looked through Boing Boing and come up with zilch, but it's hard to guess what the correct search tags are. Obviously, if you don't know what these specialized tools are being used for in the first place!

177:

@ 163:

Which isn't a good advertisement for their insight into the human condition, is it? I haven't read the book, but wasn't it more complicated than just a first-person narrative? I thought there was a structure where the narrator at first refuses to tell the story, or something like that. At least something that made the reader constantly aware of the narrator as a person.


If you have no interest in experimental storytelling, I can imagine that this is very off-putting.

Taking a line from the radio show Composers Datebook - "Reminding you that all music was once new"® - it's good to recall that most of what we regard as conventional tellings of a story were once experimental.

That story-within-a-story thing? When Shakespeare did it in Macbeth, it was considered new, unconventional, experimental, and not something that most people would be comfortable with. Nowadays, the framing story is so unremarkable that few, well, remark on it when it's encountered in a narrative structure.

For that matter, the novel itself was once considered, er, novel. In fact, in English, it dates back (at most, there is some disagreement on the terminology, iirc) to only about the fifteenth century. Surprisingly, the candidate for the first English novel is something that's not exactly obscure: most people are familiar with the exploits of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table :-)

My, I didn't think my two-and-a-half semesters as an English major would ever be useful (for some values of useful)!

In any event, yet more reasons to be cheerful: isn't it possible with the explosion of the New Media, everything from tweets to blogs to online zines that the general population will become much more comfortable with these "experimental" techniques and structures?

178:

re (c) yes, but... There's a difference between knowing how someone else behaves and understanding what it's like to be them. Like most such distinctions there's a grey patch rather than a hard line between the two, but first person narrative (and, on most of the rare occasions when it gets used - naming no gracious hosts - second person narrative) puts the reader much more firmly inside the characters head, rather than making them a well-informed observer. And some people don't like that. (Especially, although not exclusively, the sort of people who insist that we're all exactly alike on the inside.)

179:

I would not give LOTR one star (more like three), but generally agree with Foe Sterling. I read LOTR once, and never read it again.

180:

I think how much you like [Cather in the Rye] is partly determined by how much you can relate to this idea of not wanting to be a phony, while slowly realising how much of a phony you really are.

Never thought of it that way, but you may be right. And as I cannot relate to this idea at all, I wanted Holden to die. Preferably by hanging himself.

Utterly hate that book.

181:

LOTR starts off a bit slow but picks up after the first 200 pages. The last 200 pages are also a bit slow. Anyway, I'm the Philistine who thinks the movies were better and that Tree Ents (or whatever they are) should have been cut out as well.

182:

I nominate my own review of "The Complete Pegana".

Fire away. I am under no illusions as to my own intellectual lack-o-spiffiness and that thing was boring with a capital bore.

It made toothache look interesting.

183:

I know that since I was 15 I've wondered if the whole world was mad for claiming The Return of Sherlock Holmes was a masterpiece.

A few pages in Watson asks how Holmes pulled off the scam at the Reichenbach Falls and Holmes says he simply wore his shoes back-to-front...

Seriously? I could envision Sherlock Holmes figuring a way to lash his shoes to his feet so the sole is the wrong way round, but what I couldn't do for the life of me was figure out how he could do it so they would leave a normal, convincing footprint that would fool Watson, the police or even a severely dim budgie.

This resulted in me abandoning the book as a complete waste of time, not to mention total bollocks. I assumed Conan Doyle was taking the proverbial out of spite for his despised readers and phoning it in.

Since then, while I can watch Jeremy Brett 'til the cows come home I've never been tempted to pick up another of Conan Doyle's books.

I should sign on to Amazon and review the book.

184:

Having just re-read 3/4 of the Sherlock Holmes stories, I can assure you that Holmes did not reverse his shoes, although he suggested that it was an option. Instead he climbed out up the cliff, waited a while, then had to climb back down again as he was being observed by Moriarty's henchman. The trick he used to get rid of Moriarty was a bit of ju-jitsu, actually perfectly in period for the time. Suffragettes were learning it as well.
I suspect that either your memory is failing you, or you had a very, very odd edition of the book.

185:

Point taken. But inasmuch as art is subjective, everybody's entitled to their opinion of whether a particular work is "good" or not.

186:

My favorite 1 star review

http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/558516

someone made a humorous video about a review of a video game where the reviewer didn't realize the game was a spoof fantasy/rpg tropes.

187:

A Review ? A REVIEW by You? Well, perhaps, maybe, for every generation invents its own View of Holmes and Watson and the Canon .. Gods but there are a LOT of views and Pastiches ...with the latest film of the genre being quite good " ' Sherlock Holmes (2009) ' Detective Sherlock Holmes and his stalwart partner Watson engage in a battle of wits and brawn with a nemesis whose plot is a threat to all of England. Director: Guy Ritchie Writers: Michael Robert Johnson (screenplay), Anthony Peckham (screenplay), and 4 more credits Stars:Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Rachel McAdams "

'Quite Good '..and this being from a man who has read an alarming amount of Tec Fiction over the past half century or so. The background Special Effects of the London of the Time of Holmes in that film are remarkable, but, ... Tap the Great De Tec tive s name into google and you get ... " About 11,200,000 results (0.14 seconds) "

And So you say ... " and Holmes says he simply wore his shoes back-to-front... "

So ..You think that HE, Holmes, told the Truth the WHOLE truth and Nothing but the Truth as HE told the Story of that Encounter at the Reichenbach Falls ? Oh COME now ??? ... YOU read our Hosts Blog and thus you are not entirely unintelligent ... what did you expect Holmes to say ? Given the context? If HE had something to hide? John Gardner was pretty good on this in his 'Professor Moriarty 'novels.

And the Amazon reader reviews aren't as bad as they might have been for the final novel in the trilogy ...


http://www.amazon.com/Moriarty-Otto-Penzler-Book-Gardner/dp/0151012520

The thing is that what Conan Doyle did was to create an ..." An archetype (pronounced /ˈɑrkɪtaɪp/) is an original model of a person, ideal example, or a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated; a symbol universally recognized by all. In psychology, an archetype is a model of a person, personality, or behavior. " And that is a quite extraordinarily Rare achievement.

Our Host will be lucky if he does manage to match this achievement by the time that he is aged 150, Standard Solarian Years Young, and this despite the fact that his work is both accomplished and extremely readable, so that the reader .. This Reader in particular .. is forced to pay Him the complement of asking ... what happens next ? and thus is left eagerly anticipating the next story ..... WHY ARE YOU WASTING TIME BEING ILL CHARLIE WHEN YOU COULD BE COMPLETING THE NEXT NOVEL in the Laundry Series ?..and also they are quite Novel.

The sad truth is, I think, that, whilst Doyle didn't hate his Creation, Holmes, it is fairly well known that he wanted to be remembered for his accomplishments in Historical fiction - for " Sir Nigel " " The White Company " and , well, many others.

Remember that The Great Detective, Holmes, was a Contemporary of Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle and was intended - I believe -to represent Scientific Progress just as Doyle's other Creation. Professor Challenger - of ' Jurassic Park ' oops " Lost World " fame was supposed to represent the archetypal ' Rebel Against the Scientific Establishment ' ... now where have we come across that archetype eh?.

Anyway this, following, Wikepedia entry will repay your reading if you haven't read it already ...


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Conan_Doyle


Because of my own professional training and background I will always wonder why Sir Conan was deceived by the ..


http://www.prairieghosts.com/fairies.html


The Fairies Scam would look to be an obvious Con ..and this by little girls ! ..and Doyle was an accomplished photographer who wrote articles on Photography before ever he wrote the Holmes stories and so ..What in the world was he thinking of!

There's got to be a Novel in there somewhere.

Look up " The Unknown Conan Doyle ' Essays On Photography ' " probably available hereafter for sale in a randomly discovered/googled dealers site ...


http://www.rarebritishbooks.co.uk/sir-arthur-conan-doyle-rare-books-first-editons-for-sale/


Yes I do have a copy .. Found IT ! And that's another half hour of my life that I wont get back ... that is Not for sale!

Anyway Thanks for your response to the thread that has caused me to find where I'd miss-laid my copy of " Essays On Photography "

188:

It's worth showing a 1 star review for a book Charlie highly recommended.
--------------------------------------
"The Quantum Thief" - Hannu Rajaniemi

Dr. T. Fallone

This review is from: The Quantum Thief (Paperback)
As with many I was eagerly anticipating reading this new author's book, much praised in advance. Sadly, I couldn't finish it and quickly sold my copy. It totally lacked verisimilitude and was nowhere near suspending my disbelief. Apparently it took just seven weeks to write and reads like it. It is clearly the product of a writer's group, where style is praised over substance and members such as Charles Stross are too quick to praise another member's work. A proliferation of silly names and constantly throwing in the reader's face strange characters and unexplained phenomena militates against reader engagement. Reading the other reviews, lack of understanding is a frequent comment, even in the favourable ones. Often I felt the author was trying to test the reader's IQ: 'Think you're smart? Come on, wrap your head around this stonker!' The author's smug sense of his own cleverness repels. To fully explain his concepts and engage the reader the writer should have taken a year or so to produce something of the clarity, weight and gravity of the works of Peter Hamilton or Ian Banks. As I tried to read this I had the peculiar and unpleasant sensation that I was unwillingly participating in the author's narcissistic practices and in the end I could not endure another page.
-----------------------------------------

Although I personally disagree with it, I think it is an OK review.

189:

No.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion of whether they enjoyed a work.

The question of whether a work is good is a very different matter.

(Hint: subjective/objective split ahoy!)

190:

Here's a good un:

By HarryPotterGirl1020 - See all my reviewsThis review is from: Animal Farm: Centennial Edition (Paperback)
To start, despite being the typical boy-crazy, fun-loving fifteen-year old girl, I still appreciate classics and good literature, and read classics for fun AS WELL AS for school. I read Memoirs of a Geisha (LOVE IT!) when I was ten, and The Da Vinci Code when I was ten, and many more classics when I was nine and older, et cetera. What I'm saying is that yes, I do read classics for fun, and ENJOY THEM, and even SOME of the ones I have had to read for school. But this crap? This was forced on me. Animal Farm is easily one of the worst books I have ever read, hands down. Thank goodness I did not buy this, and only borrowed it from school!

Animal Farm describes the slow but steady takeover of the animals (most specifically the pigs) of the farm after the abusive owners (Mr. Jones and company) are forcibly turned out after the animals are informed by Boxer about how they can have power. It goes on from there describing how the slow takeover and metaphorical sense of the pigs turning into humans in the end takes place. Good plot? Perhaps. Good book? HECK no!

First off, the setting was dull. One of the rules of mine for adding a favorite book in my collection is the setting has to be one I love. This did not do it for me. The whole book did not even leave the farm. A little uninteresting!

The characters bugged the crap out of me. Napoleon was an annoying idiot who I wanted to die by the end of the book. He was a jerk. All the pigs annoy me. In fact, I did not like ONE single character. THAT'S how bad this book was. No likable characters, no character development. Zip. Nada. None. Plus, it is unbelievable how DUMB the characters were, not to know what was happening. Even in real-life history, there are smart people who refuse to be taken over by the government and such. NOT PLAUSIBLE OR BELIEVABLE.

The writing. Too simple. Too plain. Too unadorned. In fact, if I EVER hear the phrase/word "COMRADES" one more time, I will SCREAM! That word was repeated EVERY. SINGLE. PAGE. I swear. The song "Beasts of England" and such was annoying.

The plot was UNBELIEVABLY DULL, for such an explosive concept. I groaned at several points throughout this book, per chapter. It was agony. Pure, unadulterated agony. In fact, I was seized (FREQUENTLY!) by violent urges to throw the book across the room while reading several times (again, per chapter)and throttle it.

In short, finishing this crap-fest was one of the most accomplishing and wonderful moments of my life. I do NOT recommend this book. In fact, it's like Charlotte's Web, but with Communism. And I outgrew Charlotte's Web when I was nine.


* In closing, if forced to read this, I pity you. If you love it and buy it voluntarily, frankly I don't understand. BUT I implore people to BORROW it, and NOT buy it. It was an utter travesty, from beginning to end.

----
Like OMG!
Seriously, this is the kind of kid I have to teach all day long. I wonder if the coffee shop sells strychnine.

191:

Jim Kelly's article in the February Asimov's talks about how our brains are being reprogramed and maybe we won't have books anymore! Those reviews would go away!

192:

"But so is raping sheep. It is still Frowned Upon in polite company."

I live in New Zealand.

193:

Carl, My review of you'r post: 1 Star.

Is thi supossed to be a post?! He just copyed my postfrom before! How can he clam to be postin his own post when he has just posted sumthing I alredy posted!?1 EXPLAIN TO ME? I dont care if you dont check to seee if i posted tha link already! I'm just m akin a point!


For the link following impaired: this is humor. To understand the joke visit the link I posted at #96 or Carl's (same) link at #186. Oh don't bother. Here's the link:
http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/558516
It a short flash animation that is very funny and quite applicable to this discussion.

194:

No, it's more than simply enjoying a work. There are many books that I did not enjoy, but nonetheless judge to be good. (e.g. 1984).

But there are also books which are generally rated as excellent, and yet for some reason they just don't speak to me. (So I didn't like Slaughterhouse Five — sue me.) And books that aren't generally well regarded, but which I think are wonderful. (A World Out of Time springs to mind).

Everybody's mental landscape is different, and so in the appreciation of art everybody's opinion matters. Which is not to say that everybody's opinion matters equally, of course...

195:

From personal experience, Archaepoteryx, it is better to refrain from posting after the third pint.

196:
"But so is raping sheep. It is still Frowned Upon in polite company."
I live in New Zealand.

Well, he did say polite company. Not that I'm prejudiced, you understand...

197:

Charlie, I don't know whether to thank you for such gruesome, excruciating comedy, or come after you with a club. You don't live that far north of me...

What I note from all such reviews and a some of the comments here is a lack of appreciation of quiet reflection and variations in pace, or of careful, intricate language to express ideas. Ursula Le Guin published an essay on 'Rhythmic Pattern in The Lord of the Rings' (you can find it in her collection The Wave in the Mind). She added a postscript to it after seeing Peter Jackson's film of the first book. Her comments on his adaptation for the young and impatient are very interesting.

198:

Yeah, but the LoTR movies were just... movies. Reasonable movies. Decent stab at adapting the book. But just big CGI-fest competent movies*.

The book basically created a a whole genre. And you can see it's influence well outside its immediate derivative followers like Feist, etc.

And that is surely the point. The book broke new ground. And should be recognised for that.

And most of the reviews quoted above can't recognise that there is a difference between the quality and significance of a thing and the enjoyment they personally got from it on the occasion they read it.

*apart from the cgi in the Moria bit. Never have a bunch of actors more flagrantly ran in front of a blue screen.

199:

In fairness she is only 15. She's reading and thinking about books so her tastes will probably mature in time. If you have fully matured tastes at 15 you probably aren't going to enjoy hanging around with other teenagers much.

It's those who manage pass through adult life without any self-awareness that I find disturbing.

200:

We're all different, but I would hope that by that age anyone would have started to develop some awareness of self and world. I can remember at that age my English Literature class reading Thomas Hardy's "The Trumpet Major" for O level Eng. Lit (long ago...)

I was and am a wide reader but I hadn't read much Hardy then; some of the class had read much less than me; and I don't think that this is by any means Hardy's best book, but I think we all got the point that there must be something in it, and that in any case we weren't there to simply read for enjoyment, but to examine what we were reading. I really would hope that by that stage in education most people would understand that, or what have they been doing for all those years?

201:

Ah, here you and I differ:

the LoTR movies were just... movies. Reasonable movies. Decent stab at adapting the book. But just big CGI-fest competent movies.

I found them utterly unwatchable. I mean, I sat through "The Fellowship of the Ring", but didn't bother with the other two at all.

And you know what? It's 100% my problem. You see, when I said "unwatchable" I mean literally impossible to watch. Due to the combination of eye trouble alluded to in this blog entry, it takes me about twice as long as it takes someone with decent eyesight to take in a scene. Where someone with normal eyesight can see something at a glance; my glance is so full of annoying blind spots and out-of-focus bits that I have to move my eyeballs around a bit to make sure I've seen everything.

Unfortunately Peter Jackson's cinematic style involves lots of moving camera viewpoints. Which make for spectacular sweeping pans and zooms, but also make it physically impossible for someone with my level of visual problems to focus on the bloody thing. Indeed, most of "The Fellowship of the Ring" was just motion blur to me. I appreciated the quiet character-on-character bits and the acting and the slow scenery shots, but to deal with the rest I'd have had to step through the movie at one-third speed.

However, I did not feel the urge to go on Amazon and bless Peter Jackson's epic with a one-star review, even though it's unwatchable. I can tell the difference between my own eye trouble and the thing I'm looking at. My point is, many Amazon reviewers can't.

202:

The Two Towers & The Return of the King were difficult for me to watch the first time because of the liberties taken with the story, bad enough Mr. Jackson forgot that Glamdring glowed in the presence of enemies.
What the reviewers seem to have missed is YMMV, no one is obliged to like it all.

203:

that reminds me of this moviee i was watching and it wasnt even an action sequence,
i happened to notice a real spie in a movie!!!!!

204:

As I mentioned somewhere else in this blog, Lord of the Rings was one of my favorite old litmus tests, because relatively few people read the whole thing and hated it. I think the count is now up to four. Most other people either hate LOTR and put it down after the first 50 pages, or they finish it and adore it, and there are a lot of people in both camps.

As for the test part: back in the dusty dark ages, I worked at a SFF bookstore. When people asked me to recommend a book, I would usually start by asking them whether they liked LOTR. Since LOTR is a seminal (and much-copied) book and it causes such a bipolar response, asking someone whether they like LOTR is actually a good place to start when trying to find them a book they will enjoy.

205:

That's arguing that leg amputees shouldn't review running shoes. That seems reasonable, except that a non-user can still pen useful opinions about design, quality and other features.

In the case of your hypothetical review of LOTR, could you make useful points about your limited access to the movie? This is similar to people reviewing books that they haven't finished, or about the reader's style for an audio book. I personally wouldn't a priori rule out the usefulness of such a review. Suppose someone wrote a review, not about the product, but about the company that manufactured it? Or not about the book but the political views of the author? Is this information acceptable in a product review, or just noise that should be excluded?

I think your overall argument is that there is a valued place for "quality" reviews, based on some criteria for acceptance. I think that the WWW era has shown that this is an overly restrictive paradigm and that other views should be included. Recall the huge success of the "Rotten Tomatoes" movie reviews that were specifically written as antidotes to the professional reviewers who were seen as "elitist" and not catering well for the general movie goer.

We may like to laugh at many of the selected 1 star reviews, but let's not forget Sturgeon's Law: "Ninety percent of SF [science fiction] is crud, but then, ninety percent of everything is crud." as applied to art and opinion reviews.

206:

What do people think of reviews that say "I didn't/ couldn't finish this?" I have written such reviews for Amazon, reasoning that if I didn't finish the book and can explain why, that may be useful information for someone with similar tastes to me.

However, such reviews invariably get lots of negative votes very quickly...

207:

CHARLIE .... SPAM ALERT !! ON 'FARMVILLE CHEATS 'well, it looks like spam to me, But wot do I know?

208:

Thanks. Nuked it now.

209:

I mean, I thought it was a pretty obvious satire of the reviews you posted about... I even started out by giving the post a star-rating; I figured surely *that* would clue anyone in to my intentions.

However, the funniest part (to me) is that this is only time I've ever generated a response from you, despite many more serious discussions of your posts.

Excuse me for a moment, I'm going to go brag to my nerd friends that Charlie Stross knows I exist and that he thinks I'm stupid.

210:

This, following, site might not be precisely what you are looking for but if it doesn't suit your needs it may serve as a 'springboard ' to something better ....


http://www.sliderule.ca/


I particularly like the circular slide rules ... not that I'd have been any better with one of them than I was with my old, standard, slide rule but, well, what's not to love about a circular slide rule ? Its the aesthetics of the thing.

211:

I feel the need to speak up because so far no one has admitted to liking Dickens and I do. I picked him (or, to be more precise, _Nicholas Nickleby_) up again after many years, and found him just delightful--funny, satiric, sentimental, and with a passionate sense of social justice. Also his prose, while I will admit it wordy, is a pleasure to read if you're willing to go with his pacing.

212:

@rich! (162): The last sentence means: "This author will not win a Nobel Prize even if he pretends to be female". The reviewer presumably thinks that the people who award the Nobel Prize in Literature are biased in favour of women (which I suppose would go along with his earlier complaint that they are biased in favour of people with Hispanic names).

213:

How, exactly, do we determine what is objectively good about a book and what is merely subjectively good about it?

I'm not trying to be snarky or anything, I just cannot for the life of me see what the difference between the two is.
Unless we count things like grammar and spelling, that is.

214:

I've read LOTR and I wouldn't say I hate it, more like found it boring.

215:

Look here for even more info and bigger pictures on cylindrical (aka helical) slide rules. You say you wanted a slipstick with a 5 foot scale?

216:

I loved this one, from the ubiquitous 'A Customer' re: The Great Gatsby:
"In the end, I would recommend this book only to the person who likes to read about stupid people sleeping with each other just to seem important. Or as a cure for insomnia (sp?)"

217:

#183 & 184 - Holmes is always a reliable narator; whether or not he is always totally honest is another matter (as is the well-known fact that Conan Doyle resurected Holmes under protest).

#187 - My main issue with Guy Richie's "Sherlock Holmes" is that the film strikes me as being more of a Richard Hannay story with Holmes and Watson (and supporting cast) airlifted in to replace Hannay in an early action story (accepting that H&W were prepared to get down and dirty, and physical, when the situation demanded), rather than a Sherlock Holmes story, where the mystery is solved by the observation and deductive skills of H&W.

218:

From the "Emperor's New Clothes" department, even those of us who regard Moby Dick as a compelling piece of writing might not mind if the "whale" section of the book had been a bit more subject to editing. Just sayin'...

But, overall, your points remain valid. And funny.

219:

I had to laugh. If Amazon was around when I was 12 years and asked to read these books, I might have said much of the same. People mature at different rates and Moby Dick probably makes more sense when you're middle-aged than when you are 12. The only classics that I enjoyed at that age were those by Alexandre Dumas. Thank heavens that the list of suggested reading was 4 or 5 pages long. I skipped "The Mill on the Foss" after a few pages and went back to "The Man in the Iron Mask".

220:

I loved the Foundation series as a child. But when a friend told me that she was picking it up, I hemed and hawed when she asked if it was a good choice to read. Sure enough, she told me later that she found it unreadable. I still love the ideas in the novels. I don't know if a modern reader would be satisfied with the execution.

221:

Yes, that is a point, there wasn't quite enough deduction and brain work going on in the film, although I think there was more than you suggest.

My main problem with it was the way Holmes was portrayed as a short, rather hyperactive man, often lacking dignity, and with a subtly different sense of humour from the stories. Instead, he came across as a geek who has had to learn to play the clown in order to survive, crossed with a modern action hero. So it totally got up my nose, despite the acceptably baroque plot and nice use of scenery and what felt like good uses of location.

222:

Physically at least (and possibly mentally) I think the best protrayal of Holmes on screen was Ian Richardson in the 1983 BBC version of The Hound of the Baskervilles (based on the original Stand illustrations, available in the Wordsworth press versions of the collected shorts).

223:

erratum - "...original Strand illustrations..."

224:

No, a review by my 15 year old self that has informed my reading policy thenceforward.

The point being that although I'm sure my 15 year-old self missed the thrust of the ingenious ACD, my (possibly faulty) memory of that experience and let-down has induced an aversion to re-examining the premise upon which the policy was formulated.

It was sort of intended as irony and self-deprecation. Clearly I'm not very good at them.

225:

Twain's way ahead of us; he wrote something along these very lines about Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales. IMHO, it's the only excuse possible for said Leatherstocking Tales in the first place.

I give you Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses. Enjoy!

226:

Not a review from Amazon, or even a review really, but as a school kid I remember a somewhat accurate inscription left by a former student inside the front cover of "Jane Eyre":

This book is a laugh a minute, but only if you can read it in 59 seconds.

227:

I wouldn't say that Melville was doing the same thing as everyone else of his time. Moby-Dick is weird and different. It wasn't anything like Melville's earlier books, and reviewers compared it unfavorably to them. It was not well understood in its time, and it didn't sell well, although it did sell just well enough that it was never completely forgotten.

It wasn't until the early 20th century that people started thinking of Moby-Dick as a great book. I don't think that's an accident. I think the book was about 50 years ahead of its time. Its sensibility is much more in line with the experimental works of early 20th century modernism than with mid 19th century literature, so it's no surprise that the modernists were the ones to appreciate it.

228:

On the subject of Melville and whether all that whaling info was really necessary, there's an interesting bit of this article which says:

By some accounts, the first draft of Moby-Dick was a conventional sea story. Hawthorne encouraged him to develop such transcendent themes as obsession, anger, revenge, and lust. “Ah, God!” Melville writes in Moby-Dick, “What trances of torments does that man endure who is consumed with one unachieved revengeful desire. He sleeps with clenched hands; and wakes with his own bloody nails in his palms.” Presumably such passages were missing from the first draft, which was heavy with chapters that read like a textbook on cetology or a history of the whaling industry. The critic Leon Howard has written that the “excitement and enthusiasm aroused in him by Hawthorne belonged entirely to the period in which he was reworking Moby-Dick.” Hawthorne’s influence, late in the book, may also explain why the novel has the feel of two books in one: the conventional passages about the whaling industry, and the psychological drama of Ahab’s self-destruction.

229:

Woa, I just finished reading the whole tirade, my eyes...

That post from Zamir which i´m replying to seems quite relevant to me, but goes unnoticed, or at least uncommented, weird

Also: really rofl'd with this, about Zelazny's Lord of Light:

"The story commences with tales of various Gods with highly imaginative names, places, incarnations and an intricate story line. But then comes that sentence "Yama opened a pouch of tobaco and rolled a cigarette". What!!!! With one stroke the whole illusion in your mind is completely destroyed!! Gods rolling a cigarette?? ... the word ... the connotation!!! You can't really read any futher. After this it all seems such utter rubbish."

Way to miss the point


230:

Oh joy. My first wife did her thesis on the character of Natty Bumppo - I wonder if she ever read Twain's comments.

231:

And talking of literature, this article on the Grauniad website ponders why works such as Accelerando don't get considered for the Booker.

(Thanks to Jo Walton for noticing the article, which mentions her latest in glowing terms.)

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on January 12, 2011 11:51 AM.

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