Blog: An Author Judges A Reader

im-not-judging-you-im-making-fun-of-you
Image from here.

I recently reviewed a poetry which I borrowed from Netgalley. I usually request Children’s Literature, Young Adult Fiction, and Poetry from them. Also, I request books which I can’t get in India — books which are expensive, books which are not available.

Lately, I have stopped asking for Poetry, because I realised that I am tired of reading poems written by neo-poets whose I’s are i’s. I am tired of reading one-liners which are packaged as poems. I am tired of reading about men who call their women oceans and waves. I am tired of reading about women who pine for their lovers. I am trying hard to not sound patronising here, but it’s just me after OD’ing on such poems.

For I admit that I haven’t read great poems — I do not know what a great poem is — I understood that it’s not fair on my part to request Poetry when I know they are only going to irk me. However, a poetry which I had requested a long time ago was lying in my mailbox, and I decided to review.

The book was about 150 pages long and had a gorgeous, gorgeous cover and some surreal illustrations. The poems were still cold for me. They didn’t bring me back to the present nor did they send me into a spiral of introspection. The poems were just there and I wished they were better. (In truth, I have copied and pasted this paragraph from my Goodreads review itself.)

I had also quoted a poem, which was just one line long and which was broken into a couple of lines. I mentioned that such poems didn’t move me.

Is it wrong to say that a piece of artwork didn’t give me feelings? Do you think I should have read great poets to say that?

This morning, I woke up to a personal message on Goodreads from the author. For obvious reasons, I am not revealing any information about the author and the book. However, the author’s message left me flummoxed.

From the message, I understand that the book is the author’s first one, and that there had been suggestions from the publishers to change some aspects on how the poems were presented. I nodded as I read that. I could really see the pressure that was imposed upon the author.

The author added that it’s hard to take tough reviews. I really wanted to empathise. I didn’t enjoy the work, but I can see how a creator would be shattered to receive two-stars. I understand. I really do.

But. There came a suggestion which didn’t sit with me. The author said that if I happen to read the book and get a different view of the allegory and the deeper layers, then the author would love an update on the number of stars I had offered. Despite telling me that there’s work to do, the author hoped that I would find three-stars worth of value in the book when I reread.

I woke up to that message and I couldn’t shrug off the underlying sneer in that. After I read it a couple of times, what I understood was, “Thank you for the review. But I think you didn’t understand the allegory and how beautifully layered and profound the book was. As you didn’t see the book for what it is, I suggest you read it again. When you reread, remember to wear those perfect, scratch-proof literary glasses!”

The message rang in my ears that way. An insult to a reader’s intelligence. While I am trying not to take it personal, I detest how an author could believe that the reader had given two-stars because the reader was not bright enough to catch all the metaphors, and that a reread had to be prescribed to fix the reader’s myopic vision.

Even on Goodreads, I don’t expend my energy to explain why a book didn’t work for me. Even if I am supposed to review a book, I pick some soft words from my vocabulary to say that the book was not for me. Above all, if a book is available on Netgalley, it is exposed to all sorts of feedback. Since I believe that my criticism was constructive, I couldn’t fathom why I was judged as a reader.

I have decided not to respond to the author; I don’t want to have a conversation, lest it would turn bitter. But I wish authors were open to honest feedback, instead of asking the readers to up their game. Not fair. Not fair at all.

As I wrote this blog, I was reminded of Kazuo Ishiguro’s interview published by Lithub.

I don’t really like to work with literary allusions very much. I never want to be in a position where I’m saying, “You’ve got to read a lot of other stuff” or “You’ve got to have had a good education in literature to fully appreciate what I’m doing.” . . . I actually dislike, more than many people, working through literary allusion. I just feel that there’s something a bit snobbish or elitist about that. I don’t like it as a reader, when I’m reading something. It’s not just the elitism of it; it jolts me out of the mode in which I’m reading. I’ve immersed myself in the world and then when the light goes on I’m supposed to be making some kind of literary comparison to another text. I find I’m pulled out of my kind of fictional world, I’m asked to use my brain in a different kind of way. I don’t like that.

To forget the message I received this morning, I had to read this poem. 🙂

Our new dog, named for the beloved poet,
ate a book which unfortunately we had
left unguarded.
Fortunately it was the Bhagavad Gita,
of which many copies are available.
Every day now, as Percy grows
into the beauty of his life, we touch
his wild, curly head and say,
“Oh, wisest of little dogs.”

Percy from Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs

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31 thoughts on “Blog: An Author Judges A Reader

  1. I love that quote by Ishiguro, Deepika. So pertinent, particularly as I found myself reading a Dickens yesterday, in an attempt to get to grips with a contemporary novel! Perhaps I’m taking things too far …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Lizzy.

      While it is fun sometimes, I am beginning to be uncomfortable with that sort of air that demands us to be different from what we are or coerce us to consume what we wouldn’t otherwise. Does it make sense?

      Like

      1. It does Fortunately the Dickens in question is a short one.
        I don’t mind intertextuality as a rule, but do wonder if novels that depend so heavily upon it can be regarded as literature in their own right.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This terrible incident reminds me of another one such author who actually threatened the reader/reviewer of legal implications if she doesn’t remove her 1 * review from GR. This was for a book he had sent the reviewer for an “honest” feedback. I guess “honesty” is cool till it is diverted towards someone else and not us. It is just a sad state of affairs really. But we should do what we do the best, ignoring them all. Read and share our honest thoughts. If they hassle someone else, it is their problem.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Legal implications? We are such kind readers and see how we are treated. Sigh!

      I read your post on ‘Undelivered Letters’, Anushree. I loved your point on how it’s basically gifted and projected as a best seller. I read it last week, gave two-stars, but luckily nobody has threatened me yet. 😊

      Like

      1. The one I reviewed was “The Highway Man” by the same author of “Undelivered Letters”. I wasn’t threatened by the author either thankfully. So far haven’t had any such experience. But the one I am telling about is real and we got to see the WhatsApp screenshots of the threat too. Just that legally one isn’t bound to really review a book as per the author’s whim. Thank heavens for small mercies. 😛

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Literature & poetry, for good or for bad, is subjective. The reader has a set of life experiences that color the interpretation of the book. This author needs to come to terms with that. You didn’t feel it. That’s ok. He needs to realize that is what it is and move on. I can see why his reaction annoyed you. It’s like he is invalidating your honest emotional reaction to it. I get that the book is the authors baby, but it’s time to set it free.
    But I did love the doggo poem. 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Absolutely, absolutely, Lost In A Good Book. 🙂 When I used to write for newspapers, I was frustrated when my editors chopped a lot or changed a story’s angle. It felt like somebody was hurting my baby. To put it in graphic images, it felt like my baby’s arms and legs were chopped. I later learned that it was not my story anymore once it left my desk. I wish authors would learn to let go too. A wee bit, at least. 🙂

      The doggie poem, for the win! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. On one hand this seems like such an odd experience. On the other hand I seem to be hearing more and more cases where authors have complained to bloggers about reviews. I have heard of a few cases where authors have gotten really nasty. Unless an author is personally attacked I think that it is ludicrous when thjey complain to bloggers in this way. Your opinion is your opinion. That is what blogging is about.

    Percy is indeed great verse!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Brian! While Goodreads is a great platform to connect authors and readers (I would be happy to not connect with an author whose book hasn’t connected with me), it’s so open that authors are able to barge in with not-so-kind suggestions. It makes me anxious as a reader.

      Like

  5. This is such a tricky subject. I was in your shoes a few years ago and had to defend my opinion to an author. My review was not harsh, just stating what worked or didn’t work for me as a reader. Just going through that experience made me aware of the way some authors deal with less than favorable reviews. I mean everybody wants 4 and 5 star reviews but let’s be honest, even the greatest book can get a less than stellar review. And it’s usually new authors who get upset.
    As a new author myself, I’m aware of the risk of putting a work out there for everyone to see and judge. One can learn a lot from good and bad reviews alike.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember your post on it, Delia. 🙂

      And I understand your anxiety. I can see how demotivating some reviews can be. On such occasions, we all should find comfort in our four-legged friends and the contents in the refrigerator. ❤😁

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It all depends on the review. Sure it can be demotivating but if it’s constructive criticism it can be a learning step for the author. From what you said, it looks like you were not the only one having certain issues with the book so … we live and we learn and hope for great reviews and the highest rating. 😊 (I hope I’ll be able to be calm and let it go when I’ll have my first bad review. Chocolate might be needed to dull the pain. 😂)

        Liked by 1 person

  6. In my view, the real problem is self-publishing and vanity publishing houses. Authors used to have to get past professional publishers which, whatever people may think about it, at least gave a guarantee of a minimum level of quality – or at the very least, literacy. Now anybody can publish anything, and being brutally blunt about it, most of them seem to think their book/poetry is the best thing ever written and what they’re looking for is constant praise rather than honest criticism. I had an author whose book had glaring errors in it, so I said so. I also said what was good about the book and gave it 3 stars. First, I got comments on Amazon from him using false names. Then he started a campaign to vote negatively on all my reviews on Amazon to push me down the “Top Reviewers” list. Then, when I told him I would change my review to say that he was doing this, he hunted me down online and started sending me long, rambling and frankly unbalanced emails to my personal email address. In the end, I had to threaten legal action to get rid of him. He’s a known name – a best-seller, in fact – who self-publishes several books a year, but reacted like that to a 3-star review. Kinda sad, huh?

    To contrast, I gave another author 1-star, and a review where I humorously slated her writing style which I hated. But I did say in my review that other people were loving it so clearly my opinion was purely subjective and down to a matter of taste. She tweeted my review to her followers in a jokey kind of way and sent me a nice little tweet to which I responded wishing her luck with the book and it was all very nice and civilised – no hard feelings. She went way up in my estimation – I may not have liked her book, but I like her very much!

    Gosh, sorry! Looks like I’ve just written a book here myself… 😉

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Oh, oh, Fiction Fan! Please do not be sorry. I love, love, love this comment. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

      I am beginning to be wary of self-published books. I received one last week, and I felt so claustrophobic because I had promised that I would review it. I wanted to DNF it, but I pushed myself. That was a two-star read too. Authors are beginning to hound us because how exposed our blogs and profiles are. Sometimes, it is scary.

      The one-star author gets five-star for her amazing attitude. It’s inspiring to know that she could laugh at herself. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I stopped reviewing self-published books a few years ago – too awkward – and I very rarely take books direct from authors. I prefer to deal with publishers who of course aren’t so emotionally invested in the book. And even on NG I usually only take books from established publishers.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. That would make me angry too, Deepika. I’m not sure I would have had the good sense that you did to ignore the message! 🙂 By the way, I don’t think you need to have read any certain “classic” poetry to have an appreciation for poetry in general. You should trust your instincts because you’re a highly intelligent, sensitive reader! And I also love Mary Oliver. She’s amazing!

    Like

  8. Recently I was listening to a podcast in which a handful of published authors were talking about how they approach GoodReads reviews, and the gist was that one- and two-star ratings weren’t very useful to them as they are just not the readers they are aiming to reach as their audience whereas they are interested in four-star reviews, not all sunshine-and-roses comments but speicific criticisms they can work into their future projects that take their intentions into account. Mind you, these were relatively established and professional authors and that’s a different situation from what you’re describing! I can certainly understand the appeal of the NG option, especially in terms of availability, but I bet being more choosy will allow you to find happier matches in the future. Also, I love that poem. And Mary Oliver in general!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much for sharing that information on how authors approach Goodreads reviews, Buried in Print. It’s amazing to learn that they actually accept the feedback and work on it for their next books. It’s really amazing. I totally buy your advice on being choosy with NG options. This is a lesson indeed. I love that poem too. Mary Oliver is so close to my heart. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Just stick to what you truthfully thought or felt about the piece of work. You are not trying to be malicious just realistic. I think it’s best not to respond to the author.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Back when I accepted review copies, I tried to be considerate by telling authors whether I’d be writing a good review or a negative one, and giving them the choice of whether I publish it or not – I was surprised by how many have been up for a negative review. I suppose any publicity is good publicity? Or may be they genuinely wanted the review, anyhow a book which only has glowing reviews can be a little suspicious. I have also had authors tell me, on occasion, that they would rather I did not publish review and some never responded at all, which I took as a No.

    But sometimes, if a book was especially frustrating, I would feel compelled to post that negative review, because I felt strongly about it. At any rate, as a reviewer I had every right to – given expressly by the authors themselves. When you write something and you put it out in the world, and you let anyone read it and not a very specific niche audience, you need to prepare yourself for all their views. It’s just part and parcel of being a writer. It’s one thing to tell yourself that the reviewer just didn’t “get it” and be consoled, but a whole different story to chide the reviewer for it, or expect a redo! It’s just plain rude.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh! Absolutely, That’s just plain rude, Priya.

      I understand it’s hard to receive such reviews. But like you rightly said, when the work is out there, the authors must brace themselves for all sorts of feedback.

      Like

  11. I also love that quote by Ishiguru. I had no idea he felt that way about allusion (though I will admit to liking allusions myself as long as I get them. Ha!). I think you were very wise not to respond to the author’s comments. It sounds like the author was trying to bully you softly. I find it is hard to find poetry that astounds me, but when it happens, it’s so satisfying. I adore the poem you posted, by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

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