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It Happens to the Best of Us: Therapy for Bad Reviews

One of the most entertaining links I stumbled upon this week was a Biblioklept compilation of 1-star reviews on Amazon for the classic Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. Here are a few choice excerpts:

“The only people who like this book are english teachers who derive a feeling of moral superiority from forcing others to read this incredibly bad novel.”

“There is no suspense, and I find the idea of people hunting whales offensive. Offensive with a capital O.”

“i personally didn’t enjoy the philosophical or deep side of the book, i have read much much better books in that regard.”

Biblioklept had previously done the same for James Joyce's Ulyssescollecting such colorful critiques as these:

“Anyone who tells you they’ve read this so-called book all the way through is probably lying through their teeth. It is impossible to endure this torture.”

“Ulysses is basically an unbridled attack on the very ideas of heroism, romantic love and sexual fulfillment, and objective literary expression.”

“It is a blasphemy that it ever was published.”

The point here is well taken--even books regarded as all-time greats are not immune to negative reviews, so we should all keep disappointing feedback (critiques, reviews, etc.) on our own work in perspective. It happens to the best of us. But frankly, it's not that surprising to see people take issue with the classics, is it? Anyone who's ever sat in an English class has heard classmates bemoaning how torturous they found some of the reads. (I had a high school English teacher who always gave the same response to this: She would hand you a pen, with an encouraging smile, and very earnestly say, "If you think you can do better, go for it!")

So I decided it might be fun to put this to the contemporary test by choosing three more recent bestsellers and award-winners--a thriller, a literary novel, and a children's book, all three of them titles that have been almost universally touted by critics (and that I personally also enjoyed, I might add)--and seeing what 1-star reviewers had to say about them. If you're looking for some misery-loves-good-company therapy for negative feedback on your own work, try these on for size.

Gone Girl

, by Gillian Flynn


Touted as the “it book” of 2012, average 4 stars out of a whopping 14,295 customer reviews on Amazon. Choice excerpts from its 1,300+ 1-star reviews:

“One of the worst novels I've read this year.”

“The ending of this book was so full of holes it was swiss cheese!”

“This novel represents everything I loathe in the crime genre…”

“Most authors who are not real writers are at least good storytellers, like John Grisham. Flynn is neither.”

“I will now think twice before bestowing credit on the bestseller list, upon which this book resides.”

Life of Pi

, by Yann Martel


Winner of the Man Booker Prize, worldwide bestseller and basis for an Oscar–winning motion picture, average 4 stars out of 5,201 customer reviews on Amazon. Choice excerpts from its 245 1-star reviews:

Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson are far better survival tales IMHO.

I watched "The Matrix" purely for the oooh-pretty special effects, and I can make a better argument for it as a philosophical masterpiece than "Life of Pi."

This book is the Da Vinci Code of magical realism.

I have put it down. a third the way through. I might go back if I get desperate.

I wish I could un-read the book. I would rather have not read it. I recommend this book only if you plan to enjoy twisted and disturbing fiction. Not for kids.

Guess How Much I Love You

, by Sam McBratney

Guess How Much I love you

Modern-day children’s classic (and one of the most gifted books at any baby shower I've ever attended), average 4.5 stars out of 546 customer reviews on Amazon. Choice excerpts from its 30 1-star reviews:

“Do you feel overwhelmed by your love for your child -- perhaps even a little burdened, a little under-appreciated? That's the only context in which I can see this appealing, as a sort of morality tale.”

“This book is boring to kids from 2 months to 80 years old.”

“The author is also showing us how much better they are by being too sophisticated to use baby words like Daddy, bunny, or baby.”

“The parent always has to have the last word. It's just odd. I don't know how this story got to be so popular.”

“I feel bad for the little nut brown hair. Fortunately, my son has never liked this book either.”

Feel better yet?


Jessica Strawser
Editor, Writer’s Digest Magazine
Follow me on Twitter @jessicastrawser

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