October 11, 2005

The Amazon Jungle

DISCLAIMER: A lot of the real name and top 1000 reviewers on AMAZON.COM are useful barometers of whether or not you will like a book, because if they give a book 4 or 5 stars, and you look at all their reviews and see they have also given three books you REALLY dug 4 or 5 stars AND have heartily panned that book that made you so mad you stopped reading 50 pages in, glued all the pages together, put it on a stick and now use to kill only the ugliest and most poisonous looking bugs as punishment for its imagery, then you have found yourself a good screener who can help you find the books you LIKE. And Amazon's top reviewer, Harriet Klausner, is starting to show up on book jackets as a blurber. How cool is that? BUT THAT SAID---

The anonymous posting of reviews can allow for some HIDEOUS things to be perpetrated. I remember running across one book with about 20 HORRIBLE reviews, all of which were written by people with plain, regulation, two syllable American names (Diane and Larry and Jenny and Johnny). The reviews all had the same "voice" and tendency to break the "i before e" rule and they all started by saying it was a bad book and then worked their way into speculations about the author's parentage and probable mental disorders and claiming to know the true secrets of the her highly deviant sex life. Um. Yeah. And THAT's not a bitter ex-boyfriend.

Have you ever read Bel Canto? This is a book that had me on the floor, screaming in mingled pain and ecstacy as its myriad perfections set my heart and my brain on fire simultaneously. It's like a Haven Kimmel novel in that reading it makes you wonder why you bother writing when a perfect book already exists and everyone should just sit down and shut up and read Bel Canto over and over, no new books needed. Ever. Thanks. I don't see how you can be human and not love this book. But hey, I guess it could happen. I didn't really like WAR AND PEACE, and I have it on good authority that you can go to hell for that. I don't know WHY I don't like it. I admit it is superbly written and structured and great literature. But I won't be rereading it. It left me dead dead cold and dead. It's a mystery. SO. I suppose somewhere someone with otherwise general good sense could NOT like Bel Canto. I guess. I mean, it is POSSIBLE, in that philosophical "if it can be imagined, then somewhere it exists" way.

If you haven't read it, go read it. Because the review below won't be as funny if you haven't. IF YOU HAVE READ IT, then I present to you this Amazon reviewers take on it:


HAHAHAHHAHAHA. If I were Ann Patchett, I might want that somewhere on the jacket. That's just AWESOME. In a strange way I can’t quite articulate, this review captures EXACTLY what classics in 30 seconds (and performed by bunnies) would be like if the bunnies turned their pink, irreverent eyes upon Bel Canto.

gods in Alabama has only gotten three or four bad reviews (out of like 45 or 46, SO THAT IS A GOOD AND CHEERFUL THING because, you know, you worry yourself sick about this stuff because it’s like Bird Flu, what can you DO. Nothing. Bird Flu and Bad Reviews shall either come or not come, and it isn’t like the “Will the FILTHY litter box cause my fastideous cat to choose to go poo in somethign else, anything, really, as long as it is clean and rectangular, like, say, my empty firewood basket or my left-open underpants drawer?” because if you DID worry about it you would have to go clean out the little box or at the very least go upstairs and close the underpants drawer, and WHO WANTS TO DO THAT when you could instead produce an ulcer by not understanding what’s going on with those diseased chickens in Malasia and wondering when that ONE ex boyfriend that you REALLY did wrong back in high school will figure out that the name on the cover of that book he saw in Sam’s Club last week really is actually you, yes, you, that same girl who made out with his best friend TWO DAYS before the official break up and again not ten minutes after, and he’ll run so fast to Amazon to write TALENTLESS HACK!!! AND SLUT!!!! under the name ANNABEL or A READER that he’ll leaves a smoking track behind him....DEEP BREATH)

ANYWAY my favorite of these is the one that says, “Not much about gods and not much about Alabama, but an awful lot about sex.” HEY! WAIT A SEC! There is a LOT about gods, and there’s so much Alabama that Alabama is practically a character! Maybe this reviewer just skipped ahead to the dirty parts. AND YEAH, OKAY, FINE. Maybe, just MAYBE, that last part is justified in that they probably didn’t have to do a LOT of page skipping to FIND dirty parts (SORRY MOM!) But my narrator is after all a former tramp turned celibate, so her relationship with sex DOES get a lot of play...as does my narrator. RIMSHOT! (SORRY, MOM! SORRY!) SO OKAY! I FESS UP AND ADMIT THE TRUTH OF THE LAST PART, but to further refute first part, Iwould like to point out that a lot of the sex took place WITH small g” gods and IN Alabama. *grin*

My all time favorite Amazon review is of Fanny Flaggs "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe," a book I have read probably 10 times and will read with pleasure at least as many times again, should I live long enough. Just love it. I don’t remember the whole review, and I bet it is gone now, but the title was, and here I reproduce it from memory BUT EXACTLY with the weird caps completely intact and the reviewer’s own:

“Lesbians are NOT OK for the youth of america!!!”

I’m not sure what this has to do with the actual BOOK, but as a stand alone sentiment, I couldn’t agree more. I prefer to feed MY lesbians to the hardy and superstition-free youth of Wales and Scotland. Science has proven if you feed AMERICAN youth on lesbians, you tend to get Wendigo.

Posted by joshilyn at October 11, 2005 11:16 AM

Joss, some days, there is no better cure for my morning that to drop by your blog. ROFL! I am thrilled to know I am not alone in my avid reading of Amazon reviews. I often read them just to see what idiot reviewed a Christian book as being "too religious," etc...

I have only had one review (okay, since i have only sold 2 books) at lulu and it is a DARN good review that makes me want to go hunt down the reviewer and kiss her full on the mouth.

Especially funny... today, I came to your blog directly from posting a review on Amazon (Prozac Nation, DVD).

Posted by: Heather at October 11, 2005 11:47 AM

ROFLOL!! I read those reviews on Amazon when I feel like a) renewing my faith in people or b)confirming that people are stupid. (I recently bought a used copy of "The Historian" because the reviews on Amazon were so diverse. Turned out to be a horrendous novel written by a Genetic Academic with no business trying to novelize anything.) It's a good idea to be careful what you write on Amazon. When I discovered I'm the only human being who hates Harry Potter and thinks the books are the very ESSENCE of boring, I thought I'd shut up about that. You may commence outrage now.

Posted by: Jilly at October 11, 2005 12:33 PM

Okay, I was enjoying this blog entry thoroughly but silently, right up to the last line. But then you made me laugh loudly enough that I frightened my baby into tears! (She's fine now that I explained the concept of Wendingo to her.)

Posted by: laura at October 11, 2005 12:52 PM

I swear, when you post some of the things people have said or written about "gods in Alabama", I wonder if they even read the same book I did. "...not much about gods and not much about Alabama..."??? Uuuhhh.... I have no response for that.

Posted by: DebR at October 11, 2005 2:00 PM

I'll second the nod for Bel Canto. I'm very selective about the fiction I read. Most of my literary diet consists of science and biography. When I read fiction it's because I have it on good authority that it is fabulous, and if I don't love it, I'll drop it after 100 pages.

Bel Canto is painfully beautiful. If you haven't already, read this one.

Posted by: Mr. Husband at October 11, 2005 2:03 PM

Amazon reviews are so ... scary, you know? Because of the very things you describe. I got one bad Amazon review and was sunk in despair for days. But I have Moved On. Onward and Upward. If Bel Canto can get a bad review, then there really is no meaning in the universe. For that matter, if gods in Alabama can get a bad review, it's a pretty screwy world.

Posted by: TrudyJ at October 11, 2005 6:00 PM

Lesbians really are not okay for the youth of america. Our youth need organic milk and more beatings. And Bel Canto.

Posted by: Mir at October 11, 2005 10:42 PM

Another fun thing to peruse on Amazon is when reviewers get in fights with each other. This happens a lot when books dealing with Mormons are being reviewed. I recently read "Under the Banner of Heaven" and "Leaving the Saints" for my virtual book club, and you should see the Mormons and ex-Mormons go at it!

And yes, Bel Canto was exquisite.


Posted by: Anne Glamore at October 12, 2005 8:58 AM

I now only read registered reviewers for content and anonymous reviewers for humor. If you check out Ann Rice reviews, I swear the exact same poster post the exact same review with the exact same text across different reviewer names and for several of her books, regardless of title or content. There sure are some wackos out there.

Posted by: Shawn B at October 12, 2005 2:49 PM

I LOVE to read amazon reviews... particularly when I really either loved or hated a book, or movie, or CD, or other bit of media. I don't know why, I guess I'm just neurotic and need validation. (And in the case of your book, hon, I wanted to add to those who LOVED it! Seriously, best book I've read in I don't know when! I'm a stay-at-home mommy, and I actually took the time to write a little blurb about gods... probably all the while trying to get my little boy to let go of my pants legs.)

Posted by: Jenn at October 12, 2005 11:53 PM

I've written a few reviews of books I really, really liked on Amazon. I ended up getting a CALL from an author and my quote and name, etc. ended up on the book's back cover with other comments!

Posted by: Hannah at October 14, 2005 6:49 PM