Archive for February 2014

Book Review: Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck

Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck I wanted to like this book, but it just didn’t do it for me. I felt like I was just swimming through a tangle of words, trying to figure out what was going on. This felt like writing for writing’s sake, like showing off you know about words, rather than to properly tell an interesting story.

Article: Can Book Awards Poison Reader Reviews?

Can Book Awards Poison Reader Reviews?

(From Pacific Standard, February 19, 2014)

“Two business researchers, Balázs Kovács and Amanda J. Sharkey, at the Universities of Lugano and Chicago, respectively, analyzed thousands of reader reviews on Goodreads of 64 English-language books that either won or were short-listed for top book awards — including the National Book Award, the Man Booker Prize, and the PEN/Faulkner Award — between 2007 and 2011. To their surprise, while sales of the books that won awards skyrocketed following recognition, the online ratings of these same books plummeted.”

The article goes on to explain that this may be due to having a wider audience — people with more varied tastes in books — reading a book, simply due to the award it received, rather than due to it fitting their own interests.

That seems to make sense, and I’ve definitely experienced this myself. I’ve read books based on an award they won, rather than just being interested in them, and I rarely ended up actually enjoying them. Though I think I have often attributed it more to judges awarding books for being edgy or show, rather than actually good. ;)

I’m a little skeptical of the researchers only having looked at Goodreads, since I’ve seen variations between reviews there and on other book community or bookselling sites. They did mention that Goodreads users are fairly representative of fiction readers in general, but the researchers also weeded out the ratings without a comment, and extrapolated other data that wasn’t explicit, so that can skew things even more. So take that for what it is.

Book Review: The Sun and Other Stars by Brigid Pasulka

The Sun and Other Stars by Brigid Pasulka I really loved the author’s first book (A Long Long Time Ago and Essentially True), but this second book just didn’t do it for me.

I don’t tend to be drawn to modern stories, especially with sports as a theme, but I figured I’d just give this one a try. The book started off well enough, and the writing style felt familiar and was pleasant at first. It sort of lost that feel though, and with it went my interest. I never really became that attached to any of the characters, especially the main character Etto, who I liked less and less as I kept reading.

Beyond that, this book just felt a lot fluffier and less genuine than the author’s first. It didn’t feel like there was anything special to it, and eventually I just decided to stop reading.

Ah well.

Book Pet Peeves

In the article I posted yesterday, about negative reviews, Francine Prose wrote about some of the things she dislikes seeing when reading a new book. Some of her examples included lazy writing, like using old cliches or tired phrases. (“His eyes were as black as night.”)

It got me thinking about some of the things that make me cringe when I’m reading. I think I also dislike when a writer uses words or phrases that are predictable or just overused. For example, a writer describing a character as “devouring” books or other reading material. I’m sure whoever used it first was being creative, but now it’s just boring.

Do you have any pet peeves like this? Something that makes you stop when you’re reading, or makes you think less of the writing somehow.

Article: Do We Really Need Negative Reviews?

Do We Really Need Negative Reviews?

(From New York Times, February 16, 2014)

From The New York Times, a written debate between Francine Prose and Zoë Heller about whether (professional) book reviewers should write negative reviews.

Having only positive book reviews seems rather silly to me. I think a negative review, written constructively, can be a good thing, both for writers and readers. Just because a book was actually published doesn’t guarantee that it’s well-written or even worth reading.

Article: You’re Missing Out on Great Literature

You’re Missing Out on Great Literature

“Only three percent of everything published in the U.S. each year is translated from another language — and the majority of that is computer manuals and other technical material. Why don’t Americans read beyond their borders?”

(From Pacific Standard, February 11, 2014)

This article focuses on the lack of translations as an American issue, but I wonder how the US compares to other markets where English is primary or prominent. Is the UK also lacking in translated literature, for example?

I also wonder about the reasons behind it, some of which the article touches upon. Is it more that readers aren’t interested in books from other countries, even if translated into English, or more that publishers don’t want to invest the money translating something they aren’t sure will sell? My guess is that it’s more the latter, but perhaps this is a chicken-and-egg kind of thing.

Personally, I’m very interested in reading works from other countries, to learn about people from different places and cultures, and just for something different to read. As long as it’s translated well though. I’ve read some translations that were pretty poorly done. Granted, there are plenty of native English books published today that aren’t written very well either!

Book Review: Mother by Maxim Gorky

Mother by Maxim Gorky I didn’t really like the overly simplistic style. It felt like a Dick and Jane book about socialism.

Book Review: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë I seem to be in the minority here, but I could just not get into this book and I really didn’t like it. I tried to give it a chance, reading about 95 pages in all, but I couldn’t go on any longer.

I think part of the problem was the stodgy language, especially when trying to imagine it coming from a 10-year-old, as Jane is at the beginning of the book. Even given the time period, I can’t imagine a child speaking like that.

Also, I felt like the author kept hitting me over the head repeatedly with the major themes of the book. Jane is too easily overcome by her emotions, ok I get it. Religion, god, religion, ok, got it. A bit of subtlety, please.

The pace was also strange. First, there’s a a good amount of time spent on 10 year old Jane, showing us her childhood. Something seemingly major happens, and then suddenly, without much reaction or showing the impact of it, we’re suddenly jumping ahead eight years? I can only imagine how this keeps up later on.