Bad Reviews of Good Books

Every author gets bad reviews. It’s a fact of life. You should never, ever respond to a bad review.

So what do you do? I like to remind myself that everyone gets bad reviews from time to time. When that’s not enough, I go on Amazon or Goodreads and check out bad reviews my favorite authors have gotten. It helps me to realize that some of the writers I admire most have been called far worse things than I have.

(A note to reviewers: It is not my intention in this piece to attack anyone who reviews fiction or to perpetuate any bad blood between writers and reviewers. Rather I hope to do the opposite, to get some writers to lighten up about their own bad reviews. We are all entitled to our opinion, even if that means we hate on books that everyone else loves. Peace brothers.)


The Hobbit

With over 780,000 five star reviews on Goodreads, calling the Hobbit the most beloved children’s tale of all time wouldn’t seem a stretch. And yet it also has over 38,000 one star reviews. Reviews that say things like, plodding, ponderous, pretentious and yes, perfunctory”. One reviewer even suggests that Tolkien had a very good idea, yet he did not execute it in a way most readers will enjoy.”

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and on Goodreads Tolkien has fared pretty well, a lot of people just didn’t like the book. Check out Amazon for some amazing vitriol, from fans even. Tolkien’s problem on Amazon is how long he’s been around and how many versions/editions of book like the Hobbit there are. There is no wrath like a that of a Tolkien fan who ordered the classic 1973 edition and got a crappy 1976 reprint of the classic 1973 edition. Wow, some of those reviews really sting.


The Lorax

What’s not to like about Dr. Seuss’s classic book the Lorax? Apparently “stupid words.” Snark aside, I don’t think this particular reviewer deserves to be attacked for their opinion. Let the drama go, people.

The Lorax has picked up some interesting one star reviews on Amazon as well. This guy calls the book’s environmental message “brainwashing.”


War and Peace

Predictably the negative reviews of War and Peace focus primarily on two facets of the work, it’s length and it’s number of characters. However I feel obligated to point out that both things are often praised by modern readers of the Game of Thrones saga. Still it’s true, War and Peace is a long work and it has a lot of characters to keep track of. Historical fiction is not everyone’s forte and I will give critics a pass on this one, whatever my own opinion is.


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

The Harry Potter series has been one of the biggest sellers of our generation. Like the Hobbit it has legions of five star reviews singing it’s praise. J. K. Rowling hasn’t just been embraced by fans, she has plenty of awards from various publishing and literary groups, including a lifetime achievement award from the British Book Awards.

That doesn’t mean she’s escaped criticism by any stretch of the imagination. One reader can sum up their feeling about the book in one word, “poop.” This Amazon reviewer admits that he’s not (sic) intelligencia and might have missed the whole point of Harry Potter. Given his comments about Pokemon, I suspect sarcasm. I am not really sure what this reviewer is suggesting we do with Harry Potter, but I suspect it’s not particularly favorable.


Atlas Shrugged

To prove that I am not out to attack reviewers for not liking my favorite books, I am going to throw out one of my own doozies. Atlas Shrugged hit the bestsellers list a mere three days after it’s release. It has over 75,000 five star reviews. Many begin with the phrase, “this book changed my life.” One reviewer called it “the holy grail of how to live your life.”

But it’s one of those books you either love or hate. I am in the second category. In many cases the fault line for this book is political. Ayn Rand has been enormously influential to Libertarian philosophy. Depending on how you view that philosophy, you will likely love or hate the book. And I admit, my personal politics are far to the left of Rand’s. Yet, that is not my major complaint with Atlas Shrugged. I struggled to see her characters as real, not mouthpieces for her philosophy. By the same token the plot seemed contrived and convenient, just an excuse to give those mouthpieces a chance to spout her various views.

Atlas Shrugged did spawn my favorite snarky, negative review in all of history. Writer Dorothy Parker reportedly said of Atlas Shrugged:

“This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly, but rather thrown with great force.”


Dear Authors,

I think I have proven my point. Any book with more than a couple dozen reviews is bound to have some bad ones. Any book with more than a hundred reviews will have some out and out clunkers, reviewers who think J. R. R. Tolkien ripped off J. K. Rowling or that Stephenie Meyers invited vampire lore and all other vampire novels are plagiarism. People dislike books for all kinds of reasons and that’s okay.

If you don’t feel better about your bad review yet, you can look up any other book on Amazon or Goodreads and see that they, too, have bad reviews. Likely their bad reviews are just as bad, snarky and unfair as yours. So relax. Embrace your fans, ignore the haters and write on.

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