Wednesday, January 12, 2011

In Which Charles Stross Goes Dumpster-Diving

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Charlie Stross has invented a new vice!  Struck down by the flu and too ill to dash off another novel, he went to Amazon and looked up one-star reader reviews of great novels.  Here's one, for Catch-22:

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.

He's posted a batch of ripe reviews ranging from Sense and Sensibility to The Lord of the Rings on his blog.  You can read them here.


Above:  That quiet building across the street from my house, nestled sideways between row houses, was built in Colonial times. If you didn't know that, you wouldn't look twice.  Oh, and it snowed!  Third time in two weeks, which is astonishing for Philadelphia.


9 comments:

Matthew Brandi said...
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Matthew Brandi said...
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Forrest Norvell said...

Oddly enough, I've been doing this for years, and many of my favorite examples of horrible, missing-the-point reviews are for The Iron Dragon's Daughter. "There was a cute picture of a dragon on the cover and the book wasn't cute at all!" There's a specific kind of schadenfreude that sort of response evokes in me. I think I would enjoy it quite a deal less were I the author, though. No?

Matthew Brandi said...
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HANNAH'S DAD said...

> Oddly enough, I've been doing this for years, and many of my favorite examples of horrible, missing-the-point reviews are for The Iron Dragon's Daughter.

Oddly enough^2 I was reading one star Swanwick reviews on Amazon just yesterday!

They're strangely reassuring to read - if people can be that wrong about _The Iron Dragon's Daughter_ then there really is no hope of pleasing everyone and I might as well relax.

A few words from Amazon on another frequently praised book:

"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"

Matthew Brandi said...
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David Stone said...

I have found that with good books, more than half of the time the one-star reader reviews are from crazy prudish people who are upset because there is moderate adult content, violence, or even just lots of cursing.

Also, whenever I read a review of anything, anything that accuses the author or whoever of being "pretentious" I just stop reading and make a mental note that the author of the review is a jackass. Describing a work of art as "pretentious" is ridiculous and is, in itself pretentious. If you say something is pretentious, you are saying that you know more than the creator, have superior taste, know exactly what they are trying to do (ie what they are 'pretending to')and how they fall short. It's a crappy throwaway word (in this context) for people who can't articulate why they don't like what they are reviewing. And for whatever reason, for me at least, it makes the reviewer seem like a bitter sour-grapes-craving jackass.

No doubt there are exceptions to this assessment of mine, and I'm sure someone could make me eat my words if they pressed the point.

Michael Swanwick said...

But what reasonable person would want to?

Matthew Brandi said...

In defence of the use of "pretentious", I offer this from H W Fowler:

"A writer expresses himself in words that have been used before because they give his meaning better than he can give it himself, or because they are beautiful or witty, or because he expects them to touch a cord of association in his reader, or because he wishes to show that he is learned and well read. Quotations due to the last motive are invariably ill-advised; the discerning reader detects it and is contemptuous; the undiscerning is perhaps impressed, but even then is at the same time repelled, pretentious quotations being the surest road to tedium." - A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926)

It seems to me that either critics should be allowed the word, or my quoting Fowler was pretentious.