By Barbara D’Amato
This week, on one of the mystery lists, I came upon an extremely hostile reviewlet of a new crime novel. It brought back thoughts of a specific type of comment about books that has puzzled me for years.
I’m not talking about negative reviews. They’re legitimate. A good reviewer is able to say, “This isn’t my favorite kind of novel, but it’s a good example of its type.” I’m talking about the comment in which the reader or reviewer is angry that such a book even exists.
It would be understandable if the reader were upset that a book dissed his religion or ethnicity. It’s even reasonable to have a distaste for a book that appears to the reader to be gratuitously bloody or cruel -- although in those cases I would say just don’t read it. But these, oddly enough, are stylistic objections.
Intentionally, I am not going to quote from any of these diatribes, nor name names or publications. It seems unprofessional to leave out all the proof of what I’m saying, but I’d rather not add to the back-and-forth. And anyway, we’ve all read some of them, haven’t we?
It’s not the writers who come up with these angry blasts. Virtually all the writers I know are supportive of other writers. They know how hard it is to write a book, and they are appreciative of others who do it, even the book isn’t what they like to read.
These are readers who are outraged that noir, or chicklit, or whatever they can’t stand, even gets published. They are outraged when a fast-paced adventure novel is low on characterization. Or they are furious that a chicklit book may be “light.” Or they can’t stand it that a traditional puzzle mystery is more intellectual than emotional. Hello? What were you expecting?
A sentence from the 60s comes to mind. Let a thousand flowers bloom.
If books had misleading cover descriptions, so that you paid money for an updated Rambo and got a knitting boutique, anger might be understandable. But mostly that isn’t the case, and, in addition, a lot of the outrage comes from reviewers and critics who get advance reading copies free.
What in the world triggers this anger? Maybe it comes from fear of the foreign, a kind of xenophobia: how can any person be so different from me as to enjoy this book?
I’d be interested in your thinking.