Thursday, March 13, 2014

GUEST POST: Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff on Reviewing Bad Books

It's a joy to review books I've enjoyed, even when they have flaws. Sometimes the flaws not only don't spoil my reading pleasure, but they add charm. But what about books I thought were just awful? Or so crippled by flaws -- diction, plot holes, character idiocies, anachronisms, flabby pacing, you name it -- that I just wanted to grab the author by the lapels and scream, Learn the basics! As satisfying as that might be, is it a good idea? Why or why not? When and when not?

Here's what Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff has to say:

I comment negatively on authors who are “big” enough to take it. Dan Brown isn’t going to be crushed by my frustration with the way he dumbs down his characters in key places or tries to milk a reveal by repeating it several times as if you’ve never heard it before. Nor is it going to put a wrinkle in his sales. But I hesitate to be as blunt with writers who are just getting their sea legs. What I might do is praise what I find praiseworthy first, give a sort of “on the other hand” commentary about the things I found bothered me, then end on a note of general uplift. For example, “if you aren’t bothered by X, the book might win you over.”

In all cases I think it’s better to say as precisely as possible what you do and don’t like and why so that the person reading the critique or hearing it, can decide for themselves whether the elements that drove me nuts even matter to them. I found Rick Riordan’s “Lightning Thief” so flawed that I was reluctant to keep buying the series for my daughter, though I found the characters very engaging. It had plot holes you could sail a galleas through (oars and all) yet other readers (many of them writers) were so caught up in the story those didn’t register.

So for me, that’s the key: try to critique in such a way that your own biases or sensibilities are also revealed instead of saying, “I didn’t like it” or the dreaded “It didn’t work for me.”

Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff is the New York Times Bestselling author of Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Star Wars: Shadow Games.  Maya became addicted to science fiction when her dad let her stay up late to watch The Day the Earth Stood Still. Mom was horrified. Dad was unrepentant. Maya slept with a night-light in her room until she was 15. She started her writing career sketching science fiction comic books in the last row of her third grade classroom. She was never apprehended. Since then her short fiction has been published in Analog, Amazing Stories, Century, Realms of Fantasy, Interzone, Paradox and Jim Baen’s Universe. Her debut novel, The Meri (Baen), was a Locus Magazine 1992 Best First Novel nominee (now available as a trade paperback from Sense of Wonder Press). Since, she has published ten more speculative fiction novels, including collaborations with Marc Scott Zicree and Michael Reaves.

Check out her work on Book View Cafe.

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