View Full Version : Reviewing a Reviewer

05-09-2011, 09:09 PM
I can't believe I did that.

I subscribe to a number of blogs where reviews are published for a variety of books and novels. Most of them are blogs where I've submitted my own work for review. So, I cannot believe I shot off my big mouth about one particular review - I won't say who or what book here but I posted the comments on the blog.

The book was about Canadian Indians at the time of the arrival of the French. I looked at the cover for several minutes trying to decide what bothered me about it. Was it the young girl being bare-breasted? Was it the skirt? Or her footwear. Then, I realized it was all of those - and more. Indians did wear little or no clothing, but only in warm climes such as California, Florida and the Caribbean. In the northern climes, they wore clothing to not only protect from the climate but the dense forests and, most important of all, insects! Swarms and swarms of stinging and biting insects.

Anyone know the origin of the term, Red Man? Or Redskin? It came from the heavy coats of oil or fat with ocher added to protect them from insects. {Ocher is red!}

The next was her skirt. While ancient Chinese tribes wore something similar and Scottish men wore kilts, the skirt as such did not appear until the 19th Century in Europe. Therefore, it is totally out of place in the early 1500s time frame of this novel. Northern Indian women usually wore shifts with long sleeves dropping to just below the knees.

And then, she carried a bow but without a brassard to protect her forearm/wrist when the bowstring was released. As anyone who has ever shot a bow and arrow knows, it hurts like h**l if you don't wear something to protect yourself. And, the knowledge of that pain will make the archer flinch, thus reducing his/her accuracy. Yes, Indian women did know how to use bows and arrows, as long as other weapons. Some Indian women became well-known for their prowess in battle.

Then, I began to read the book. The first thing that struck me was the author's use of contractions! The apostrophe was a French invention in the 1500 hundreds but, how could the book's characters be using contractions when they did not exist in their language?

The final thing that bothered my was the author's dedication to the use of difficult to pronounce Indians names. Why not make it easy for the reader and, after introducing, then explaining, to give the English version. Such as; xxxxx [Sitting Bear], then using that name from then on to make it easy for us.

The writing itself was not that bad but it was clear to me the author either did not have or use a beta reader or an editor. Another example. The village is about to be attacked by another tribe feared by all. Most of the dialogue and exposition is written using passive verbs! It gives the reader no feeling of fear.

I gave up after 20 pages and wrote the critique. Now, I sit here wondering what an idiot I am. If this guy DOES decide to review one of my books, is her going to tear it apart?

Well, if he does and I deserve it - good for him! :)

If he does and I don't deserve it - shame on him! :Shrug:

05-09-2011, 10:11 PM
This, I think, is a matter of taste. In the first place, the cover art doesn't have a thing to do with the book, or with the writer. Criticizing it is pointless and rather silly.

And contractions? Just because the apostrophe might not have been known to the characters should not mean that modern readers want prose written for readers of that time. If your readers live in the 1500s, don't use contractions. If your readers live today, you'd better update the language, or you'll lose many readers because of overly long and dense prose.

As for the bow, yes it hurts like hell when that bow string hits your wrist, but when it does hit your wrist, you did something wrong. I've fired hundreds of arrows without having the bow string hit my wrist once. It hurts enough that after you've experienced it a couple of times, you will wear some type of wrist guard, but it's a serious mistake to think you can't use a bow without one.

And unlike, say, a Greek or Roman bow, Native American bows have relatively low draw weights and string velocity. That string still hurts like a son of a gun, but doesn't do the kind of damage a more powerful bow can do. I've taken deer with such bows, and I've had that string slap my wrist, and I did a lot of cussing, but suffered no real damage.

But if cover art is your complaint, forget it. As I said, cover art has nothing to do with the book, is rarely accurate, and is usually done by someone who may not have read the novel at all, and knows nothing about the subject matter. It's pure marketing.

As for the names, sorry, I'm on the writer's side. I'm a good reader, and I can either pronounce the name, or just give it a pronunciation I like, and read on.

05-09-2011, 10:12 PM
I'm not sure what you did here. Did you review the book or did you give comments explaining where a book reviewer messed up (in your mind)? If the latter, I feel your effort was misplaced. If the latter, no matter how "correct" your comments may be, you have taken the focus off the book and put it square on the person who reviewed the book. We all see different things when we read books, and for some the suspension of disbelief is more encompassing than for others.

What did you want to accomplish? To show that the author and artist messed up? If so, why put that on the reviewer? It's an issue to bring up with the author if you feel that strongly about it. If it is directed at the reviewer, it is equivalent to saying, "you dumb shit, you should have caught this in your review." The reviewer is not supposed to be the expert, to have done appropriate research--that's the job of the writer. The big however--if the reviewer is welcoming comments on his/her blog, then what you have done is fair game.

If you did make the comments to the writer, or in a more general review of the book, I hope you indicated that you only read the first 20 pages or so. The only way to give a legit review of a book is to read the book. It is okay, however, to only read part of a book and review it as long as you clearly indicate how far you got into it.

I appreciate your passion, and your knowedge. I hope you shared it with the author in a polite, helpful way.

05-10-2011, 12:36 AM
Well, it seems that the cover art isn't much in the control of the author. In most cases, anyway. I think it's fine to critique cover art, but the blog is about critiquing stories and the writing, right?

As for contractions not being used...I think they've been used a lot more frequently than most people think. Just because we first fond apostrophes cropping up in French in the 1500s doesn't mean that spoken languages never used contractions. I strongly doubt there was ever a time when contractions weren't used, in fact. It may have been more frowned upon in older times or seen as informal or even uncouth, but they were still used. People have been making shortcuts in language ever since language has existed. Particularly if the story is set within a native culture, how do you know they didn't use contractions, or some other linguistic shortcut that would translate as contractions (or something like them) when interpreted into English?

Finally, I used to do competitive archery and I never shot with a brassard. I learned early on to hold the bow properly and to have a strong, steady left arm because yes, it does hurt like hell when you hit yourself with your string. I had a big fat bruise on the inside of my left arm for weeks. Then when it was starting to heal I hit myself again and it was even worse! I never nicked myself again after that. Shooting without a brassard is the best way I know of to develop proper technique. ;)

Did natives use brassards? I don't know. I confess I have never researched it. But based on personal experience, I wouldn't find the lack of one shocking.

05-10-2011, 03:02 AM
IMHO, unsolicited review of someone's book on their own blog is rather uncouth. And if you're just griping about the cover, which the author probably had no part in selecting, it's just nitpicking. Everything else may just be a matter of literary taste. Still, doing it on the author's blog? * putting on Robert De Niro's accent * Not cool, man. Not cool.


05-10-2011, 03:41 AM
Jamesarchie hit the nail on the head. Your chief concerns seem to be things that the author had little influence on. I also wanted to point out that Canada is pretty big. It's not all a cold and hostile wasteland. There are places that are classified as deserts and if native women don't want to wear shirts in +100 degree weather, so be it.

Maybe you're reviewing self published books and that's why you're critical of the cover? I think, as a writer, you need to review books the way you'd want your book reviewed - I don't mean praise it needlessly, but keep your comments professional and on point, and do make sure you know what you're talking about if you don't agree with something.

05-10-2011, 04:49 AM
The odd thing here is that you posted your book review in the comments of someone else's book review. The reviewing the reviewer part also sounds like you focused on why you thought his review was wrong, rather than why you didn't like the book. Why not just review it on your own blog, with a focus on the book itself?

05-10-2011, 09:21 PM
That's a great idea Polenth! I think I'll do just that.

05-11-2011, 07:29 AM
I don't understand how you were "reviewing the reviewer." It sounds like you were reviewing the book (and its cover art, which isn't really something people generally discuss in book reviews, as it isn't something that's in the author's control).

The first thing that struck me was the author's use of contractions! The apostrophe was a French invention in the 1500 hundreds but, how could the book's characters be using contractions when they did not exist in their language?

This doesn't make any sense. The characters were speaking a language that isn't English, and they were speaking at a level of formality appropriate to the situation. Translating that into modern English makes contractions perfectly appropriate.*

And if the language they were speaking was one of the Algonkian languages, there are formal and informal verb usages that correspond very well to the difference between "it is not" and "it isn't", for instance.

Finally, the general terminology preferred by the indigenous peoples of Canada is "First Nations," not "Native Americans." (More preferable is the actual tribal or national self-identification, but "First Nations" is to, say, Mi'kmaq as "European" is to, say, Portuguese, so.)

*And I am nth-ing the "there were contractions long before there were apostrophes, anyway." There were contractions in Latin, for instance. There were contractions in Old English: "is not" is "nis", contracted from "ne is", for example.

05-11-2011, 10:40 PM
Yes, I know Canadians refer to the Indians as First Nations and I think that shows a realization of the true history of the nation. I used Native Americans in the term of ALL natives on the northern continent - as they did not know or even care about the political barriers we Europeans have erected here.
For example, because of a border, many members of the Tonto O'odham tribes have been separated from the families and can no longer go back and forth to visit. Most southwestern tribes face the same problem - as I am certain holds true for the north.

Anyhow, I did what I should've done in the first place - I wrote MY OWN review of the book and posted it to my blog!!!!!