Coming Clean

Categories: the readers' advocate

On Sunday afternoons when it’s rainy, my younger Mini Maven and I have a secret addiction: We settle in the master bedroom and watch the Style Channel. Our favorite is CLEAN HOUSE, but we also like HOW DO I LOOK?, DRESS MY NEST, and WHAT NOT TO WEAR. If there’s no big deadline for me, no big school project for her, and no pressing house chores to be done, we can lose hours watching, giggling, and gossiping about the various scenes/characters. It’s the mother-daughter equivalent of Sunday afternoon with ESPN…


I couldn’t put my finger on why we like these shows so much until today, when I was busy tweeting back and forth with the Divine Ms. M, otherwise known as our own Blogging Bookseller Erin of NYC’s UES store. She was at her Cousin Mimi’s little Massachusetts indie store this weekend and described how they sold quite a few books in one fell swoop to a pair of customers (including two of my spring favorites, “Beat the Reaper” and “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie” ). I congratulated Erin on her handselling prowess.


She responded, “I find one thing that brings people back is telling them what's NOT good. They love it when they know you don't lie.”

Ding ding ding! That’s IT. In a world with too much of everything, in a world in which we need lifestyle curators in every area, the person who says “I would not recommend that book/color/restaurant/dress/table” is a valuable person indeed. Listening to people make clear, professional critiques (even swathed in the silliness that is rampant on Style: “How does that make you feeeeeeel, to hear that you friends hate everything about you look?” ) and take away what doesn’t work is like a breath of fresh air compared to media fawnings over red-carpet gowns and celebrity babies (who are sometimes, let’s face it, less than adorable; and Hollywood at least has not succumbed to cosmetic surgery for infants. Yet.).


I spoke last week in this interview about why I believe there is a place for negative reviews. Actually, I should have been clearer and said I believe there is still a place for critical reviews. A review that points out problems doesn’t have to be completely negative. However, after some thought, I believe that my first phrasing was accurate. We should be able to say why not to read something just as succinctly as we can say why a certain book is a must-read.


If you can tell a fellow reader that she simply has to read Book A “because it’s a combination of Harriet the Spy, Nancy Drew, and the Mitford sisters” (as I recently did), then you should also be able to tell a fellow reader that she should bypass Book B “because it’s not this author’s best work; there’s a lot of superfluous subplots that are really boring.”


Your thoughts? Do you often steer people clear of bad or mediocre books? Are you ruthlessly honest about this, or not?

Message Edited by Jon_B on 05-06-2009 07:26 AM
Message Edited by Jon_B on 05-06-2009 08:23 AM
by Nat-the-Cat on ‎05-04-2009 11:14 AM

I do try to steer people clear of books I find less than top notch, Or atleast I'll give them my two cent's worth of opinion on the book. Especially my friends who don't read very much. For some of my friends all it would take would be one less than stellar book and it might be 6 months before they tried another. I love it when someone, at the bookstore or anywhere, will give me the lowdown on a book whether than be good or bad.

I hate it when I start a book that someone has suggested for me and find that I hate the book and can barely stand to finish it. Its such a letdown.


by Nat-the-Cat on ‎05-04-2009 11:16 AM

Oh and my Guilty pleasure show is "How clean is your house" It comes on BBC america. Those two british women go into these AWFUL houses and whip these people into spiffy shape. Wonderful Show.  Clean house is one of my fav's too.

by Moderator Melissa_W on ‎05-04-2009 12:15 PM

I think there's a difference between saying "This book sucks" (leaving it at that) and "If you're looking for something good then don't read this book because the plot is recycled and the characters are really poorly rendered."  I do try to steer people away from books that I think are huge time-sucks and not worth the effort (I am usually better at this with young adult books purchased by the parents; adults are more stubborn :smileywink: )


I find ruthless honesty sometimes just doesn't work.  For instance, a fan of genre romance is not going to be interested in my ruthlessly honest opinion that those books leave me cold and they ought to read Anna Karenina instead.  Ruthless honesty sometimes involves criticising someone's taste level and that doesn't go over so well.

by on ‎05-05-2009 02:42 PM
I steer people away from bad books, but I think it important to tell them why I thought it was bad. They can make their own desision.
About Unabashedly Bookish: The BN Community Blog
Unabashedly Bookish features new articles every day from the Book Clubs staff, guest authors, and friends on hot topics in the world of books, language, writing, and publishing. From trends in the publishing business to updates on genre fiction fan communities, from fun lessons on grammar to reflections on literature in our personal lives, this blog is the best source for your daily dose of all things bookish.


Since 1997, you’ve been coming to to discuss everything from Stephen King to writing to Harry Potter. You’ve made our site more than a place to discover your next book: you’ve made it a community. But like all things internet, is growing and changing. We've said goodbye to our community message boards—but that doesn’t mean we won’t still be a place for adventurous readers to connect and discover.

Now, you can explore the most exciting new titles (and remember the classics) at the Barnes & Noble Book Blog. Check out conversations with authors like Jeff VanderMeer and Gary Shteyngart at the B&N Review, and browse write-ups of the best in literary fiction. Come to our Facebook page to weigh in on what it means to be a book nerd. Browse digital deals on the NOOK blog, tweet about books with us,or self-publish your latest novella with NOOK Press. And for those of you looking for support for your NOOK, the NOOK Support Forums will still be here.

We will continue to provide you with books that make you turn pages well past midnight, discover new worlds, and reunite with old friends. And we hope that you’ll continue to tell us how you’re doing, what you’re reading, and what books mean to you.