Taking a Leaf Out of Amazon’s Book: Bad Customer Reviews

Jeanette Demain recently wrote for Salon.com an article on “amateur critics” bemoaning the plotlines of her favourite books, most of them canonical.

At the end of her Amazon search-related compilation of readers’ negative comments on classics from “The Grapes of Wrath to 1984”, she urges readers to peruse Amazon’s customer reviews of their favourite books.

So, I thought I might take a stab at this, and compiled my very own list of attacks on the books that “changed my life forever”.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

One of the finest pieces of modern American literature, I was hard pressed to find bad reviews on this one. The harshest was from three-star-rater Jane A. Marshall, who said To Kill a Mockingbird was “a good book but not as good as the movie. The exact ending as to how the attacker was killed left too much doubt as to who actually was the killer—I don’t think this was a good way to end the book.” Mmm, good, good, good. And more good.

Seriously, though, for my money Harper Lee crafted one of the best endings of all time. So much so that I defaced my copy by highlighting the passage for easy retrieval when I want to marvel at the beauty and power a good writer can wield.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

One Amazon discussion thread was titled “Catcher in the Rye should be banned”, and continued with “not because it’s obscene or perverse”—ever read Bret Easton Ellis, my friend?—“but…because it’s a lousy book.” Eloquently put.

The general consensus in response to that thread was a) who are you to judge whether a book should be banned based on it’s lousy-ness, and b) we are not in favour of censorship. My sentiments exactly.

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann.

While I will agree that this book is somewhat fluffy compared to the others on this list, I wouldn’t say that it was “a huge disappointment,” according to A Customer. They go on to say that, “I have loved the movie version of Valley of the Dolls for a long time. Admittedly, it is a BAD movie, but its camp sensibility and generally over-the-top style make it a classic of the ‘bad movie’ genre.”

Put a different way, Wayne M. Malin calls it a “silly soap opera that follows three women… [through] death, suicide, lesbianism, cancer, marriages, tons of drug abuse, institutionalisation, etc…” Yes, but isn’t that the appeal of the thing?!

I will agree on one of the most common allegations, that protagonist Anne Welles “ is perhaps the dullest character ever created,” said QueensGirl.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.

The author of this book, whose “plot unfolds through three points of view—a 16-year-old girl in search of her father who disappeared into vampire land in 1972 and reveals himself through letters to her, the father who was searching sixteen years earlier for his abducted thesis advisor who secondarily reveals himself through a trail of letters, and the thesis advisor who was searching for Dracula through historical research,” has apparently “committed an act of such brutality that it rivals any atrocity that Vlad Tepes [aka Dracula] ever committed,” reviewer Carlos asserts. (Thanks for the plot summation, William J. Meggs!)

Meggs goes on to say that “if you would enjoy the tedium of being an historian digging through old libraries, you might enjoy the tedium of reading this book.” I would, and I did, thankyou very much!

Tietam Brown by Mick Foley.

It was difficult to find a bad review for this novel, “because only wrestling fans read it.” Which is probably 90% true, but even non-wrestling fan reviewers found it a struggle to comment negatively on it.

But lo and behold, I found the diamond in the rough in A Customer’s (again—take credit for your opinions, people!) response: “The dialogue is painfully bad, I’d rather be stuck in the ring with Mick for ten minutes than be subjected to reading another ten minutes of this book.” With Foley’s trademark barbed wire-encased baseball bat and thumbtacks? That is a fate worse than death.

Harsh.

Watership Down by Richard Adams.

Mostly light-hearted fun-poking to be found in the Customer Reviews section for this book. Caraculiambro says, “I suppose my threshold for silliness for books with talking animals (particularly bunnies) is The Wind in the Willows. Anything more sophisticated than that is preposterous, I think… on the whole, it’s hard to take it seriously unless you’re a pre-teen girl. But if you are, good luck with the language.” Touché.

Much in the same vein, Lucy the Bargain Hunter says, “this book is really boring, but since there was no bad language or sex, I didn’t have any excuse for not trying to get through it.” She then goes on to ask, as I have many a time after ploughing through a Jane Austen or Stephenie Meyer, “everyone else loves this book. Maybe there is something wrong with me[?].” To borrow a phrase from the late Brittany Murphey’s Tai in Clueless, “everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, a’ight?”

A Lion’s Tale by Chris Jericho.

Again, another WWE alumnus’ tome, so it is geared towards a very niche audience with mostly glowing reviews. The most damning assessment comes from Sean M. Hurley, who says the autobiography doesn’t live up to that of Mick Foley’s debut, Have a Nice Day, or even “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels’ ghost-written memoir. “My main gripe with the book is that Chris doesn’t get as personal with the reader as one would have enjoyed. Mick really exposes himself and allows himself to be vulnerable, while Chris still seemed to be holding back…” he says. Funny, as I found A Lion’s Tale to be on par, if not better, than Have a Nice Day

Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne.

Dredging through page after page after page of one star reviews hurt, as this is my absolute favourite of all the books on this list.

To dig the knife in even further, A Customer says “I had to rate the book at least one star for the review to be kept. Actually, it’s worth zero.” Show your face, nameless hater!

Next week, the positive reviews! Yay!

Elsewhere: [Salon] Amazon Reviewers Think This Masterpiece Sucks.

Welcome!

Hi, my name is Scarlett Harris and I am the creator and administrator of this blog.

I have been wanting to start a blog for over 12 months, so what better time to start it now that I don’t have to commute to and from work every day?

I live in Melbourne, Victoria, and in 2008 I completed a Bachelor of Arts in Professional & Creative Writing from Deakin University, with a double major in Media & Communications. I have also done work experience with Cosmopolitan magazine and the RSPCA.

My passions are reading, writing, pop culture and social commentary, which this here blog will primarily focus on.

My favourite authors are the late Dominick Dunne and Mick Foley (yes, the professional wrestler! Check out any number of his memoirs, children’s books and novels; he’s actually a brilliant writer.). Book wise, my favourites are To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (come on, who doesn’t?) and A Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (likewise).

Keep in mind this is a small blog, starting out with basically no readership and not many media contacts, so any suggestions or constructive criticism is welcome. Please, if you like what you see, recommend the blog to friends!

Enjoy!