Two separate reviews of the same book, a debut literary novel from a NY publisher. One remarked on the authors appealing ability and talent to “turn a phrase” and thus, write well. The other review remarked on her bumbling, stilted prose. Then, get this, both reviews quoted the same line from her book as an example! One remarking on its quality, the other on its apparent lack thereof.
This tells you everything you need to know about both “good” writing, as well as, on just about everything we critique in our culture and lives at large.
Almost all of it is entirely opinion and perspective.
Thus, there is no inherent truth or fact to critiques or reviews. They are merely perspectives or opinions which, in a sense, make them pointless.
A book you hated might be life-changing for me. A book you found gripping and wildly interesting, I may find trite and lacking. A book one of your friends loved, you may loathe. A story that is my taste you may find utterly boring. Great writing to me might be too long-winded for you. The prettiest prose for you might be too frilly and frothy for your friends. Some people love thrillers, others revel in romance. Some are engaged and enthralled by character-driven stories, others could not care less about personal details and are way more into the plot.
You get my point, yes? Ultimately, critiques and reviews are pointless in that they are but one opinion. Millions of other people are going to have wildly different opinions on the same book.
With that said and on a similar wavelength, whose place is it really to declare whether or not a book is universally good or bad in the first place? They can decide whether it was good or not so good to them, but that is about it. No one can determine on a universal scale whether a book is good or not. We each impart our own meaning into whatever we read, so this is a very personal decision and analysis.
Why do we give book critics so much power? How can one person decide whether a book is great or lame for the masses? Why do we put so much stock into critic reviews when they are but one person offering their own taste and opinion? The answers are, they can’t and we shouldn’t.
There is no “good” writing (proper grammar aside). A story that lights up, inspires, grips, or moves one person will do nothing for another. Take any book, you will find people who love it and people who think it’s crap. What thrills one person might repel another.
Different books speak to different people.
Thus, listening to critiques and praise, leaning too heavily on or taking these too seriously is akin to attempting to keep one’s eyes on hundreds of birds arching into the sky simultaneously, all flying in varying directions. You will never find a clear direction nor an obvious place to look.
No matter what you write (or create, or do in your life), there will always be someone who likes it, and always someone who dislikes it, because everyone is as different and unique as are you. This is totally ok, normal, unavoidable, and is part of what makes life and art so interesting.
Another note on critiques and other’s opinions. You are not your stories. When people love or hate your story, they are not loving or hating you. In fact, they aren’t even loving or loathing what you wrote, because what you wrote and how everyone interprets it is slightly different even still. Readers fill in all kinds of details you hadn’t imagined when you were writing it. They felt their own love for certain characters, their own hatred, anger, joy, the list going on. Their emotional responses will always be unique to them because each of us is totally unique from one another. Their emotional response to your story is based on their background, their temperament, how they see the world. Ultimately, it has nothing to do with you.
Look at all the people whom you pass by or encounter today. Every life you see wandering past has never happened before, and will never happen again. Everyone is as original as you. And yet, we love to compare. Constantly labeling people as either “ordinary” or “unique.” Yet, this is wildly flawed as every one of us is already completely unique, without even having to try.
Sure, we may have similarities, but all of us are a constellation and kaleidoscope of differences, varying nuances, traits, with an original background and childhood, and incredibly complex personality temperament.
Thus, the comparison game is a moot point and misguided pursuit. Therefore, when you go to tell a story or write a novel or pen an article, while a similar one may have been told before, no one has told it exactly as you will, with the same details and spins on it that you put.
So if we can do that, bring our own voice and soul to every creation we make or story we tell, it will always be unique and different, without you even trying to make it so. And yes, some people will identify with, love, and revel in it, and others will not connect with it, not understand it, and may not even like it. This is a given with every single piece of art. It cannot be avoided.
And is exactly the reason why we should take all reviews and words of critics with a grain of salt.
A critique or review is just that. One opinion.
Further, how do we really know, subconsciously or consciously, how influenced critics are by the words of other critics? If several people say a book is bad but one critic thinks it’s great, how brave might they feel to state this openly within a sea of naysayers? They might do so, or they might say it sucks because they are swayed by the others or too shy to speak out otherwise. The same thing works in the opposite direction. A plethora of people might rave about a book when a few people think it’s terrible. How likely are they to say so in such an otherwise seeming unanimous crowd?
So, you see, book reviews, book critics, and people who do not like or connect with your stories, writing, poems, paintings, you name it, this is unavoidable, normal, and should be taken with a grain of salt. Each review and critique is but one person’s perspective and opinion. That’ it. So many other perspectives will differ from that one. Thus, ultimately the business of critiquing and reviewing is pointless since we all read things differently and impart alternate meanings into the art we consume.
I’d urge a different way of approaching art, books, and all other things for which there are reviews: forget them. Ignore the reviews. Don’t even read them. Instead, gravitate toward what intrigues you and form your own opinions (while also being open to the ideas and thoughts of others, because this too is how we find things that delight us, which we never knew would). This is how you will both, find the things that excite you the most (instead of just following the crowd and reading and “liking” or loathing what everyone else is), it will be more authentic, and it will bring more talented, though lesser-known artists to light for others to enjoy.