When the Bad Reviews are Right

This weekend I read Marisha Pessl’s Night Film, which I loved. It was, I think, what I hoped True Detectives would be. The interesting thing for me was when I saw that it had a bunch of bad reviews on Good Reads and I read some. They were all right. The complaints people have about the book are accurate complaints. Most of them were even things I noticed when I was reading.

I just didn’t care. Those things didn’t seem very important to me.

The role of the reader and what the writer and the reader are doing in the text and to the text are not easy to figure out.

I mean, if I made you a chocolate cake with butter cream frosting and put cherries on top, some people will like it. Some people will think it would have been better with chocolate frosting and lose the cherries (and they might be right!). Taste matters. But, at some point, you make the cake you’re going to make and the people who wish you’d made a different cake either have to wait and see if I’m going to make another cake or try to make the one you’d like to eat.

So, are the negative reviews useful to this particular author? Do they really say something about whether the book is worth reading? I think only to the extent that your tastes line up with those reviewers’ tastes.