Amazon Customer Reviews: Bringing the HUH? Since 1995

23 Apr

For today’s post, I decided to do something I’m always advising traumatized “I-just-got-my-first-bad-review” self-publishers to do: I looked up books I love on Amazon, and read their one-star reviews.

Cue hours of endless amusement.

We don’t all like the same things, so even if the greatest literary minds all agree that a certain book is the greatest thing ever written in the history of the world and I don’t like it, that’s okay. Of course it is. I would expect all books, regardless of their amazingness, to have negative reviews.

What brings the funny here is the reasons the reviewers give for awarding just one star and the completely uncalled for contempt that they gleefully confess to having for the book, like it’s a badge of honor among them to not like a book the New York Times did. I don’t really get it because if I don’t like a book, I pretty much never think about it again. It doesn’t make me angry, or have me hurling books in the bin (which, if you read a lot of Amazon reviews, it seems a lot of people are regularly doing). So why are all these people so mad? What’s with all the anger? THEY’RE JUST BOOKS, people. BOOKS!

But anyway. I decided to pick 5 books that a) were international bestsellers, b) were generally accepted to be good or at least worthwhile books by critics, judging committees and readers, c) were good or great reads in my opinion and d) are the subject of a large number of Amazon.com reviews.

And here’s some of the fair, balanced and intelligent comments I found amongst their one-star reviews…

Room by Emma Donoghue

(I loved this book, and I’d give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.)

  • “My son is 5 and yes he trows [sic] fits etc but he does NOT tell me what to do etc.. ok yes we are not in one room and I am not locked up trying to raise him granted but even after his mom gave into EVERYTHING he wanted including going back to the house after they got out when she clearly did not want to and made her throw up.”
  • “Absolutely NOTHING happens in this book. How it ever got printed, I will never understand.”
  • “The child was a pain in the backside and the mother an idiot.”
  • “[Re: Jack watching Dora the Explorer] Not only is the baby talk hard on the inner ear, what are the odds of finding what is primarily a cable show on one of the lower broadcast channels at the time when networks are showing their morning news shows? Nick [the captor] would be surprised that you don’t need cable to get SpongeBob SquarePants.”

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

(Easily one of my Top 10 All Time Favorite Novels. The last couple of lines floor me every time I re-read.)

  • “This book is an unpolishable turd. I rank it just above Galt Niederhoffer’s debut novel A Taxonomy of Barnacles on my list of books that are destroying American literature.”
  • “Trust me, no one, NO ONE, has been able to finish this book. How it ever got published, I will never know. This is a waste of natural resorces [sic]. A waste of paper, a waste of carbon a waste of gasoline.”
  • “I’d prefer to watch jelly set.”
  • “Reading the telephone directory would have been a more worthwhile pursuit. I suggest the author re-enroll in the MFA program at UC Irvine before he attempts another novel.”
  • “Before I purchased the book I read the summary of what the book was about, and I thought oh this should be good. A comedy but also about a group of people I could relate my experiences to. But the disappointment was in the language that was used. When I opened the book up, four letter profanity hit me right in the face. I just threw the book away. I had no idea it would contain that kind of language.”

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

(Makes me laugh and long for a Roman holiday, but Ms. Gilbert’s lack of self-awareness does grate a bit.)

  • “And for all of her self-realization and navel-gazing to end her dependence on men, Ms Gilbert has, as pointed out by another Amazon reviewer, married her Brazilian and moved to new Jersey. She could have saved Penguin Books [her $200k advance] by getting in her car and going through the Lincoln Tunnel.” [This review was entitled "Eat, Pray, Shove It."]
  • “I suffered my own existential crisis reading it because I could not understand how it became a best-seller.”
  • “This book is the literary equivalent of like How Stella Got Her Grove Back. Only with yoga and white people … If one other person recommends this book to me I’m going to kill them.”
  • “Did you ever have that friend that went backpacking through Europe/Asia/South-America and came back as *that* person? You know, the one that wants to share with everyone their new found worldliness and appreciation for foreign cultures? As they hold you hostage in the corner, trying to convey the importance of every minutiae of their adventure to your increasingly wandering mind, you begin to realise that they are simply a self-centred bore who wants to dress up their fancy vacation in the guise of a shallow, faux-spiritual journey of the soul. No? Well, you’re in luck. Elizabeth Gilbert can be that friend in 352 glorious pages!”
  • “Because the author and publishers viewed this book as primarily for women, they have neglected a major marketing possibility for men. As a service to male readers (and as a suggestion to the publishers) allow me post the male instruction kit:  Step 1. Give this book to any woman you know or want to know.  Step 2. Have her read it. Step 3. Ask her to tell you what she thought of it. Step 4. Decision and Evaluation Phase: If she says she learned something about herself/about marriage/about relationships/about spirituality or about anything other than the narcissism of the author and of our culture, then you should dump her immediately; or keep her until a more attractive prospect comes along (it won’t take long) and then dump her. Step 5. Rinse, lather and repeat as needed. Of course, this algorithm does not guarantee finding a good woman, but it instantly eliminates the worst of your choices. It really is that valuable a tool for men. Stay far, far away from any woman who liked this book.”

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

(A stunning book, in my opinion. Science fiction that doesn’t read like it, with a theme that applies to all our lives. I’d put it in my Top 5.)

  • “This book was awful. I read regularly and am part of a book club that reviews award-winning books. I cannot understand how this book was nominated for The Booker. It pains me to think about this book, so I will be brief. The plot is boring.”
  • “Anyone who gave this book a good review probably thought that reading this made them somehow more cerebral even though it was a huge ball of nothing.”
  • “I usually give my used books to a friend or to a local book exchange – this one I threw into the garbage – to spare anyone else the pain of slogging through some of the worst dialogue ever published.”
  • “This is by far the WORST book I’ve ever read in my life. It was the flattest, most agonizingly slow collection of nothing that’s ever invaded my brain. 50 pages into the book I was hoping every character would be decimated by some catastrophic event and the rest of the pages were ISBN barcodes or something.”
  • “Some books are to be tasted, some chewed and others fully digested. After tasting, I inserted this thin volume into the toaster and then crumbled onto my tomato soup with maple cured bacon bits. After turning off the smoke alarm. I tasted again. Still an off flavor of sawdust. “O Good” my wife said “I’ve been wanting to do something else with this mancave. Can I start the bonfire?””

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

(Read it in one sitting, and burst into tears at the end. Loved it.)

  • “I thought it should be entitled: Mississippi, the Darky State. Really offensive and still believe a story about a black family who have white help would be more interesting. Maybe Mrs. Obama will have some ideas, after her reign at the WHITE HOUSE.”
  • “try a sample saved me ten bucks /i got bored quickly reading black maids/kill the english language on and on and on for no purpose than to allow the author not to “write”/this isn’t literature but fodder for bleeding hearts.”
  • “I only wish someone would have told me of the language that is in the FIRST chapter of this book. I stopped reading it because I DO NOT use those words. Thankfully I have been able to tell my friends who had planned to read the book and see the movie in time for them to stop. This book could have been written without those words. I will throw the book away because I don’t want to share it with anyone. Never use my God’s name in vain in front of me!”
  • “This book is a typical, uninventive formula novel. I knew how it would end after the first chapter and I’m not that smart.”
  • “Every character is a stereotype. The downtrodden black maids are all incredibly wise, kind and long-suffering. The white women all belong to the Junior League and neglect their children. The book editor is a Jewish woman from NYC. The black folk cannot rise above their situation without the help of a self-righteous white person. All that’s missing is the prostitute with a heart of gold.”

And The Help wins the award for the BEST THING I HAVE EVER SEEN in an Amazon customer review.

Are you ready for this? Are you really? Okay. Drum roll, please. Here it is:

“Where was the editor for this book? In the end notes the author confesses to playing with time. For instance, Shake ‘N Bake is mentioned but didn’t hit the shelves until 1965. A Bob Dylan song is referenced but wasn’t released until 1964. Okay, but why did they have to be included? They certainly weren’t plot points but is a writer allowed to just make stuff up?”

[?????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!??????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!??]

It also had this gem which alas was too long to copy and paste in here.

Now if you’ve ever found your book being sandblasted by an inexplicably angry, acidic 1-one star view, doesn’t it make you feel better to know that these guys have too? 

What’s your favourite book that’s likely to have hundreds if not thousands of Amazon reviews? Run over there now and take a look at them and let me know if you find any gems.

30 Responses to “Amazon Customer Reviews: Bringing the HUH? Since 1995”

  1. catherine April 23, 2012 at 08:13 #

    Oh lordy my book is up on amazon, not yet reviewed, am I to prepare myself for this??

  2. Ashley McCook April 23, 2012 at 08:23 #

    Oh, that was brilliant! Have been giggling and spluttering into my coffee – ‘…is a writer allowed to just make stuff up?..’ Genius. Thank you!

  3. antarespress April 23, 2012 at 11:16 #

    I panned Mark Twain’s _The Adventures of Pudd’nhead Wilso_. It’s crap. No, it’s tedious crap. But I still read Mark Twain. YMMV.

  4. Lauren Clark (@LaurenClark_Bks) April 23, 2012 at 12:22 #

    Hilarious! Thanks for sharing

  5. Carolann Copland April 23, 2012 at 12:27 #

    Loved reading this! Laughed lots. Thanks, Catherine.

  6. catherineryanhoward April 23, 2012 at 12:40 #

    You’re all welcome! I might look up a few more… :-D

  7. Linda April 23, 2012 at 14:18 #

    I am one of those who have sinned, I gave a poor review to The Slap – saying it was like the worst of the soap operas where everything that could happen would happen and as such it didn’t feel believable to me. Does that make me bad, or does it mean I just disliked the book? Having said that when I like (or love) a book I say so too … hopefully that balances me out and will mean no-one hates me too much ;-)

    Oh, and isn’t there a Kazuo Ishiguro on the UK list for today’s World Book Night? I may get my hands on it with any luck :-)

  8. Clare H April 23, 2012 at 14:32 #

    Ah ha, so even Jane Austen gets 1 star reviews … “horrendously boring soap opera in paperback”, anyone?

    Thank you, Catherine, and so happy to have you back. I was getting worried you were sick. (What’s the etiquette around prompting a favourite blogger to get back to work?)

  9. Kerri Wood Thomson April 23, 2012 at 14:38 #

    I also enjoy reading the one-star reviews of successful books, just to make myself feel better. I specifically remember seeing the Shake N’ Bake review for The Help. The ones for Eat Pray Love gave me a good Monday morning laugh!

  10. Jane Ryan-Ryder April 23, 2012 at 15:10 #

    Brilliant – Haven’t laughed that much in ages! Tks for making my day..

  11. Emma April 23, 2012 at 18:51 #

    “Eat, Pray, Shove It”. Ha ha

  12. cameronlawton April 23, 2012 at 19:53 #

    Here – have a freshly brewed pot of lovely French ground coffee hot off my stove – you made me laugh so much that I have to comment, even though I’m not supposed to type at the moment.

    Puts into perspective getting bad reviews oneself. I’m not on any bestseller list but the only 1star review I got made me howl because the person didn’t know the difference between “worse” and “worst” plus complained that the characters “had the hots” for each other …. excuse me? It’s a love story??? And there’s too much sex (excuse me?????) I believe the most explicit I ever got was “my eye-black had smeared on his cheek during our love-making” …. well wash my filthy mouth out for a bold wicked girl!

    To find that finer writers than yours truly have been severely (and unkindly) mauled is a real solace ……… here, Catherine – have some home made cake with your second coffee :-)

  13. Katherine Owen - Author April 23, 2012 at 21:24 #

    I really needed this today. I suffered through a few low star reviews that managed to sting and stay with me all weekend. Your post made me laugh, although I did agree with one of the reviews.

    I always go by the adage that if you don’t have anything nice to say, then, don’t say anything at all. This goes with the books I’ve read and reviewed as well. If I don’t end up thinking the book is worth four or five stars, I don’t leave a review. Yet, there is this penchant for providing one’s opinion that runs rampant in society these days, to lam-blast or even obliterate in such an unkind, somewhat anonymous way, be it books, music, or people. It seems to start early, but I do my part and have taught my two teens that if they don’t have something nice to say or write, then, not to say or write anything at all.

    Thanks for the post!

  14. cameronlawton April 24, 2012 at 06:58 #

    PS – I really do wish people wouldn’t leave real soul-rippers of criticism when they admit to only having read a very short bit of the book …. OK, criticise the writer’s style if you want, or the voices of the characters but PLEASE don’t maul the plot because …. you didn’t read it!

  15. asraidevin April 24, 2012 at 07:21 #

    I needed this. I was sulking a bit because I was called juvenile for using “your” instead of you’re. i want to retort, “yes because you are so blood perfect I bet.” but hey, whatever, if you wanna complain about that go right ahead. (just wish it hadn’t been posted 3 times on Smashwords now it looks like I have 3 1-star reviews, instead of 1 repeated).

  16. D.L. Kung April 25, 2012 at 20:12 #

    Ah, but what do you do when you’ve spotted a stalker, someone who has opened a “private” Goodreads account anonymously and reviewed exactly one book, yours, with a two-star dismissal, and no comment? Should I be flattered that mine is the only book they’re ever read/they opened the blank account just to drop their poop amidst the 4 stars?

    Or that frantic know-nothing who accused me of accusing a government of Nazi genocide when, in fact, that country’s Vice-minister of Health no less was himself decrying health abuses described in my mystery? Should I be rattled by two stars from an ignoramus who obviously ignored all the research and bibliography at the end of the book (and clearly didn’t think women could be adventure heroines?)

    My personal best is a one-star review on Goodreads for the Orange Prize-nominated “A Visit From Voltaire” from a guy who was “generous” enough to give two stars to Jonathan Swift, Roald Dahl and William Shakespeare but five stars to some intergalactica fantasy series.

    As they say, chacun a son gout. (each to his own)

  17. J.G. McKenney April 27, 2012 at 00:46 #

    Thanks for this. Really made me laugh. I loved this one:

    “This book is a typical, uninventive formula novel. I knew how it would end after the first chapter and I’m not that smart.”

  18. C. April 28, 2012 at 19:00 #

    Reviews make me smile. Even the bad ones… the really bad ones usually have me laughing. I’ve found the only point in getting angry at a bad, ridiculous review, is to up your heart rate and risk dying at an earlier age. Not worth it.

  19. Christopher Wills April 29, 2012 at 16:26 #

    Very interesting post. Reality check for us writers. I looked up one of my favourite books; I’ve read it many times. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. My favourite phrase in the 1 star comments was;

    “I was more miserable reading this book than when my wife divorced me and my parents disowned me.”

    How dare that person….. :)

  20. Carole M. Di Tosti (@mercedeskat45) April 30, 2012 at 23:26 #

    Reviews are crucial if you need to have sketches of whether you will like a book or not. The beauty of them is if you find the reviewer and you share similar interests and perspectives, then they reach a reliability quotient that you can trust. ;-)
    By the way, promoting U on my News/Media FB pg. Return the favor and like my pg? Thanks. It’s https://www.facebook.com/Writingdivine

    Also, love for you to take a look at the BLOG HOP on my blog. It’s here: http://www.thefatandtheskinnyonwellness.com/ You might be interested in joining it for the gathering of followers and readers and writers. Thanks.
    A pleasure to drop by. ;-)

    Ciao for now,
    Carole

    • T May 2, 2012 at 23:15 #

      Thank you so much for this – laughing so hard am almost in tears. I’ve been burning over the following one-star for weeks:

      “This book was a waste of my time. It made no sense and even after it took me four days (normally read one book a day) to finish this particular book and still had no idea what it was all about or make sense of the ending. I will never buy another book from this author and I do love corky, have to think about books.”

      And no, my book is not about corks.

      • catherineryanhoward May 4, 2012 at 17:44 #

        That must be predictive text or something gone horribly wrong! As I said, hours of endless amusement… :-D

  21. Maxi May 3, 2012 at 13:06 #

    Great post! That’s hilarious! Like you, I do wonder why people get quite so worked up. No one is forcing them to read it or continue to read it if they’re not enjoying it. Just put it down and take it to the charity shop next time you’re passing. Someone else might enjoy it, even it you don’t. I recently did a post on how I didn’t enjoy ‘Lucky Jim’ despite it having great reviews and being classed as a modern classic. Horses for courss, as they say.

  22. designtrolls May 8, 2012 at 13:10 #

    Thank you for making me laugh when I should be in panic over exams. . . This made my day

    • catherineryanhoward May 8, 2012 at 13:18 #

      Glad to be of service! Good luck with your exams. :-)

      • designtrolls May 8, 2012 at 13:22 #

        Thank you! When I need a break I will just pop over to amazon for a laugh. . . never thought I’d be saying that :)

        • catherineryanhoward May 8, 2012 at 13:23 #

          If you haven’t already, you also need to look up Veet Hair Removal Cream for Men on Amazon.co.uk. I got cramps from laughing!

          • designtrolls May 8, 2012 at 13:26 #

            Thank you for the insider tip ;) Writing my exam just went from a complete bore to “part bore – part amazeball”

  23. Joe Hefferon June 10, 2012 at 20:49 #

    Actually a lot of the reviews were spot on and very funny, especially the ones for Eat, Pray , Love. People are clever; we have to give them that. A fun post, thanks for the laugh.

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  1. May on Catherine, Caffeinated: How To Sell Self-Published Books « Catherine, Caffeinated - May 1, 2012

    [...] little two-week blogging funk, I managed to dust off a post from Drafts (the proved to be popular Amazon Customer Reviews: Bringing the HUH? Since 1995), I told myself that the month of April was a lost cause, and I should just wait until May before I [...]

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