Authors Reviewing Other Authors

I generally make it a rule not to rate or review books written by my author friends (unless I’m blurbing a book). I find that I’m too emotionally attached to the works to give an honest assessment. (Note: Amazon has made it a policy not to allow authors to review other authors, because they are deemed to be in direct competition with each other.)

However, I DO rate books on Goodreads written by authors I don’t know — you know, the dead ones, the famous ones, the ones who are far too busy raking in the dough to notice my little ol’ estimation of their work. Without that emotional attachment to the author or book, I feel like I can just write what I think, which (I hope) is helpful to others who look to a book’s reviews in deciding whether or not to read it. And that system is just fine and dandy when I like a book — slapping a five-star rating onto a book is joyous and fun. All is right with the world. However, when it comes time to give a one-star rating or a poor review, I find myself getting anxious, like I did with today’s review for Dan Brown’s INFERNO:

Inferno (Robert Langdon, #4)1 of 5 stars This is the first audiobook I’ve listened to, so — to be fair — quite possibly it was the nature of “listening” to a book that wasn’t for me. However, I threw in the towel after about 4 and a half hours of listening. So disappointed. I absolutely loved THE DA VINCI CODE and really liked ANGELS & DEMONS. I had started THE LOST SYMBOL when it came out, but didn’t get far into it, because I found it to be more of the same, and I guess that’s how I feel about this book. Unfortunately, it was just taking too long for things to get going. What a bummer.

I feel incredibly ambivalent about this review — any bad review, for that matter. Sure, I didn’t like the book, but I keep thinking about that old adage: “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Particularly because I KNOW how hard it is to write a book. (It’s crazy hard.) And I KNOW how hard it is to receive a poor review. (It’s crazy harder.)

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The Not So Silence of the Lambs

So I’m reading a thriller titled Fallen by Karin Slaughter…

And there’s a scene where a FBI-type must go to a prison and visit a particularly heinous guy who is in isolation — a gloomy little section of the prison that the author calls, and what many other books/television shows call, “the hole.” The warden of the hospital is giving the guy a rundown of what to do and not to do during his visit — don’t get too close, keep your back to the wall, duck if something is thrown at you, do this, don’t do that, blah, blah.

As I’m reading, the scene is blatantly familiar. I mean, smack-in-the-face familiar. The feel of the prison. The detailed instructions. The maniacal inmate. I thought to myself, “This is practically The Silence of the Lambs.” I kept reading and wondered if the author even realized the obvious similarities. I mean, if she had, then that’s a problem, no? And if she hadn’t, wasn’t that too a problem?

And then just as I was about to throw my hands up in frustration, another detective said to the first detective in jest, “Quid pro quo, Clarice.”

“Aha” was my first thought! I wasn’t crazy after all. There was a similarity. And the author is totally aware. Whew.

And then I thought about how interesting a technique that was for her to use. A moment of levity that acknowledged, Yes, I know what this sounds like… I wondered at what point she realized that what she was writing resembled the famous Thomas Harris novel. Had she known it all along? Midway? Had she intended it that way? Or at what point did she decide to pay homage to The Silence of the Lambs rather than scrap that portion of the chapter or rewrite it in a way that wasn’t a near-replication.

These are the kinds of choices writers make. And I think in this case, it worked. Still, I wondered if I would have made the same choice. Would you have?

1984 #amreading

In terms of New Year’s resolutions go, wanting to “read more” in 2011 turned out to be a smart idea. Not only should I be reading more — I mean, do my kids really need all their clothes to be clean at the same time? —  but it will keep me occupied while I wait for news on Baby Grand.

My first book for the year was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I thought was good, not great, but good. The second was Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which I really liked. Now I’m reading the classic 1984 by George Orwell. It’s hard to believe that the first time I read 1984 was in, well… 1984. I remember enjoying it very much at the time and decided to read it again.

I just got started, but already I’m in love. Not only is the premise of the book completely original, but I’m struck by how much I enjoy Orwell’s prose. And what’s really freaky is that the writing reminds me very much of my own. Orwell’s sentences tend to be direct, with minimal flourish. Mine tend to be the same. I always thought it was because my background was in journalism, but flowery descriptions are just not in my nature. The cool part, too, is the directness of Orwell’s prose lends itself to the world that he is describing which is absent of color, and I wondered whether I will have the same success with Baby Grand, since the world of Jamie Carter, my heroine, is, arguably, absent of color as well.

Or course, there’s no reading 1984 without being blown away by the prophetic nature of the story, and I think I’m just as frightened of it now as I was then. I physically flinched when the female instructress, who is performing exercise routines on the telescreen, screams at Winston Smith: “Yes, you! Bend lower, please! You can do better than that.”

I remember flinching at the very same spot 27 years ago.