Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Oh Seriously Now!

One of my online foibles is that I very rarely post on message boards. The only time I crop up is to ask, "Anyone know if Author X is still writing?"

This has been a very good policy for me. Because while I like to spout off on occasion, message boards tend to irritate me. Maybe I have a little tyrant in me. I can't tell people to f*ck off on message boards (even if they are morons), but I can on my own personal blog. Message boards are "communities" more so than blogs, which I view more as individual homes. I can put up ugly wallpaper in my "home" and it wouldn't directly effect the community at large. Hey, you don't like my wallpaper? Don't visit my "home." Now if I threw that same wallpaper up on a message board - well a lot more people have to look at my bad taste then, which tends to be annoying for everyone involved.

Not posting to message boards keeps me from looking like an asshole - a good thing. Posting on my own blog just makes me look self-important. OK, that might not be a good thing either - but a girl has to have healthy outlets.

The reason for this rambling is that I just came across a bad review for a book that I rather liked (and incidentally, wrote reviews for). This is fine, opinions are like butts (everybody has one!). But I think this dissenting opinion sort of missed the point, and worse still, it got me thinking.

I know, I'm treading on dangerous ground here - let me explain.

One of the reasons romance appeals to me is that it's fun. Sure I'm looking for in-depth characterizations and emotional intensity, but frankly other times I just want brain candy. I just want something silly and fun and completely readable. It might have all the nutritional value of cotton candy, but it goes down easy and entertains me for a few hours. Sometimes after watching the evening news this is about all my little overworked brain can handle.

So my question is - do we as romance reviewers, authors and fans sometimes take the genre too seriously? OK, authors get a free pass here since it's their livelihood - so yeah, they probably should take their job "seriously." But do we as fans and critics of the genre sometimes blow it out of proportion? Should we have the same hard standards for every single book or should there be wiggle room?

Personally, I don't think you can have a list of set "standards" when it comes to judging a good book. Books are different, even in a genre like romance. To explain, let's look at tone. Let's take two books that I gave "A" grades to - All U Can Eat by Emma Holly and The Crossroads Cafe by Deborah Smith. Both very enjoyable books, very deserving of the "A" grades (in my ever so humble opinion) but for totally different reasons. In the Holly, I liked the sassy heroine, the steamy sex, and the delish hero. In the Smith, I liked the haunted characters, the emotional intensity, the tearjerker moments, and the poetic writing style. Does this make the "fun" Holly inferior from the "emotionally intense" Smith? No - they're just different books, but good in their own ways. But what would happen if a rigid "light" reviewer read the Smith or a rigid "intense" reviewer read the Holly? Could they "judge" the books on their own merits? Would the Holly be considered "inferior" because it didn't have angst? Would the Smith get slammed because it wasn't "light?"

Is this making any sense to anyone or am I stuck in my own ramblings again? In a nutshell, if you're going to "review" at least on a semi-professional level you shouldn't immediately dismiss anything. To be good at it, you need to keep an open mind.

Is it a valid opinion to dismiss books that don't fit your own personal "tone" requirements (here's a hint, the answer is no)? Or is a good book is a good book is a good book? Personally, I fall into the second camp (hey, I don't really care - just entertain me and write a good story), but I'm wondering if everybody else does? I don't think they do, and frankly that rubs me the wrong way.


Jane said...

I think that readers can have "reader baggage" that may prevent them from getting into a book. Plus, unless you've read the breadth of a reader's opinions can you assume based on one "review" that the reader doesn't have an appreciation for that type of book?

sybil said...

Are we talking Pink Ice? Or whatever it was called? I recall you liked it then seeing it reviewed somewhere that it blew.

Really I think as readers we can be too much sometimes. And think too much of our opinions. I mean hell I have seen a reviewer basically say look stupid author grow up and get over it and then turn around and cry when someone 'hurt' her feelings when they disagreed with her.

But in this case I have to say no matter if the person was reading out of their 'zone' of choice their opinion it valid and true. As is yours. I decide I wanted to read it because I more often than not agree with your likes than the other reviewer, LOL which might be why I remember your review and not theirs.

I am very much a character reader. So make me love your characters, make me believe they love each other and I can forgive a lot. Make the characters shitty and I can tend to over pick the book.

Wendy said...

Normally this type of difference of opinion doesn't cause waves for me - but in this instance (and what I didn't make clear in my ramblings) is that I think the other reviewer missed the point. They essentially said the book was "bad" because it was light, fluffy and they couldn't take it seriously.

It's like they were expecting Crime and Punishment but got Jackie Collins instead. So because of that - we have a bad review.

The more I read this blog post the more I think I should have let it digest for a couple of days before composing ;) I mean, I've done the same thing. I was kinda cheesed off when I read Entangled by Kathleen Dante because it ended up being a wallpaper paranormal and the back cover copy sounded like a romantic suspense. I was expecting one thing, and got another.

Although looking at the packaging of this other title, I have to wonder how the reviewer was expecting anything other than "light and fluffy." Seemed pretty clear to me.

Wendy said...

Nope, that wasn't the book :-) and I won't say one way or another because frankly I'm not about to start a big brouhaha about "reviewing." Again. Which means I should just delete this damn post.

Actually, this kinda goes around to the RITA judging argument as well. I think "good" reviewers keep an open mind. Generally speaking, I tend to avoid secret baby and Had-Sex-One-Time-And-Now-I'm-Pregnant stories like the plague - but I have read some for review and even enjoyed a few. Felt like taking a long, hot shower afterwards, but I gave those good stories, good reviews regardless of my own personal reader baggage.

I can do this with little to no problem - so I have to wonder, why can't all reviewers do this? And for that matter, when RITA judging rolls around, why can't the authors do it?

Bev (BB) said...

Really I think as readers we can be too much sometimes. And think too much of our opinions. I mean hell I have seen a reviewer basically say look stupid author grow up and get over it and then turn around and cry when someone 'hurt' her feelings when they disagreed with her.

Oh, Sybil, I'm sending a big cyber-hug your way for that one. :D

As to the issue you're talking about, Wendy, I think it was pretty much covered in that recent discussion on Dear Author about reviwing "do not finish" books.

Personally, I'm not sure how much of what gets called reviewing online actually counts as "real" reviewing anyway. Commentary, yes. Previews and promos, definitely. Picks and pans, sure. But reviewing as in critical analysis? Doesn't happen often, but it does happen. (Robin did one just the other day on Smart Bitches that would qualify as that for sure.)

And that's really what you're talking about, isn't it? The objective separation of true critical analysis.

Of course, you are also right in another way. If someone is using the wrong yardstick, none of it is going to worth a damn, however. That's true whether we're talking about commentary or critical analysis or simply promoting the books, though. Because as we've seen just recently if the readers are expecting one thing and they get another only confusion results.

Multiple sources. Compare and contrast. That's the only answer I can think of. It's definitely the one I rely on.

Amie Stuart said...

I think my tastes are so varied that I fall under the "a good book is a good book" scenario.

Lynn M said...

I think this is a tough one, because if you find something about a book so far off your own personal taste list, it's kind of hard to focus on other factors that might be used to judge if the book is "good" or "bad". For example, if I'm reading a book in which the heroine does something I consider TSTL behaviour, it's very hard for me to ignore that and look at other things such as good dialogue, tight plot, lyrical writing, etc.

I'm not a huge fan of secret baby plots, so if I encounter a secret baby book, no matter how well it's written, I don't know that I would bother finishing it. Thus, I couldn't offer up a review that says "I hated the story, but the book was good." Most likely I wouldn't even finish the book.

Better, I think, is when you review things in a particular subgenre that holds appeal. I do like paranormals, and I've read enough that I can say that Author X writes good paranormals while I find that Author B writes so-so paranormals and Author C pretty much sucks. Such reviews do compare apples to apples, and since I like apples, I can say I prefer Red Delicious over Granny Smiths.

I don't like pears, however. So I couldn't tell you if a Bartlett pear is better than an Anjou pear. If I bit into a pear, no matter how perfect, I wouldn't like it. Then again, I wouldn't buy a pear in the first place!

RandomRanter said...

Someone somewhere said something to the effect that a review often tells you more about the reviewer than the subject of the review. And first I thought that was really silly, and a good way to dismiss an opinion you don't like, but the more I think about it, I thinks its pretty true. Yes, more and more reviewing these days is opinions rather than critical analysis, but in some ways I thinks that can be more honest (for lack of a better word). If you tell me why you did or didn't like something, I can decide if those are things I will like or dislike.
But that doesn't mean I don't read reviews and go "arggh!" sometimes too.

Bev (BB) said...

Yes, more and more reviewing these days is opinions rather than critical analysis, but in some ways I thinks that can be more honest (for lack of a better word).

I don't know what the word is either. Precise? Succinct? On point? Whatever, it boils down to "tell me why I want to buy this book" in as few words or less. :D

I'm not sure that can be done in true critical analysis style. Don't get me wrong, it could be the intro to a longer analysis but that's not necessarily what I want to read every single time I'm looking for information about potential books to buy. And that's where some balance has to come into things. Most of what so many of the "review" sites are doing really is previewing books for readers, so the shorter pick and pan format is more appropriate.

Doesn't mean some analysis can't or shouldn't come into things, just that it shouldn't completely overshadow the information provided or somebody's eyes are going to glaze over.

Probably mine.

LinM said...

OK. I'll post on your message board and you can tell me I'm a moron because I disagree: there is no universal standard that makes a book "a good book".

I can't judge the review that prompted this post BUT I have discovered enjoyable books from quiet short rebuttals to "bad" reviews on blogs where discussion is welcomed and encouraged.

If the object of your ire is a blog from another universe, rant on!!! OTOH, if the blog welcomes diverse opinions, get over your aversion to posting on other message boards and submit a 2 line response. Other readers and the author will appreciate your input.

Wendy said...

Personally, I don't think you can have a list of set "standards" when it comes to judging a good book.

LinM - we're in agreement actually. I don't think you can hold all books up by the same yard stick. All books are subjective, and if they weren't written differently it would be a very boring world. I might like a novel by Charles Dickens and one by Emma Holly - but I guarantee, I'll like them for very different reasons. That doesn't mean one is inferior to the other, it just means they're both good but in different ways.

My problem with the review in question at the time (I've since let it go), is that I felt the reviewer was judging it unfairly because it was a lighter read. Just because it's light doesn't necessarily make it bad.

Tara Marie said...

So my question is - do we as romance reviewers, authors and fans sometimes take the genre too seriously?

I kind of think you and I are on the same page with this. My reaction when I see a reader on a message board or blog over analyzing a book the first thing that usually pops into my head--"It's romance for crying out loud,not brain surgery." Which probably isn't overly fair, because we at least expect books to be well written, but to hyper analyze character motivation or sentence structure or any other thing that seems to hung up a reader does seem somewhat extreme.

I also think Bev makes an interesting point that much of what we call reviews really lean much more toward "commentary". I'm the first to admit I only "review" a fraction of what I read, but I do post commentary or thoughts on just about everything I read and there is a huge difference between the two.

LinM said...


Thanks for the response - rant on!

I have to say that I appreciate your reviews or commentary (if "review" is not the correct term). I'm grateful for all of the bloggers who put time and effort into their commentary - it keeps my TBR list well-stocked.