Why not a one-star review?

Have you ever written to an author and told them you couldn’t make yourself read their book? I have and, in this instance, it was an enlightening experience.

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I read Night Must Wait, by Robin Winter. This is what I had to say about it.

Masterful. Authentic. Gritty. Gripping. Complex characters. Night Must Wait has all the elements to make this novel so much greater than just a war story. Winter’s subtleties in depicting the characters, the setting, the basic elements of Africa add depth and dimension much appreciated by this reader.

I lived in Mali at the time and could not visit Nigeria because of the war, but did travel through Niger, Benin (then called Dahomey) and Togo. I saw enough and knew enough about the area to relate to much in Winter’s book. I have great admiration for what she has accomplished with Night Must Wait.

Robin responded to that review. We exchanged emails and got to know each other as well as one can, electronically. I like her philosophy and attitude. Her writing is strong. I admire that. She’s a painter too, with some amazing visual art to her credit.

FuturePast_Draft-1But what most impressed me, was her response to the note I had sent saying I couldn’t read her second book. The novel in question, Future Past, is set in a dystopian future. The first few chapters proved that her writing was as strong as ever, that her characterizations were clear and sharp, that she would handle this topic as well as she handled any other. That said, why couldn’t I read the book, write the review, and get on with my life? The story was simply too dark for me.

Robin did not take offense at my note. In fact she assured me that she understood my position and didn’t want anything to interfere with our fledgling friendship. She asked if I would consider writing a one-star review making my comments as a warning to other readers who might find this departure from her usual style offensive. I told her I couldn’t bring myself to do that as a one-star review would imply an unwarranted negativity to her work that I surely did not intend.

The one-star reviews I have read seem to be little more than blatant attacks on the author. To me, as a writer and a reader, there is a huge difference between slamming an author for the sake of slamming and offering an honest reaction which is what I tried to do.

Still, I’m in awe of her openness to and acceptance of a reader’s thoughts regarding a work that the reader didn’t like. I sit at my computer and wonder if I could be that receptive to similar remarks about one of my books. I would like to think the answer is yes.

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13 comments on “Why not a one-star review?

  1. Personal preference in type of story shouldn’t be reason for a one-star review and you were right not to give her one star. People have different tastes in reading and that shouldn’t be a factor in writing the review. I think the author was wrong to suggest you give her one star based on those reasons.

  2. Interesting conversation. I loved Robin’s response, asking you to write a one-star review explaining why you chose not to read Future Past. I think that shows maturity and openness, a desire to ensure the right readers find her work.

    But I also understand wordsfromanneli’s comment above – if a reader chooses a book and realizes it’s not their style, I’m not sure the author should be ‘punished’ for that with a bad review. Regardless, anything that gets us talking about a writer’s work is worthwhile!

    • Both points of view have merit. Reading tastes are so personal. As for the one-star review, if I thought the book was that bad, or simply didn’t like it, I wouldn’t write a review.

  3. As part of the questions that came with a blog award, someone asked me to mention the books that I found very boring after reading. I couldn’t get myself to do it. And I don’t think I will. Taste differs. It can be a big influence in making a proper judgement, if one decides to read a book outside his favorite genre(s).

  4. I’m not sure that I would have asked you to give my book a one star review. I probably would have told you how much I appreciated the feedback and, if I thought the assessment was valid, it’s likely that I would put wording in the book blurb advising other potential readers that this book was written in a darker tone than I normally wrote.

    Writers often use tones that vary based on the genre or subject of the book. Since we’re talking about a science fiction novel, compare the tone in Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”, an obviously dystopian novel to the much more whimsical treatment he gave the quasi-fantasy novel “Glory Road”.

    Kudos to you for taking the time to tell an author why you didn’t like her novel and kudos to her for taking your constructive criticism gracefully.

    • Thank you! I’m totally in awe of Robin and her attitude. She did ask me if she could use my words in some way to alert readers that this novel was not her usual tone. Of course I said yes.

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