Thursday, August 03, 2006

Skewer the Reviewer Challenge (& a contest to win my book & -thank GOD! - funnies)

Yes, here it is, the day I’m finally going to post comments on a book I’ll admit to not enjoying.

Before we begin, I’d like to point out the following:

1. Today is the last day to enter the contest to win a signed copy of Crimespree Magazine with my short story in it. Send me an email with the name of the short story and you’ll be entered. Winner will be announced tomorrow.
2. There will be a contest launched at the end of this post, to win an ARC of my novel, Suspicious Circumstances. The ARC won’t be available until next month, but you get one. Which is more than I can say for the people who don’t win.
3. There is a point to this post, and it isn’t to offend people. If you’re going to read it, I hope you’ll read it to its conclusion, because there’s a moral to the story.
4. For the purpose of this post, the book will be referred to as The Book I Didn’t Enjoy.

The Book I Didn’t Enjoy was one that I had several issues with. I hated the mention of fashionable clothes. I’m not a fashionable person myself – I have no interest in brand names or designer clothes. A movie like Miss Congeniality is what I’d go for – a good laugh at the glamorous life, but The Book I Didn’t Enjoy looked at that aspect of the character to the point it turned me off.

It wasn’t just the fashion name-drop. It was the place name-drop. Saks or wherever. Whatever. I had the feeling when I read the book that I was expected to know things about the locale, and interpret that into the book, instead of having the book introduce me to the setting. Which added to the feeling of snobbishness for me. I was interpreting the scene with nothing but presumptions, because it was a place I hadn’t been to, and I didn’t feel the author described it to me, but assumed I should know it already. Maybe it’s being Canadian and just my own shortcoming?

I think this is where you start to say that if one or two things about a book aren’t working for you, you might be inclined to pick up on a whole bunch more and be really nitpicky. This book isn’t a police procedural. So I must be persuaded at why it is the cops are failing to solve the crime, while our amateur sleuth is piecing it all together.

There is a cop in the book. Somewhat strongly featured, for a secondary character. He drove me nuts, too. Part of the reason was that he referred to the protagonist using a nickname that referenced her hair colour. Okay, points to the author for finding an original way to tell us she’s a blonde. But having some guy calling her Blondie? And she’s a fashionable shopper who works out her angst with a credit card at a department store? Oh, gag. I know I’m supposed to respect the character because she’s got some degree of intelligence to hold the job she does, but I can’t relate to her life, and I don’t want to.

And the thing with the nickname has connotations to it that made him read like a bit of a sexist prig, which only heightened the contrast, I supposed, trying to make our heroine look more evolved. I actually don’t mind if a character is a bit of a dog – Pelecanos’ character Derek Strange and his fixation with… well, er, no spoilers… comes to mind – but because the cop in this book came off like a bit of a prop to the main character, it read like overkill to me.

Anyone want me to stop yet?

I am not as keen on 1st person narrative as 3rd person, because I am a person who looks to the subplots and likes to see all the threads start to intertwine. I love layered plots and I think you tend to see more of that with the average 3rd person narrative. Authors like Simon Kernick have utilized alternating protagonist viewpoints by combining 1st and 3rd person effectively. His Milne books, which are 1st person, work for me and work well, so a 1st person narrative doesn’t automatically mean a miss. But in this book, it didn’t work for me.

I must really connect with a character in a way that makes me want to spend time with them. I don’t have to agree with their life or approve of it – I certainly don’t endorse most of Milne’s choices, for example – but there must be something in them that makes me want to follow them on their journey.

The Book I Didn’t Enjoy failed in that regard. Now, it’s been a solid 20, 21 months since I read The Book I Didn’t Enjoy. And it’s a popular book. Written by a popular author in the crime fiction genre.

But it wasn’t for me.

One of the other realities is, you start to guess who the villain is. And when you guess early on and then there aren’t any surprises, it’s a let down. I mean, you can guess who it is and have the author still make the discovery, the motives, whatever, be compelling enough to satisfy you. I’ve had that happen too. But… not this time.

Now, what value would there be in the author reading this review? There’s no reason to think the author will, and I don’t see there being any value that would come from having them reading my opinions.

You see, this is as honest as it gets in an assessment of a book from me, and I don’t believe this is of value to anyone.

For me, it was a debut book. That isn’t a blank slate to a person to approve poor writing, but the structural things – thin plots, guessing the ending – should tighten as a writer gains experience. So, it doesn’t matter if there were some mistakes. After all, even a talented artist starts off drawing stick figures, the first model a boy builds will not be anything resembling St. Paul’s Cathedral from toothpicks. We all start somewhere.

I believe what I’ve stated here, honest as it is, is a completely subjective opinion. I can critique writing structurally and try to talk about technique alone, but in some cases that would be as much of a review of the editor as the author.

This is why I feel that reviews should always be qualified as a personal assessment. Reviews are based, in part, on taste. It’s very different for a reviewer to get excited about a book that heavily focuses on a character that puts them off to the point of personal dislike. And that might be for no other reason than the protagonist reminds them of their soon-to-be ex-wife, for example.

Personally, I prefer books set in the US outside of the major centers. New York City? Kind of overdosed on Law & Order and a zillion TV shows already.

Conversely, no matter how many times David Simon puts out a Baltimore series I’ll be there in a heartbeat. I feel he’s introduced me to the city in a way that helps me understand it and love it, and really want to see it. If asked for US places I’ve never been to but want to visit, Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon and Connecticut are rounded out with Baltimore.

It comes down to what works for me, and what doesn’t. That’s why it’s possible you read this book and loved it. And you wouldn’t be wrong. There is a part of the reading experience that is based on the reader, and there may be reasons we fail to enjoy a particular offering. We might return to it later and have a vastly different opinion. It may be nothing more than we didn’t want to read about a character going through a divorce with our own pending, or something like that.

One person’s peanut buster parfait is a death sentence. To another, it’s salvation from the heat and worth the extra ½ hour on the treadmill three times this week. There are some things that have no right or wrong to them. They’ll just be different for each and every one of us.

Except Rebus. You must all love Rebus.

Because I said so.

And what really kills me is I know some people won’t like my books, and will say things that will be hurtful to me about them. Just as I think this would be hurtful to the author of this book as well. Which is why I haven’t named the book, or the author. Because I don’t want it to come off like a personal attack.

But I will name one book I didn’t finish. Birdman. I’m sorry, but the protagonist read to me like a spineless, pussy-whipped shell of a man I just couldn’t respect.

I hate guys who stay with manipulative women they don’t love, just for sex and out of guilt because they’ve stayed for sex.

Sorry…

But it isn’t a comment on the writing. Just a character that failed to get me that time. I may try again – the book is still here.

And if you’re wondering why I did finish The Book I Didn’t Enjoy, I was reading it for a group discussion, so I sort of felt committed.

My friend, DesLily, has a post up about going to a Lord of the Rings convention. If you’re a fan, you might really enjoy this. I did.

The sensational Anne Frasier (whose soon-to-be-released book Pale Immortal is my current reading material) put up a post about authors being broken that really got to me. Some of you will have read it already, but if you haven’t, reading it will perhaps explain why I get along so well with Anne.

And now, the launch of the contest to win an ARC of Suspicious Circumstances

I could make this easy, or I could make this hard.

I decided to do a bit of both.

Every day over the next 7 days, I will post a question. You can email me the answer to be entered. You can enter every day, once. SCRATCH THAT. You can enter for every question, once. Which means if you miss the question Saturday because you have better things to do than read my blog, you can send the answer in on Sunday, and still answer Sunday's question as well, two separate emails. Just include a massive apology for missing the original post and I'll consider forgiving you (joke). In fact, if you do enter for every question, I will add 5 extra entries with your name on it, just because that’s impressive. And must mean you really want a copy of the book.

Obviously, regular readers of my blog (as in people who read it regularly, not just those who are regular) will have a bit of an advantage. But I’ll try not to make it too challenging.

So, for today, the question is:

If I had had a son, what name would I have given him? (Clue: It was my grandfather’s name, and also what CS Lewis was commonly known as, and if you’re still in doubt, I answered the question on my Killer Year blog post yesterday. See how helpful I can be?)

Bonus question – yes, today, you can enter twice:

What was the stupidest thing I criticized about The Book I Didn’t Like?

Email: sandra.ruttan@spinetinglermag.com with ARC Contest Day 1 in the subject header.

And if you haven’t talked to me about being on my ARC list for reviews, you aren’t getting one. So there. I stick my tongue out at you. Na na na na. (What was that I said yesterday about seeing myself as a 10-year-old?)

I must thank my good friend Deletta for sending me these. Priceless.

ZEN THOUGHTS FOR THOSE WHO TAKE LIFE TOO SERIOUSLY

1. Save the whales. Collect the whole set.

2. A day without sunshine is like, night.

3. On the other hand, you have different fingers.

4. I just got lost in thought. It wasn't familiar territory :(

5. 42.7 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot.

6. 99 percent of lawyers give the rest a bad name.

7. I feel like I'm diagonally parked in a parallel universe.

8. Honk if you love peace and quiet.

9. Remember, half the people you know are below average.

10. He who laughs last, thinks slowest.

11. Depression is merely anger without enthusiasm.

12. The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese in the trap.

13. I drive way too fast to worry about cholesterol.

14. Support bacteria. They're the only culture some people have.

15. Monday is an awful way to spend 1/7 of your week.

16. A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.

17. Change is inevitable, except from vending machines.

18. Get a new car for your spouse. It'll be a great trade!

19. Plan to be spontaneous tomorrow.

20. Always try to be modest, and be proud of it!

21. If you think nobody cares, try missing a couple of payments.

22. How many of you believe in psycho-kinesis? Raise my hand...

23. OK, so what's the speed of dark?

24. How do you tell when you're out of invisible ink?

25. If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.

26. When everything is coming your way, you're in the wrong lane.

27. Hard work pays off in the future. Laziness pays off now.

28. Everyone has a photographic memory. Some just don't have film.

29. If Barbie is so popular, why do you have to buy her friends?

30. How much deeper would the ocean be without sponges?

31. Eagles may soar, but weasels don't get sucked into jet engines.

32. What happens if you get scared half to death twice?

33. I used to have an open mind but my brains kept falling out.

34. I couldn't repair your brakes, so I made your horn louder.

35. Why do psychics have to ask you for your name?

36. Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what happened.

37. Just remember - if the world didn't suck, we would all fall off.

38. Light travels faster than sound. That is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

(Tomorrow's joke will involve sex and Italians...)

20 comments:

JT Ellison said...

You hit upon some of the same issues I have with certain books. I always have a hard time with the stupid cops/smart amatuer scenario. I once read a book where a woman goes to NYC, the NY Police hire her for the week so she can go undercover for them, and all the while, she's got the one clue that will solve the whole case hidden in a safety deposit box because she doesn't want them to know she has it. Yeah. Right.

That said, I think it behooves us all to look at what our characters do. Realism certainly helps. Escapism, the feeling that the average person can achieve superhero status is an excellent thesis if it's done well. JMHO.

Dana Y. T. Lin said...

"A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory."

Bwahahahahha!

"Tomorrow's joke will involve sex and Italians..."

Oh, good, you'll be talking about Mindy.

(gawd, I hope she doesn't see this)

Sandra Ruttan said...

I agree JT, and that's an excellent point. Certainly there are times the cops do falter in an investigation - corruption, political reasons, interference from management, the press leaking information that tarnishes the case.

So, it can be done. It can be done and even made to work well. But it is also risky terrain where it's easy to stumble.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Damn, Dana, I didn't want you tipping Mindy off!

DesLily said...

Umm, I feel humbled to be pimped by one such as you!..

oh and btw, this pararagraph: (with exclusions only because of space)

I must really connect with a character in a way that makes me want to spend time with them. I don’t have to agree with their life or approve of it but there must be something in them that makes me want to follow them on their journey.

is soooooooooooooo true!! I am a character oriented person, being more interested in the characters then the story line!

Eileen said...

Can I say I just love the way your mind works. Your posts always go off in these lovely directions. I feel like I should strap myself in for the ride.

M. G. Tarquini said...

Sex and Italians There's a reason there are so many of us floating around. By the way, I linked to this post with my own version of a rant.

Sandra Ruttan said...

DesLily, I'm very character-driven as a reader too. It's essential I connect.

Eileen, you know, my mind is warped. When I write short stories it's like my own version of Star Wars:

"Stay on target."
"But the subplots..."
"Stay on target."
"But..."

MG, I can't wait to check it out!

angie said...

I was wondering when Mindy was gonna get around to venting about pop culture references. Sheesh! But I have to agree that too much gets distracting and annoying pretty damn fast - especially the fashion crap. Then again, I'm not exactly a fashionista and really couldn't care less about that stuff.

anne said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
anne frasier said...

well crap. that was me. i can't keep my indentities straight. 50 faces of eve.


what i said was:
thanks, sandra. you're a sweetie. ;) a nasty sweetie. :D

Sandra Ruttan said...

Angie, and isn't Mindy's post great?

Anne, thanks, LOL! And I always know who you are, no matter which version of you pops up!

Andrea at Lochthyme said...

Oh Sandra. I'm not not a fashion maven either. I cetainly don't wear name brands...hey I shop at thrift shops. I think chick lit is very popular today...I consider it chick lit when they start throwing in all the name brands. There are tons of chick lit books out there which I don't read. Like I have the time or $$ to worry about wearing designer clothing. Even if I had the $$ i can't see spending $1000 dollars on a pair a shoes...i just couldn't do it.

As for your negative review of "the book" it is of value to people. Because I know a number of people who hate this type of book(they see name brands and they run) so your review would tell them to not pick it up. While tons of people like this type of book so from your review they would know it sounds like something they would like.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Oh Andrea, nobody was supposed to find anything of merit in this review! I should have banned you from reading today.

And go check out Mindy's blog (MG Tarquini - I think she's still linked under foot fetishists) for her insights on this.

Elizabeth said...

I think I read that same book, Sandra. Blissfully, I can no longer remember the title. But I definitely remember what was going on in my head while I was reading it: "#$%*@ !@)&%!...#$%& @#!*&."

To this day, thinking about that book annoys me. Fashion strutting and name brand dropping in literature only perpetuates the myth that all women care about is clothes.

And I love to shop. I just don't want to read about it.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Well Elizabeth, I'm glad I'm not alone, but I'm also glad nobody named the book.

I think there are few things more boring to read about than women shopping. I don't really like shopping. It's one thing on holidays and such, when I'm mentally prepped for that. But when Kevin decides he wants to spend a day at a mall...

Even as a kid I used to hide in the bookstore and wait for my mother and sister to find me.

S. W. Vaughn said...

I love Rebus. Does that mean you can forgive me for setting my series in NYC? :-)

If I had read The Book You Didn't Enjoy, I don't think I would enjoy it either. Women who live to shop just don't do it for me. Ugh. Name-dropping in novels, brand or celebrity, must be done very, very skillfully for it to not stick out like a ... well, you know.

Last book I felt obligated to read even though I didn't enjoy it was for a group discussion too. It was The DaVinci Code.

Julia Buckley said...

However the stupid cop/smart amateur was a formula begun with Sherlock Holmes. Maybe people feel they're doing an homage to him. Or not. :)

Sandra Ruttan said...

SW, I'm certain I replied to your comment yesterday! If you love Rebus, you can be forgiven for just about anything!

Julia, I never thought of that. Of course, they could pay homage just by having their protagonist smoke a pipe. :)

Julia Buckley said...

Or, for Holmes, a more likely homage would be having the protagonist take cocaine--but only for the mental stimulation it provides. :)