Meh? Me??

There’s nothing like the experience of reading a bad review of your brand new book.rozfrontcoverfinal

OUR BODIES, OUR SHELVES is a collection of funny essays about working at a public library and other bookish topics, all of which first appeared in venues like The Christian Science Monitor and The Huffington Post.

When the book came out this April, Stacia Friedman, writing in the Huffington post, called it “screamingly funny.“ When readers began posting reviews of the book on Amazon, they too, to my relief, were positive. “Really really funny.” “Don’t read it in a library — you’ll laugh too loud.” “A treat for booklovers and librarians alike.”

But, inevitably, a reader came along to rain on my parade. The title of her review? MEH.

“I work in a library,” Portnianay posted. “I smiled maybe twice.” Her recommendation? “Don’t buy.“

(She also gave a negative review to Dick Patten’s Natural Balance Duck and Turkey Flavored Dog Food. “I‘m sure it would not hurt my dogs,“ she wrote, but they do not particularly love the taste.”) (Which could also have served as a review of my book had her dogs chewed it up.)

Of course, a negative review was inevitable. Everybody wasn’t going to love my book.

But I wanted them to! I love my book. My editors loved (and paid me for!) every one of those essays. One even went viral. On the day it came out, “Dude Reads Like a Lady,“ my essay about gendered reading, was the most emailed piece in the Christian Science Monitor.

“I don’t care,” I imagine my MEH-sayer responding. “I thought it was stupid.”

She’s entitled to that opinion. Not only that, but she paid for her copy. She may have trashed my book, but I’ve got her $3 in my pocket. (That’s my royalty share.)

I happen to be a hard-to-satisfy reader myself. Working in a library means that I can check out dozens of books a week, but I rarely finish any of them.

“Read anything good lately?” a patron will ask.


“What about the new Wright brothers biography? That’s supposed to be good.”

“It didn’t fly with me.


“I thought it was a drag.”

The English Spy?”

“Not my cup of tea.“

So when another hard-to-please reader dislikes my book? That‘s not just criticism. That’s Karma.

I’m a book reviewer myself, but I don’t write negative reviews. Why? I’d rather point somebody toward a great read than warn them about a bad one. Plus if there’s one thing working in a library has taught me it’s that one reader‘s favorite book is the next readers “I wouldn’t finish this turkey if I were stranded on a desert island and it was the only book there.”

Sure, it’s fun to trash a book you dislike. I’ve read reviews where the writer gleefully takes out the knives and absolutely skewers a crap novel with mocking insight.

But as much fun as it is to read those reviews, I always feel a twinge of sympathy for the poor author. (Although when that poor author’s book sits atop the bestseller list, I’m guessing that she doesn’t need my sympathy as she happily deposits her mammoth royalty checks.)

At the moment, OUR BODIES OUR SHELVES has twenty-two reader reviews. Eighteen are positive and four are negative. Those who gave it five stars? To paraphrase Sally Field, They really really liked it. “An amazing collection.” “A great gift book.” “Highly recommended.“

But from the readers who gave it just three stars? “I was disappointed.“ The title was the funniest part.” “I got maybe two laughs from the entire book.”

Reader, I invite you to be the judge. Read my book and post your own review. If you love it? Spread the news! And if you hate it? Write a scathing review. Jump up and down on it. Tell the world what crap it is.

Feed it to the dog instead of Dick Patten’s Natural Balance Duck and Turkey Flavored Dog Food.

Yes, your bad review will break my heart. But at least I’ll have your $3 in my pocket to console me.


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19 thoughts on “Meh? Me??”

  1. You can’t please everyone so screw that Meh…some folks will complain any chance they get. Just focus on the good reviews I say. It seems you have a great attitude about it all…love that!

    1. You gotta have titanium skin to survive as a writer or in any creative pursuit. Slings and arrows come with the territory – but it means they were flung by folks who took the time to read your thing. Based on your “Meh” reflections, it sounds like you’ve struck creative career gold, so a few brackish reviews hardly mean a thing. Don’t cogitate – CELEBRATE! 🙂

  2. I am sorry someone gave you a “meh.” If I could conjure up Ricky Nelson to sing at a garden party for you, I’d do that. It’s just nicer to be nice, but not everyone has that aim when they interact with other people (or with their cultural objects). Hugs to you. I hope that your book finds a lot of readers who embrace it for all its great virtues!

  3. I say, Feh to their Meh! Of course, we all want everyone to love what we write. That’s why we do it, right? Well, that and the freezers full of lobster tails. And hey–were’s mine? I’ve never been to Aruba, either. So, take it with a grain of salt (from your Margarita glass?)and keep up the good work! Roz, you rock!

  4. Of course it comes with the territory, but I agree with your stance- steer people towards what’s good. No review is a Bad review. And, I think your stories are hilarious!

  5. I guess it comes with the territory but we DO want everyone to love our book. Hey Roz! Everyone I know who read it loves it. Forget that silly person who also didn’t like others as well.

  6. Well, think of the reader, who buys a book that has a misleading review. In this situation I just think it’s unfair. Not everyone is going to like every book & it’s ok. Reviews shouldn’t all be merit badges, but give an honest reviewer opinion, regardless. That’s my thought. Actually, I have a post coming later on this subject, sorta. I’ve blogged about it before, too.

  7. I love the way you handled the negative reviews! I wonder if some people feel it’s their duty to post negative reviews. Maybe they get a kick out of thinking they’re causing the writer stress.

  8. I’ve heard nothing but five star reviews make an author look bad, so this is just a nice balance. Well, maybe “nice” isn’t the best word …

  9. If a bunch of people think your book is funny and only a few don’t, I think you can safely assume it’s funny.

    I got a lot of reviews for my opera singing. Most were good, some were mixed and one or two were bad. What do you do with the bad reviews? You read them, in case there might be some truth in them which could teach you what needs to be improved. Then you toss them in the garbage.

    You can also do what Enrico Caruso (great tenor of the 1st part of the 20th Century) did. He was so angry over one bad review that he took his copy and wrote the word LIAR over it! It probably made him feel better.

  10. First, thanks Roz for mentioning my enthusiastic review of your book (for which you treated me to a week in Aruba, a shopping spree at Eileen Fisher, and a freezer full of lobster tails). Second, bad reviews and rejections are to be expected. In fact, if you didn’t get any, I’d be worried. One always hopes to really piss off SOMEONE, otherwise why bother? Someone (Thoreau?)once said, “To be great is to be misunderstood.” I’ll take that a step further, to be a humorist is to beg insult from those who have no sense of humor whatsoever.

  11. Do what I do (and Mark Twain did): Review your own book under pseudonyms. Among mine: Etaoin Shrdlu, Professor of Comparative Midwestern Literature at the University of Missouri-Chillicothe.

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