THIS WEEK IN LITERARY HISTORY

Thomas Hardy gets wasted, sells his wife and child, and thinks, "This is an awesome idea for a novel."

Earworms

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May 2009
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Everybody’s a Critic

harold

Recently seen on the citizens review board of Amazon.com, regarding three different volumes:

The popularity of this book stupifies me—do people like it because they think they are supposed to?

This book was a peice [sic] o’… you know and wasn’t worth the time or effort to read.

Classic or not, I don’t care for this book.

These reviews are for major, major bestsellers, and so perhaps you were thinking they refered to the latest Tom Clancy, James Patterson, Nora Roberts, or Harold Robbins, even though the old cokehead died a few years ago.

But no. These (real) reviews are for Goodnight Moon, Harold and the Purple Crayon, and Babar, respectively. Yes, classic children’s books. These reviewer-parents say the books are of inferior literary quality and are not appropriate for our nation’s youth—I kid you not.

Things only get better from there. Curious George is panned because it promotes cruelty to animals. Other experts slam The Very Hungry Caterpillar because it teaches children to overeat and telling kids that butterflies emerge from cocoons (as opposed to moths) teaches bad science.

Worst of all, my all-time favorite children’s book is taken to the woodshed because it 1) promotes anarchy; 2) will scare children because animals in the book talk and are human-sized; and 3) isn’t about promoting imagination or literacy but is instead a subtle examination of id versus superego and the dynamism of the ego.

I’m sure you realize I’m talking about The Cat in the Hat.

I chanced upon this gems of critical insight after searching for a training potty for Baby-Tot, being that he keeps saying things like "made a poo-poo" and "I’ve got a wee-wee! I’ve got a wee-wee!" Modern parent and writer that I am, I also bought several "how-to" books on helping kids learn how to take a proper dump, and ultimately landed upon the reviews mentioned above. 

What is perhaps more odd than the reviews themselves—hating Dr. Seuss is like hating ice cream—is why anyone would bother. Does one really think their review will stop people from buying (and their children loving) Cars and Trucks and Things That Go? In my earlier, feckless days of youth (I was in my mid-thirties), I would post an occasional review on Amazon, mostly of music and movies. I once slammed a well-known music album that I likened to the vomitus that emerges after doing battle with a bad batch of raw seafood.

suburbs
This is your id on drugs

Why did I embark on this endeavor of nastiness, full well knowing that it would not make one iota of difference in the greater artistic consciousness of the world? I can’t say for sure, but I remember feeling a distinct sense of self-righteousness when considering the work in question: These people love a total piece of donkey dung! They are deluded! They are wrong! I am right!  But at least I had reasons for these (admittedly) juvenile criticisms.

The beauty of the Internet is that it gives a voice to all, and the horror of the Internet is that it gives a voice to all. You don’t have to go farther than the comments section of most news Web sites to see the bile; if you really want to feel the hate, go to a sports Web site, scroll the comments section, and see why fans of a certain sports team are inherently inferior to fans of a competing sports team based on the fact the former fans were born in Chicago and the latter in St. Louis.

I carry no brief against the amateur critic, but when some nimrod weighs in and slams, say Great Expectations ("The fool author made it up as he went along") or One Hundred Years of Solitude ("Don’t waste your time or money"), it brings the death of literary fiction that much closer. These claims are in the minority, of course, but that somebody felt their empty thoughts were even worth writing down shows some serious hostility to some of the greatest works of literature, like, ever.

suburbs
That was exquisitely awful

This is not a grad student expounding on a blog or a well-read civilian actually having insights into the book in question. This is like Rush Limbaugh saying waterboarding is not torture or Wall Street bankers don’t earn enough. Or, more to the point, this is just like Rush Limbaugh.

So if you don’t have anything intelligent to say, just shut the fuck up. Which I really, really wish I could make happen to Rush Limbaugh.

8 comments to Everybody’s a Critic

  • J

    Glad you’re back.

    Not glad morons now have the freedom to bash literary greats.

    That’s like me putting my nose up at whoever builds a spaceship
    that loses a tiny screw mid take-off.

  • WOW.

    Well… waiting on possible reviews for my own book, I may have to come back and read this post later to make myself feel better.

    Some of those reviews you mentioned above make me want to reread the books right away. Promotes anarchy? I’m THERE.

  • You can tell a lot about a book from its negative reviews, though. If they’re all idiotic — poorly spelled, nitpicky, vengeful, incoherent — chances are the book’s pretty good! I usually go to the 1 star reviews first. Knowing who hates a book is quite revealing.

  • Wow, that’s some weird commentary. Hope all is well in your world, BF.

  • CP

    I love Harold! That was one of the first books I ever read to my kid! Who can’t love that book? Who? WHO?

  • Goodnight Moon, Harold, that adorable hungry caterpillar?! Those are still some of my favorite books. Thanks for posting this. It was very funny.

  • The beauty of the Internet is that it gives a voice to all, and the horror of the Internet is that it gives a voice to all. So true, my friend. I’m going to make a note of this site and when I receive a lousy review I’ll come back here for comfort. (So far my book’s received nothing but 5 star reviews, I hasten to add!) Got to laugh – The Very Hungry Caterpillar encourages children to overeat! Perhaps it introduces overfed children to the concept of hunger… What a load of tosh. It’s a great book that children enjoy. I wonder what that particular reviewer would make of Little Red Riding Hood, or Three Blind Mice? Why not spoil childhood for everyone?
    I hope those idiots never write a review of my book!
    Cut Short, by the way, launched to critical acclaim in the UK last month, breaking sales records in bookstores across the country. So far so good…
    You can see some reviews on amazon.co.uk -
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cut-Short-DI-Geraldine-Steel/dp/1842432710
    available on amazon.com -
    http://www.amazon.com/Cut-Short-DI-Geraldine-Steel/dp/1842432710
    check it out and let me know what you think – but please don’t tell the reviewer of The Very Hungry Caterpillar – I might be accused of promoting homicide…

  • Like rmellis, I love reading negative reviews. The stupider they are, the more I know I'll like the book. So I got my anarchic tendencies from Dr. Seuss, did I? Thanks, Doc!

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