Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but I’ve become very attuned to reviews of any kind. Movie reviews, shoe reviews on Zappos, clothing reviews of items on my favorite online store. Having become a student of the review, I’ve come to the conclusion—way too late for my self esteem—that they are all completely subjective.
I know—I’m late to the party. Everyone apparently knew that but me.
It’s hard when you’re a writer, or anyone else whose work is critiqued regularly, to remember that. As far as I am concerned, the good reviews are great, but the bad reviews carry more weight. So for every positive thing that I have heard about one of my books, I only carry around in my head the ones where the reviewer was critical. For instance, I’ll always remember the one where the reviewer claimed I was ‘not funny’ (that’s a dagger through my heart…really) or the one that accused me of not resolving a plot point (I had…it’s called ‘subtlety’). When things get really bad, I’ll conjure up the rejection I got from an agent who said that while she loved everything—everything!—about my story and my characters, she just didn’t like the way I wrote. Lordy.
I started thinking about this as I chatted with my mother a few weeks back. My mother and three girlfriends have a weekly date for lunch and a movie. When I say that they have seen literally every movie produced by a major movie studio, I’m not kidding. They have disparate tastes, but the idea of getting together dishing the dirt either before or after the movie over a plate of hot wings is really the draw for all of them. As a result, the one who hates violence has suffered through some horribly violent war and suspense pictures, while the one who loves World War II movies has sat in silence through a sappy Katherine Heigl movie or two. My mother, however, is happy watching anything. In all of the years that I been privy to her movie reviews, only one—“Four Weddings and a Funeral”—stands out for being a film that she didn’t like. And if I recall correctly, that was a film that was universally loved for its happy, sappy storyline and Hugh Grant’s tousled mop. I thought it was a great movie. Mom hated it.
When I reflected on my mom and her friends’ movie-going habits, one thing became clear: they don’t see movies based on reviews. Nor do they shy away from movies based on some critic’s comments about it not having a good plot or good acting. They see the movies that they want to see and don’t pay attention to what Roger Ebert is saying or any other reviewer. If the movie looks good to them, they go. If it doesn’t, they pass on it or see something else. My mother has told me repeatedly that she doesn’t give any credence to what a particular reviewer might say; if a movie or its plot line speaks to her, she’ll see the movie and for the most part, usually ends up liking it, because if there’s one thing she knows, it’s what she likes. And she’s not going to let anyone who sees movies for a living tell her any differently.
We in the “cozy” or “traditional” mystery world have a lot of fans like my mother, I would guess. They read our books because they know what they like and look forward to spending time with old friends, as one fan recently characterized my main characters. So why do I care if a trade publication doesn’t like the latest installment? (Although I did get a nice review in PW, so that did make me happy for a bit.) I write for myself and for the people who read my books and not for the critics. After all, it’s all subjective, right? There are certain authors out there whose books I don’t like and I don’t read them. And then there are others who I love and wait patiently for their next work. As my friend Annie would say, “That’s why we have menus. Everyone has different taste.”
Ok, remind me of that when new book--Third Degree--comes out on November 23rd, please?
Thoughts, Stiletto faithful?
Oh, and PS--happy 48th anniversary to my parents!