Home > Columns > The Write Life by Rebecca Forster > The Only Number That Counts

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.

Author Bio
Author Bio
She marketed a world-class spa when it was still called a gym, did business in China before there were western toilettes at the Great Wall and mucked around with the sheep to find out exactly how her client’s fine wool clothing was manufactured. Then Rebecca wrote her first book and found her passion. Now, over twenty-five books later, she is a USA Today and Amazon bestselling author and writes full-time, penning thrillers that explore the emotional impact of the justice system. She earned her B.A. at Loyola, Chicago and her MBA at Loyola, Los Angeles. Rebecca has taught the Business of Creativity at University of California Long Beach Writers Certificate Program, UCLA and UC Irvine extension. Married to a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, she is the mother of two grown sons and spends her free time traveling, sewing, and playing tennis.
  • OH HORRORS! Storytelling that goes bump in the night
    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 […]
  • BACK TO SCHOOL: The Write Way to Learn your Craft

    I never thought I’d be a novelist, much less a USA Today and Amazon bestseller. I wish I could say that I was an overnight success, but it’s taken years to hone my skills because I am self-taught.

    @Rebecca_Forster

  • HERDING BUTTERFLIES: DEFINING A WRITER’S WORK
    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 […]
  • The Only Number That Counts
    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 […]
  • My Book Friends

    This week I had lunch with two of my oldest writing buddies – the ever fabulous Mindy Neff and equally fabulous Sandy Chvostal.

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BEFORE HER EYES

BEYOND MALICE

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THE RECKLESS ONES: The 90s Collection
THE BAILEY DEVLIN TRILOGY: BOOK 1-3 (The Bailey Devlin Series)
THE DAY BAILEY DEVLIN’S HOROSCOPE CAME TRUE
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She marketed a world-class spa when it was still called a gym, did business in China before there were western toilettes at the Great Wall and mucked around with the sheep to find out exactly how her client’s fine wool clothing was manufactured. Then Rebecca wrote her first book and found her passion. Now, over twenty-five books later, she is a USA Today and Amazon bestselling author and writes full-time, penning thrillers that explore the emotional impact of the justice system. She earned her B.A. at Loyola, Chicago and her MBA at Loyola, Los Angeles. Rebecca has taught the Business of Creativity at University of California Long Beach Writers Certificate Program, UCLA and UC Irvine extension. Married to a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, she is the mother of two grown sons and spends her free time traveling, sewing, and playing tennis.
  • Jena C Henry says:

    As a person who read and reviews several books a week, I’m interested in your thoughts! In addition to the good points you make, another aspect of why books appeal is the reading skills of the reader. Some people reader fast, others slow. Some can process dense, wordy, atmospheric literary books and others like easy to read shorter, less complex books. This can make a difference in how many stars a book gets. Thanks for a thoughtful post

    • Jenna, Thank you for raising those points. I tend to choose long, intricate works. That strikes me as strange now that you’ve made me think about how I read – slowly. I should have also mentioned that often a first impression is not a lasting one for me. I recently read Alan Furst’s, The Polish Officer, and on first glance put it aside after a chapter or two. I picked it up months later and couldn’t put it down. Was it the timing? Did I have too much on my mind? Was the subject matter not as interesting to me as I thought it would be? Or had it proven a challenge and I needed to realize that? Once I got into it on the second try I couldn’t stop. Thanks for reviewing so consistently. It’s a tough job. We authors appreciate it. And thanks for the comment.

  • Rebecca, don’t worry if your review doesn’t follow the crowd. Your review might save someone from buying the book and then throwing it against the wall. And even if it’s (in your eyes) negative, your review could be just the ticket to get someone else to buy the book–for the very reason you didn’t enjoy it.

    Example: I read a review years ago in the LA Times that was negative and very snide, but the comment at the end sold me on the book: “Clearly written for fans of Dave Barry (a humor columnist).” I put down the paper, dragged my hubby to the book store and got the book. And the reviewer was right, if you were a fan of Dave Barry like humor, you would enjoy the book. I sure did.

    I know YOUR review wouldn’t be snide. Just give your opinion–positive or negative and back it up with non-spoiler reasons.

    And remember you’re not writing the review for authors or editors or agents; you’re writing it for other readers. Books are expensive; so people appreciate having a thoughtful idea of what they are spending their money on.

    • Marianne, You’re right. My review would not be snide, and I should write it. I will write it. But I will never forget your example. ‘For fans of Dave Barry’ sold me. That is hilarious. You just never know.

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