Monday, May 12, 2014

On Criticism


Criticism is a word I often misspell.  That's rather à propos of nothing, but I thought it's an important truth to tell.  Obviously, I'm not perfect.  I'm not a professional writer, nor am I an editor or publisher or scout.  I'm a librarian.


I make mistakes.  I don't have elevated literary taste.  I can be demanding in what I expect of a book.  Evidently, the fact that I express my displeasure with some books  (okay, a lot of books) is shocking.  At least to some people.

Recently, I was talking about self-publishing with a coworker while we were on break.  I think it's so cool when there are breakthrough, runaway hits that came out of self-publishing.  While I think it's awesome to get your work out there, it is even more important to have someone (even if it's your niece who's an English major) proofread your work.  Please.  For the love of all that is good.  Proofread.  I'm more likely to buy a self-published work that is polished than one that looks like you wrote it on a napkin yesterday at McDonald's.  

So, chatting about this and that, I mentioned to my coworker that it's not just self-published works that can suffer from a lack of copy editing.  I've read hardcover books published by major publishing houses that suffer from absolutely appalling grammar, punctuation, and style.  Generally, these go hand in hand with a plot that no one seems to have questioned.  

Case in point: a few years back, I found a sci-fi/thriller/mystery/military series that was a little bit X-Files, a little bit standard conspiracy fare.  It was kind of silly but I love those kinds of books as brain candy.  I like improbable escapes when they are pretty much integral to the genre.  While the first book started out well, each subsequent book in the series suffered from greater and greater errors in the use of the English language.  Yes, I understand that English is kind of a bear to work with, being that it's a mishmash of lots of different languages tossed together (think 1066, everyone) and the spelling doesn't work and the "rules" are all "this is the rule except for this ridiculously long list of exceptions, so don't even bother with the rule itself."

But.

That doesn't mean you can flagrantly slap words on a page and call it a story when your lack of punctuation and grammar means that I cannot comprehend what is going on.  In one particular entry in the series (the last I attempted to read, by the way), the author decided not to use commas.  The humble comma suffers the reverse fate as its elevated cousin, the apostrophe.  People do not use commas enough, whereas they toss in apostrophes everywhere.  

Let me give you a few examples from my review on Goodreads.  I like this quote: " 'I think I would have better luck finding the Ripper following you my dear colonel' " (p. 9).  Excuse me?  Do you mean "I think I would have better luck finding the Ripper by following you, my dear colonel"?  It's rather awkward, to be sure, but at least it doesn't sound like an auctioneer.  This happened multiple times per page, thus rendering the book entirely unreadable.  Plus, the rest of the "plot" made no sense in relation to the rest of the series.  This is how I summed up my feelings: "If your standard adventure thriller is popcorn, Ripper is like a viscous glob of high fructose corn syrup, contaminated with e.coli and coated with hairballs."

When I read that to my coworker, his eyes got very big and he said, "You didn't actually write that, did you?"  

Let me here point out that this coworker is a very outspoken person who's not afraid to argue a point.

I said, "Yes, I did.  And I posted it online.  So it will last forever."

"Well, that's kind of harsh."

"But it's the truth.  What are they going to do about it?  I don't care if it makes someone upset.  Maybe they'll go find a copy editor."

Yes.  He intimated that I should not express my negative opinion of a book on the internet.  I definitely should not do so in a snarky, sarcastic manner.  Oh, thank you so much, coworker man, for having my best interests at heart.  I guess he thought people would attack me or something.  For what?  For having an opinion?  For telling the truth?  Oh well.  

That is when I realized I'm a very different person than who I was a few years ago.  No, scratch that.  I am the person I have always been.  I am just not afraid of myself anymore.  I will criticize, and I will criticize up the yazoo.  I'm a tough sell, and I'm not afraid to say what I didn't like about something.  It try to temper it with humor, but whether these reviews are actually humorous or not is not a decision I can make (bias!).  If we do not criticize books, what's the point of our legal right to criticize anything?  Even if someone's criticism is against what I feel, it is still valid criticism.  If I told the people with whom I didn't agree that they needed to stop writing reviews and stop giving their opinions, I'd be a hypocrite.  What right would I then have to give my own opinion?

No right at all.  And that's no fun.  So criticize and criticize some more, fellow readers.

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