How do you review a bad book? I don’t mean a book you didn’t like. Not liking is a perfectly valid response. If I don’t like a book, I stop reading it and move on. Oh, you all know I’m not crazy about the Twilight series or the Fifty Shades series, but generally I prefer raving about the books I liked rather than complaining about the ones I didn’t. And that seems to be a trend. Lev Grossman at Time won’t write negative reviews, for example, and elsewhere the death knell of true literary criticism has been sounded at the New Yorker and Slate, among others.
While I was pondering all this bad book business—and I had a good reason to—I happened on a post from author Chuck Wendig, which he’s titled “Why I Don’t Like to Negatively Review Other Authors’ Books.” Chuck is of the only-good-reviews school of thought, too, and for sound reason. Words have the power to wound. Like Chuck, I prefer to be an encourager.
But on occasion I come upon a book that is just bad. (I’m sure there are plenty of them, actually, but I’ve gotten pretty good at avoiding the bad ones and just choosing the good ones.) And by bad I generally mean bad editing—because I’m of the opinion that a good edit can cover a multitude of sins, and if a manuscript cannot be born again, so to speak, it’s the editor’s job (unpleasant as it may be) to say no. To say, “I think we should set this one aside and try again.”
So I am preparing a negative review blog post (a series of six, actually). I feel comfortable doing it because you all know how much I really like—love—books, so when I have something negative to say, I think it comes from a place of knowledge, not pettiness. I’ve read a lot of books. (And I pay for all of them myself!)
What’s coming, then, is a thorough dissection of a bad book. To be clear, I think this book could have been saved; there were many charming elements. The failure, in my opinion, was in the editing. Perhaps there wasn’t enough budget for a good developmental edit? I can’t guess.
When I write up editorial notes I try not to just say “you’re doing too much telling”; it’s human nature to reject general criticism unless there is specific proof. So I always show examples from the manuscript—this also offers a way to discuss possible solutions while it helps the writer recognize I’m not just blowing smoke.
So we’ll discuss this one book, because it has every possible awfulness all in one place, and maybe you’ll see the sorts of things an editor sees. Maybe you’ll gain some insight? I hope so. Read on.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”