Exploring one-star wonders

I HAVE a confession to make. After reading a particular book or seeing a particular film or television series, I often enjoy paying a visit to Amazon.com and calling up the reviews. More specifically, I tend to select the one-star reviews.

I follow this same procedure whether I love the work, or hate it, or even find the whole thing leaves me indifferent. I enjoy criticism and find, generally speaking, that it can be more interesting than unqualified praise. If I dislike something, I like to hear similar opinions and reasoning. If I found the piece well-done, I can find a one-star reviewer’s take on it insightful. Perhaps it would even draw my attention to some aspect I had not considered prior to seeking it out.

It can prove welcome when I can’t find someone who has read the same book to compare opinions against. This is particularly the case when one is dealing with a more obscure volume, and it is easier to look online for others with shared experiences. Besides, I very often find a written piece of criticism is far more interesting and insightful than a verbal exchange of ideas, since it requires a reviewer to marshal a topic and cogent reasoning and references to the text to support his or her opinion. Often this has the result of opening a window into reader’s interpretation as well, along with the expectations they have brought with them concerning what the book is and should be about.

Obviously, I tend to scroll past the brief reviews of a mere few sentences in favor of the multiple-paragraph offering denoting a reader who has invested both time in a product as well as thought in responding to what the author has worked on and presented to the public. Whether the reviewer gives an interpretation of plot, character, style or themes, some new facet might emerge.

Also, an angered response from a reviewer who had invested time and interest in a product can also lend energy and a loss of inhibition that lends some spice to the review. One can even find parodic reviews written in the style of the author. The low-star reviews of Robert Jordan’s later Wheel of Time books are just one instance.

Many of these cases involve more obscure works; however in recent years, I have noticed a troubling phenomena when reading those one-star reviews of popular releases. Initial slews of critical reviews tend to be focused on a small range of the same topic, that of the failure or delay in releasing a Kindle edition of the product to consumers, or the fact that a Kindle version costs similar to or more than a hardcover book.

Now, to put my cards on the table, I do not own a Kindle or any other digital reading device and have no immediate plans to purchase one. I certainly have nothing against the emergent technology and I see its advantages over physical media. My only objection is that a one-star review should address the actual content of the book. To write a review stating one has no intention of purchasing the book because of the Kindle version’s unavailability defeats the purpose of reviewing the story itself as well as giving an unfair and inaccurate impression of the narrative.

The cost and availability of digital versions of a book are all legitimate concerns to those consumers who have proven willing to pay for a reading device, and they are all welcome to share their reactions, but there is another victim of this: the author.

DeFrank can be reached at rdefrank@timesleaderonline.com.