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 BN.com 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?