Readers are cheated when a majorly flawed piece of writing receives unfairly favorable reviews.
Books with severe language errors cannot have earned a 5-star review. Correct grammar is not a matter of opinion. The correct usage of a word is not opinion. There are reference books that contain the rules of grammar. Dictionaries contain both the accepted spellings and definition of 99 percent of all words in the English language. There is no excuse for getting these things wrong out of ignorance or sheer lack of interest.
No reader should be required to mentally substitute correct grammar, word usage, and sentence structure in order to make sense of the words the writer actually put on the page.
Readers have a right to assume the writer has written in a purposeful way such that she has, in fact, said what she means. When the connection between words, sentences, and meaning is fundamentally broken, then, objectively, that book does not deserve a 5-Star review. Yet such books do receive 5-star reviews.
I hated Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. I think that book has serious flaws, but none of them are language flaws. Franzen’s writing is not incoherent. He uses words correctly. My disagreements are with the story he chose to tell and the actions of his characters in that story. Reasonable people can, and have, disagreed with my opinion. I understand why someone might give the book 5 stars. There are, by the way, 1,091 Amazon reviews of this book. The average star rating is three. 307 of them are 5-star reviews. 308 are 1-star. Obviously, opinions differ.
There are two self-published books I’ve read recently and both were dreadful. The writing in both was immature and unprofessional. The plots appealed to me, which is why I bought them, but the execution was so bad, I could not finish either. One of them has 23 reviews on Amazon with a 4.5 star average. The lowest star reviews are 3-stars and there are only three of them. A book that is objectively bad did not get a single 1-star review. That is a completely unfair representation of the objective quality of the book.
Here’s a snippet from one of the reviews:
. . . one word that would express my thoughts of this book, and the only one that I can find is WOW!
Really? Really? The writing is objectively bad. BAD. The heroine is infantile and infantilized. The writing is confusing and muddled. This author brings all the insight and maturity of a five-year-old to her work. None of the reviewers who gave this book five stars said word one about any of the objective flaws. Why? What’s fair to the reader when a book receives a plurality of glowing reviews that omit mention of such egregious writing errors?
In case you think I’m picking on self-published books, how about Hugh Howey’s Wool? Howey was never NY published, and yet Wool is better, yes, better, than most of what comes out of NY. Readers found him, in droves.
There are 2,415 reviews of the Kindle Omnibus version and the star average is five. Wool is an amazing piece of writing, in my opinion. Like Franzen, Howey does not make language errors. If you read Wool, or Freedom, for that matter, you can assume the words were chosen with great care and thought and that the authors thought hard about the stories being told.
Don’t Cheat the Reader
Wool and Freedom are a far cry from books written by an author who can’t spell, doesn’t know the difference between past and passed and couldn’t correctly punctuate a sentence if her life depended on it.
Giving books like those 5-stars cheats the reader, and those reviews unfairly increase the ranking of those books.
Take Your Review with Lumps
If you’re an author, take your lumps. Franzen is considered one of America’s greatest writers, and his book has 307 1-star reviews, while books written by authors with less than a third-grade command of language receive not a single 1-star review. How is that fair? Say what you will about Franzen’s book or his blindness to the reality of being a woman in America, I’ve not heard him whine about bad reviews.
If Franzen can suck it up, so can you. If a book like Freedom, which some reviewers called a masterpiece, can end up with an average 3-star review, then surely the rest of us can live with the same result for our books.
This is my my response to this baloney.