I just finished reading an older, but wildly popular, novel. This was an Oprah pick. It took the reading world by storm years ago. Sadly, the more I write the less I read for pleasure, so I am late to the game. When my husband surprised me with a birthday trip to Los Cabos this was the book I brought with me.
I was entranced — until I wasn’t. The first half was stunning, brilliant, a classic-in-the-making; the second half was annoying, disheartening, and predictable. The reasons for my assessment are many, but this is not a critique. This is the admission of a personal awakening. While I am a voracious – and I hope – adventurous reader, I am also realize I am a timid reviewer. For days I questioned my reaction to this book simply because my opinion was in the minority. I convinced myself that writing a review would be a waste of time. That I must be wrong about the book. In truth, I simply didn’t want to be the odd man out. What a coward!
I had written many thoughtful, honest reviews, and the only thing keeping me from posting this one was numbers and it’s very best seller status. I would be swimming upstream, going against the grain, raising my hand to reveal myself as the annoying, contrary kid in class. How could I be so arrogant as to not love this book fully? But then I looked at reviews on some of my own books and saw readers who had posted thoughtful, honest reviews both glorious and gloomy. As an author, I took all of them seriously. Sometimes the critical reviews hurt, but only if they didn’t offer reasons for the reader’s dissatisfaction. (My favorite was a one star that simply said, “I haven’t read the book yet.”)
After reading my reviews, reading the reviews on this beloved book, and thinking about my hesitancy a while longer, I came to a conclusion. While the beauty of art is in the eye of the beholder, a book’s beauty is in the brain and the heart of the reader. There are no brightly colored paints or chalks so show us the artist’s intent. There are only words and our interpretation of them. One author’s work may touch us, while another keeps us at bay. One author’s style may enthrall us, while another’s is tedious. It is our job as readers to clearly and fully explain why we react as we do to a book when we write a review. Specifics matter. Qualifying that it is our personal opinion puts the review in context. It is wonderful when we all agree, but it is interesting when we do not. A contrary review can make us stop and think as much as a glowing review can excite us. Our eyes, hearts, and minds are as individual as the author’s who write the books we read. It isn’t about the number or reviews or the plethora of stars. It is about a one-on-one experience: the reader and the author. Whether we share our opinion in writing or not, we have reviewed a book a minute we read the last word and that’s the only number that counts.
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