Shocking Revelation: My Opinion Does Not Matter

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I mentioned in an earlier post regarding oversharing that I wondered what this blabfest/blogging was doing to my psyche. The following post is the result of a rigorous, unscientific and unsubstantiated study about something entirely different. Sort of.

Martin Tupper disliked Walt Whitman and wrote unflattering reviews of Whitman’s work in the mid to late 1800s. They had ideological differences about politics and about writing. One was constrained, the other used language freely.  Whitman was able to use the comparisons between the two for self-promotion. Both were published authors.

I deleted my Goodreads account this morning. Much like Twitter and Facebook, I quickly lost interest in the competitive nature of followers and stars and lollipops and whatever else was on offer. The marriage with Amazon sounds ideal in that it feeds on the narcissistic furies of one-upmanship. There has been some very unattractive author infighting related to both sites. It’s more noise and frankly, I like my peace and quiet.

We’ve been surveyed, starred, liked and thumbed up and down for the last decade. People even rate the actual reviews/reviewers. It’s a meta-review system gone wild. Before the internet became available for public consumption, my favorite review guide was The New York Times Book Review, which I bought as a separate supplement every Sunday. I never read any of the books that were reviewed. I just liked reading about books. And I didn’t talk to anyone about it.

I feel much the same way about movies. I love reading movie reviews (RIP Mr. Ebert), but I rarely see movies. My love of reviews started to die a couple of years ago. Everybody began reviewing everything. Nobody just reads a book, buys a product, listens to music, travels or watches a movie and keeps it to themselves. We’re all in search of the best of everything, perfect vacations, perfect entertainment…perfect lives.

Dislodging myself from social networks seems counter-intuitive. I’m working on my first novel. Eventually, I will want to sell said novel. Apparently, I’ll be hawking it on street corners as I cannot bring myself to be part of any more networks. The other side to having written my own novel, is that I’m learning how very hard it is. Every review I’d write would be like that of a mother’s: “This writer gets an A+ for effort. I’m sure you’ll do better next time, dear.” I would definitely be voted least helpful.

When Fifty Shades of Grey came out, I read it. All the middle-aged women around me were acting like it was the second coming (I like my puns straight up and dirty). I struggled to read it on Kindle. I did not enjoy the writing. I did not enjoy the characters. I did not enjoy the story line. I requested my money back from Amazon. Ebooks are not particularly cheap, so I felt like what I purchased should have at least been read by an editor.

The temptation to go online and rail on the book was there. But I couldn’t decide if it was the godawfulness of the book or the irritating popularity that riled me up. Or was it the repulsive sexual politics? Or the tired storyline? And women around me LOVED this book. Then I started to read the reviews. They ranged wildly from loathing to endearment. Reading is personal, subjective and fiercely defended. My voice would have added nothing to the cacophony of opinions. The exchanges I’ve seen on various book and product reviews on Amazon feel like a feeding frenzy, with everyone shouting louder and louder to be heard.

There is also a tone of corruption that has entered the system. We know reviews get planted as part of a marketing strategy. We know some people just like the sounds of their own voices. Apparently it is also a battleground for authors’ egos. In between, some balance might be found. But these reviews are still from strangers, with no context, no back story, no idea of how their perspective might be skewed or influenced.

It is akin to someone walking up to my table in a restaurant and telling me not to order the chicken because it is overcooked. Great – at least the person is in the same restaurant, but when I realize that they’re completely drunk or are just trying to steal my bread sticks, it changes my view of them, not the chicken. Although, I don’t order the chicken. Just in case. And maybe someone won’t order a book that they’d love just because I found it a tad pedantic or that ass-whipping by a wealthy man-child doesn’t sound all that sexy. I just don’t want that responsibility. And I am amazed that so many people are willing to shoulder the burden.

Is this the desperation of an overcrowded planet? “Hear me, I matter, I’m here, I’m unique”.  Maybe the root of all this narcissism is the insecurity of being human in a sea of humans. Maybe it’s a defense against reality. We’re dust in the wind. I don’t find this thought depressing. Because I’m weird that way. It is the mentality that if nothing we do matters, then everything matters. And if everything matters, then I matter. Except in the big scheme of things, I’m a speck in the eye of the universe and I can pointlessly scatter my objections and praise all I want to the stars. All five of them.

81 Comments on “Shocking Revelation: My Opinion Does Not Matter

  1. I have never read Shades of Grey. For one thing its on a subject matter I have no interest in, and another – I have an irrational hatred for any book that started its life as a fanfiction.
    I think everyone has always assumed they were unique and they had something to say – but until the Internet appeared it was much harder to get their voice out. Now of course, people can, and in its own way is both changing how we look at movies, books and all other media for the better, and for the worse.

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    • I’m just not convinced that it improves things and everything is just starting to seem like so much noise. I’m okay with things starting out as fan fiction as long as it gets treated like a real book before trying to sell it – proper editing and e-formatting.

      It’s a bit hypocritical on my part to natter on about narcissism. I mean, I have a blog and all, but I find myself retreating from many other “communication opportunities” because it’s just starting to seem like too much.

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      • Published fanfiction is just something that frustrates me for stupid reasons. But I can definitely agree that e-book publishing and its lack of screening doesn’t help the situation.

        Can completely agree on the communication aspect. Just yesterday I was on a website that was making it impossible to do anything unless I linked it up to my facebook account. I didn’t want everyone on my Facebook page to know I what I was doing, and I spent ten minutes going round in circles just trying to navigate the page and not let the world know that. And it seems every website now wants you to link to every other website – there’s no concept that you might want to keep things private anywhere.

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        • I hate that, too – the linking of everything together. It’s invasive and irritating. I was in a coffee shop this morning and the lady at the register asked me my name. I asked her why she needed that (my coffee was the only one in the queue). She said they were now required to ask. I hate that as well. I told her I’d prefer to be a faceless consumer. It’s not like I’m inviting her home for dinner. That’s another rant for another post: false familiarity!

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  2. I will read any book you write because your blog posts are that rare thing of well-captured thoughts and wonderfully combined words and phrases. The “hear me, I matter, I’m unique” obsession is so often more than I can bear. Social media has simply allowed more people to be witnessed playing out their obsession. It had to have been there before. We humans don’t change all that much, do we? I recently dropped out of my book club. I found that it had started to destroy my love of reading. If I liked a book that the rest of the group didn’t like, I felt deficient and less than erudite. Everyone has an opinion. Not everyone realizes theirs should be kept silent.

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    • When someone asks my opinion, I can feel this sense of chest “puffery” as I prepare my statement. It’s silly, but human. It feeds our ego when someone wants to know what we think. On a small scale, this seems harmless, but on a grander scale, it feeds a sense of importance and self-centeredness that really, we don’t need more of.

      The idea that social media would connect us is only partially true. It has also feeds a sense that we are special, which is simply in defiance of statistics. This false sense of “specialness” seems counterproductive to the idea of common good and community. The long term view of this mentality is somewhat dismal in my mind, but that is just my opinion.

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  3. I love your honesty. I felt the same way about the Millenium Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.). Poorly written, I thought, but published posthumously, so maybe that’s why. Unfortunately, poor writing is all around. Not a day goes by that I don’t wonder who the people are that get paid to write and yet are not capable of proofreading or have editors who are too lazy to do so. It all seems to come down to money. The Millenium Trilogy had been around for awhile but was newly-made famous when the movie was made for the second time, probably because of Daniel Craig. I just read this article, and I fear it is clouding my mood/judgment:
    http://gawker.com/5989280/when-people-write-for-free-who-pays

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    • You’re right about so much coming down to money. I did read about the Atlantic controversy and numerous people have blogged about it. I think it all depends on where you are at in your writing career and what your goals are. What I don’t like is the argument that free writers screw over writers who want to get paid. Mostly because I’m a little naive about the process and food and shelter are not yet dependent on my writing skills!

      On the other hand, I don’t ever want to be one of those people who blames my lack of success on the accomplishments of others. Life is unfair and we move on to the next project, goal, etc. Of course, I may be singing a different tune after my novel gets rejected 15,000 times!

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  4. I rarely read reviews, of anything; and When I have, it has never affected my decision one way or the other. I did read Roger Ebert’s reviews because I am also a movie fanatic, I used to see him at TIFF all the time and I liked him. But even he couldn’t have swayed me. I like making my own mind up.

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  5. I agree with the “reviewing” as well. Add that to the fact that anyone can publish a book… it makes me sad. It’s like you don’t have to have anything special to say, but you want to write a book about it and you do and I might waste my time trying to read it because you had a catchy title. It really pisses me off.
    I tried to read Fifty Shades on my e book, too. I couldn’t even get halfway through. Again, highly disappointed not because I am over 60 and prudish because I’m not. (well I am over 60)
    A well-written post as usual! And your opinion does matter to me!

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    • I think it has always been the case that anyone can put their schlock on the market, but it does seem to degrade public expectations for what constitutes good writing. In some ways, it all seems lovely and democratic – until people act like it’s a masterpiece and pay out the wazoo for it. Then I start feeling a little curmudgeonly. 50 Shades appalled me for its “buzz” and its mediocrity, but it struck a chord with some people, I guess.

      Thanks for commenting and your kind words!

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  6. Wait a minute. You mean my opinion doesn’t mean everything? Damn I wish I’d known that before beginning my very opinionated blog!

    But seriously, I don’t read reviews. When I took acting classes in high school, the teacher said that nothing good comes out of reviews. Good ones make your head swell, bad ones make you second guess your performances.

    I rarely read book (or movie) reviews for similar reasons to the ones you mentioned. Sometimes people love things I hate and vice versa. For books reading the synopsis and the first page tells me if I will like it most of the time. With vanishing book stores, though, my technique is getting harder to practice.

    But I write reviews for books written by people I “know” — my blogging buddies. And while I can quietly and personally critique writing and editing, etc., I can’t put that into a review that is available online.

    I’m looking forward to reading yours!

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    • Your acting teacher was likely correct. I think once a work is published, reviews are completely useless to an author. You are either going to be pandering to or striking out against readership. Either way, your work won’t improve. The time for honest reviews and for soliciting opinions is before it gets published.

      I’ve written one review for a blogging buddy, before I really understood the “system”. I made a conscious decision to no longer do that. My inability to pander for or to may well lead me to be an unpublished author, but I’ll cross that bridge when the torturous edits are done. I might need a few beta readers for that!

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  7. Michelle,
    This is a bit like Klout, which give you a Klout score depending on your activities on different social media platforms, and how much readers/followers/friends interact with you. So basically, someone could be writing “I don’t like chocolate” on their Facebook page, and there could be comments like “Me too”, “yuck”, “I agree”, “your mom”, and your Klout score would increase. That carrot system makes individuals on social media post more often, putting the emphasis on quantity, as opposed to quality posts. It’s a bit of a mess, and yet another digital addiction… It’s a tad off-topic, but close enough I think to be somewhat relevant.
    Le Clown

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    • I find the whole Klout thing creepy (unlike clowns), but you are absolutely right – it’s a system that caters to and encourages the least amount of effort, time and thought. I think this is what I found to be true in almost any social media network, to include review systems – there’s a lot of dreck to swim through in order to find information or writing that is enriching. Mobile apps have made things even worse – now people can post inane shit from anywhere. Lucky us. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  8. I hear you.

    I also used to love reading book reviews and movie reviews when I had a couple of well informed sources to read, or at least I thought they were well informed. I think they were. Anymore, rather than trust the reviewer on any product or service, I read a few reviews, form my own opinion and go from there.

    I’ve never rated any book or movie or product or online or in store experience. My subjective opinion would just add to the clutter and i don’t think it really matters.

    And then there’s the social media. Never been one to post much on FB. Do any of my friends really want a play by play of my life? Noooo. So I started a blog thinking maybe a bunch of complete strangers might enjoy a play by play of my life. That’s a bit twisted. But as you say, it matters to me so it matters.

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    • I started a blog for the discipline of writing out loud, and unexpectedly (and pleasantly)discovered the social component, but this is about all I can handle. I’m juggling a lot in my offline life (good stuff) and have to be a little more cautious about how I commit my time. I am a bit repulsed by any social networking component that encourages inanity, like Le Clown suggested in his comment.
      The more I respond to these comments, I just wonder if I’m becoming Statler and Waldorf – the old guys from the Muppets’ theater. They were always my favorite characters.

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  9. Definitely food for thought here. I do have goodreads, Facebook, Twitter (just newly joined that little community to check it out) and of course, blogging. I think you have to screen carefully and weigh appropriately the varied voices clamoring for attention. But each community has its worth and value, if you are able to screen out the B.S. (or find a way to co-exist at least!).

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    • I think that’s where it gets me – I just don’t have time to read and weigh everything. There’s too much and my brain begins to feel like mud. It’s a personal preference based on a lot of factors. I have to figure out how to spend my time in a way that suits my mental processes better. Gardening season is coming up. There’s no app in the world that makes me happier – I give it a green thumbs up!

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  10. Fascinating post & comments. I believe the reason everyone thinks they are unique is because we *are* unique – there has never been and never will be another me, nor another you. However, I think that you right that the overcrowded and over(pseudo)connected planet has led to the feeling of desperation and cacaphony. Everyone needs everyone else to be fully aware of just how unique they are, and, by extension, how much *better* they are than others.
    One of things that has always bothered me about myself is that I’m fairly oblivious to an awful lot of things. In some instances, though, I suppose that’s a plus. Such as, I had no idea all that was going on Goodreads. I don’t pay attention. I don’t know how all these competitive rankings and starrings and likings work, and I don’t care. I started my blog because I’m a writer and will need a “platform” from which to “launch” (even that has a militaristic, competitive sound). But I’m not yet paying the attention necessary to build up that platform.
    Perhaps it’s hubris, but I don’t really care what strangers think about things. Somehow I’m blessedly kept in the dark regarding all this noise. When I got rid of my TV five or six years ago, I came to realize just how much worthless racket there is out there. I don’t need it. I am able to ignore it.

    Isn’t it possible for you to “use” the social media without becoming enmeshed in it, or following all the back and forth? It seems to work for me. At some point, I guess I’ll have to pay attention, as part of my writing pursuits. But I believe I’ll be able to stay fairly detached, and just use what I need for my outreach. Can’t you do that? Or am I just kidding myself — once I start paying attention, I’ll hear a giant sucking sound and then become one of the narcissistic critics, madly liking and disliking and opining?
    Thanks for the food for thought. I wish you would not give up on the networking world – it really will help you get your book out there.
    Take what you like, and leave the rest, as they say.
    Melanie

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    • I’m always open to checking things out, so hence my app experimentation. I also read a lot of blogs, so I’m pointed in the direction of some of these issues that way. I don’t really watch TV, but I do try to pay attention to pop culture and I’m a music and book junkie.

      I will be the first person to admit that I don’t have good filters. I very quickly feel overwhelmed or dispirited with the nature of comments and discussions. It really detracts and distracts me. You might have better luck with it all.

      I guess I’m just going to be a test case. Can this author make it without online social networks? Stay tuned…

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  11. Definitely a lot of noise out there, and honestly, everything you said is likely the reason I wanted to “resign” from writing a few weeks back (I believe you commented on that post).

    There used to be a time in my life when I’d read a book and I NEVER considered the author. I’d let the narration, the characters, and the story speak for itself. It literally came alive for me in that way.

    These days it seems to be more about the “author” and whether or not he/she is “successful” that matters more. Then again, maybe this is just true for me since in recent years I decided that I wanted to be a published author.

    If I’m being honest, all I want to do is write my book. Unfortunately its not that simple anymore. I wish more than anything that it was. It seems like there is this constant race to get published, and I’ve been feeling so boggled down in the whole enterprise lately…again, this is why I considered stopping altogether.

    I liked this post a lot. I found myself nodding along in agreement the whole way. I thought what you said about this being the result of an “overcrowded” world. I could make a long list of the good things the Internet and social media has brought us…but despite all that, I really feel that something very important has slipped away in the process. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it has to do with EVERYTHING changing ALL AT ONCE.

    Thanks for encouraging the insight!

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    • Katie, you bring up a couple of good points as a reader and as a writer. I bounce all over the place with my reading, having never been a fan of a particular genre and the book, as you point out, was the book. The author was an afterthought to me and that is what I, as a writer, aspire to be – an afterthought.

      All I want to do is write and as easy as it is to get caught up in the superstar status of some writers, most of us will be lucky (and happy) with a modest readership, enough money to feel like we’re earning our keep and the option to keep on writing.

      In terms of the internet and social networking, I love many things about the communities and opportunities and the exchange of knowledge, but it is too much for ME, as a writer and as someone who has many offline interests. It’s just too much and while my little rant here today is personal, I know a lot of people might take it personally. I am just unable to successfully navigate all the constant information without feeling overwhelmed.

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  12. I began all the social media stuff some time ago when I thought I wanted a business in coaching and/or research. I gave up the idea of the business, but kept the social stuff because I like it. And once I do publish a book, my network will already be in place!

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    • I think it works marvelously for some people, but it is a factor of time for me and of feeling I am unable to filter the useless information from the valuable. Closing the social media accounts for me has felt freeing in a lot of ways, not the least of which is how often writers are told that it’s a necessity.

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  13. Like. Like. Like. Like. Like. (5 likes!) Very very well said! (and 2 very’s!) So many online activities are about rating. I wrote one review on Tripadvisor and regularly get emails about “how many people have seen your review.” Being female and a “recovering Catholic” (someone called me that recently, to my astonishment) I thought I’d better start reviewing every hotel I stayed in or city I visited. But that felt forced and there were way better reviewers out there who could say all of it better than I could. And there were a gazillion reviewers; what more could I say that would make any difference? I like that you read the New York Times book reviews. I do too and many times that’s enough for me, I don’t read the book. In another life when I thought I was a writer one of the shiny things i wanted was a positive (or at least unscathing) NY Times review. Now I’ll be pleased just to have something interesting to write about. This was such an excellent post, although if you don’t stop saying everything I’m thinking I’m never going to be able to write another post of my own.

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    • I’m happy enough to be writing now, not to worry much about reviews. But after reading about some of the author dust ups, I will know that if I am ever published, I won’t read the reviews. You’d have to have some pretty thick skin to come out of it all unscathed.

      I’ve written a few reviews and then it occurred to me that I was spending time on something that was pointless. I felt embarrassed by my own pompousness. It’s like giving unsolicited advice, except that sites do solicit it and try to tap into that old ego.

      Thanks for stopping by and reading. I’ll stop reading your mind and you get back to posting!

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  14. Our technology has brought us to a point I think is unique in human history. Never have so many be so connected. McLuhan’s Global Village is here. Big time!

    I first realized this way back during the first Gulf War as I sat, glued to my TV all night, watching a real war in real time. Astonishing, and that was many years ago.

    Sadly, all that technology seems mostly have shown us just how vapid and shallow we are as a civilization. And I do believe that micro-blogging is destroying people’s ability to think deep thoughts. Attention spans and reading comprehension seem at all-time lows.

    And our entertainment choices also seem to brand us as a civilization in decline. I have a project in mind to compare the top ten highest grossing (i.e. most popular to the public) movies of the year for the last 5 decades. My belief is that it will reveal our intellectual decline.

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    • I can’t speak to the intellectual decline, as I am not an academic or high minded person, but pop culture has always been used as proof of a civilization’s decline. I absolutely agree that many of the ways we communicate today contribute to shortened attention spans, inability to think through complex issues and inability to be creative – on a consumer level. On the other hand, we are often exposed to ideas or works that we would not have otherwise known about, had it not been for social media and technology.

      It seems like six of one and half a dozen of the other. I’m looking forward to what happens on the other side of this social media fad, when we’re all sick to death of it. What will be the next big thing? Not that I’ll buy it, use it or have it implanted in my head, but still, I’m curious – aren’t you?

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      • Increasingly less so, because I don’t believe the end result will be a good one. I have held out hope that this is just a social sea change, which is always a challenging time, and that whatever new reality comes out the other side would be okay. Different, but okay.

        But I think that’s just been me trying to keep an open mind about a situation where everything I see suggests otherwise. We’ve been in decline for a long time; I’ve been aware of this for 40 years. It’s not academia or being high-minded. It’s about basic math skills, basic science knowledge. (Hell, I’d almost settle for basic geography and grammar skills, but lots of people lack those, too. I’ve seen adult Americans unable to find Mexico on an unlabeled world map.)

        It’s 2013, and people still think evolution can go toe-to-toe with creationism. That is insane to me. Surveys show that 33% of Americans believe in the physical reality of angels (while having no clue where friggin’ Mexico is). Ignorance that deep damages society.

        You are right that pop culture, as a fact, is often cited as evidence of intellectual poverty (and perhaps rightly so), but it is not the fact of pop culture I mean to study. It’s the change over time that interests me. Pop culture is pop(ular), because people flock to it. For better or worse, it is a barometer of regular people’s tastes and interests.

        So my interest is in whether the vocabulary, both of language and of concepts and ideas, has devolved over time. My gut says definitely.

        For one example, I don’t see a huge difference between Unreality TV and public executions (or bull fights or gawking at a traffic accident). They’re all a sick form of voyeurism utterly lacking in any intellectual content at all.

        So, no, I’m not at all sure that Mike Judge’s movie, Idiocracy isn’t prophetic.

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  15. These are curiously conflicted times. A lot of crud is emerging that wouldn’t otherwise see the light of day. At the same time a lot of diamonds are appearing from the rough that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day. I’m amazed by some of the absolute crap that becomes incredibly popular. Then again, lately I’ve been lucky enough to find some greatly talented authors.

    I’m reading a kindle book by a fellow blogger who I’ve come to think of as a genius after getting halfway through his book. Yet I know he holds down a regular job to pay the bills because his books don’t sell enough to cover living expenses. A travesty if you ask me.

    The guy isn’t getting nearly enough credit. I plan to write a shining review for him on Amazon. Perhaps that just throws me into the mix mentioned in this post. I’ll do it anyway because the guy deserves some kudos. I can only hope it helps him a little.

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    • You’re right about the diamonds. I find them the old-fashioned ways: strolling through the musty, dusty libraries and bookstores, looking up books on subjects that interest me. The same with music: live shows, music festivals, indie radio stations. Maybe that’s too old school!

      I’ve read several books by blogging buddies, but it puts you in a curious situation if you are not fond of the book or wouldn’t recommend it. That’s when I decided not to do any reviews online as policy. I can safely enjoy reading whatever books I want, give private feedback, without being put on the spot for a review.

      You could help your fellow blogger out by letting us know the book and author here. You’ve piqued my curiosity!

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  16. The missing ingredient in so many of the reviews we’re bombarded with is called “credentials”. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, we are each entitled to ignore them. As the old saying goes, opinions are like (butts), everybody has one, and they all stink.

    Your book will have readers, as your blog does, because of the quality of your craft and the purity of your voice. Sadly, it won’t likely score you 50 Shades type money – for the exact same reasons!

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    • I think this is what some of these “review the reviewers” systems are trying to accomplish – give some status to reviewers, but it just turns it into another competitive slug fest which, if there were actually slugging, I might enjoy. Instead it’s name calling and passive aggressiveness, without substantive information that would be useful.

      I’m not looking to score loads of money at this point in my life. And that’s probably a good thing, given my aversion to networking. I’ve worked my ass off for decades being everything else but a writer. So my writing can be for whatever purpose I choose. I know it’s a rough world for writers who try to make a career of it. I was a big chicken and never did, but better late than never.

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  17. I know what you mean. To be honest, I like a lot of things that have garnered bad reviews. I’m not that picky when it comes to films (although some, admittedly, are just so dreadful even I can’t like them. *cough Breaking Dawn cough*) So I rarely listen any more. I usually only use reviews for technology to make sure I’m not ripped off; for hotels to make sure I don’t get stuck in a shack in a desert and for restaurants that I’m dubious about.
    Also, I enjoyed the 50 shades of grey pun. I read it too. Not my favourite, but admittedly the sex made it more interesting than Twilight! (Although frankly the amount of canoodling they get up to, I’m surprised they have the energy to get anything else done. I mean geez it must be EXHAUSTING.)

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    • Conversely, I tend to avoid things that are being “raved” about and do a lot of off-the-beaten-path reading. I have read reviews on hotels and other events or products. I always wonder where our funny vacation stories will come from, if everything is perfect and all goes as described in reviews. Yes, I don’t want to stay in a roach motel, but reviews can VERY subjective in that regard as well.

      I can’t go too far down the path of 50 Shades, as I’ll be guilty of the thing I’m bemoaning in this post. Let’s just say, there’s much better erotica out there where the main female character isn’t a clueless virginal git. There. I’ve crossed the line. Again!

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      • Oh I agree. If somewhere only has mild reviews I’ll usually try it out any way, as if it gives a different experience and somewhere fun to go – then I’m happy. And to be honest, with hotels, clean and serviceable will usually do for me. I just like to make sure there hasn’t been a recent e coli break out or a rash of people complaining of sore stomachs, or bedbugs or something haha! I’m also very suspicious of scams if I’m buying second hand from Amazon or something, so reviews can be helpful in that regard.
        I do know what you mean though – the ‘rave review’ places can wind up just being dull. And it kinda drags the excitement out of discovering a new place.
        As for your final comment…I agree completely. She isn’t the most likeable character…but she is based on Bella Swann. And frankly practically anything is nothing if not an improvement.

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  18. Have you seen those ridiculous reviews where people just make stuff up and make something like a t-shirt seem earth shattering? They crack me up, but they also show just how unimportant those reviews are. It’s a valid point, this idea that we are making ourselves more important than we really are by offering our opinion on everything under the sun!

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    • I like the unbalanced reviews best – like it’s a vengeful neighbor or ex lashing out. Back up, buddy, it’s just a pair of socks.

      It bugs me that businesses and doctor’s offices are constantly surveying us as well. Why don’t they just do a good job instead of doing the least they can get away with?

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      • I actually use consumer surveys in my work and they are very helpful. We always offer people a chance to sound off, unfortunately most free comments have nothing to do with anything we can change. There are jewels in there, but you have to dig for them.

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        • I’ve become one of those belligerent people who won’t give up email or zip codes to cashiers and who recycles every customer service survey I get. If I like a business, I’ll be back. If I have an issue or was really happy with services or products, I let the business know (I’m all about sending Thank You notes and talking to managers). I think I’ve reached the cranky old bat stage. Finally. I was born for the role!

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        • LOL – I don’t like taking surveys or giving out info either. I understand why they want it – but it still seems intrusive. I like that you write thank you notes, I think that is pretty rare these days.

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  19. I love books. I will read just about anything that is put in front of me, and that includes things like shampoo bottles and nutrition information on Cheerio’s boxes. I hate sharing what I read, or my favorite authors anymore though because it has become some sort of weird statement on who you are as a person if you read authors from different genres (you are inconsistent) or enjoy the light reading of books that don’t have a higher social purpose (you are indifferent). I am 40 years old and I still love Piers Anthony who I started reading when I was about 15 (I am immature) – It’s all silly really. Read what you enjoy, and let yourself enjoy it, because really, it is only YOUR opinion that matters.

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    • I read everything my sight line as well! I like to bounce around, reading intrinsically as I run across subjects or titles that interest me. One of the things that I don’t like about the whole “if you like this, then you’ll like this” marketing strategy, is that it does try to keep you within genre lines or assumes all women over 40 read romances or diet books. Knowing how personal and subjective reading is, I like the journey of discovery on my own. And we all have our go-to books. For me, it is Arthur Conan Doyle and Mark Twain – my grandfather introduced me to them in my teens and I still have the battered copies of their collected works. It’s like hanging out with old friends.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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      • It really is like hanging out with old friends!! I always love reconnecting with the characters I loved as a kid. It is also nice to just read something that you don’t have to process or think too deeply about. I still have my “Book about Kitties” that I got for Christmas when I was 6. I read it every now and then because I still love it.

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        • I have books that are now on my favorites list because of all the reading I used to do with my daughter. I mean, Moo, Baa, La, La, La by Sandra Boytnon is a classic. I’ve got it memorized and will irritate my child by reciting it out loud on occasion – bonus! When I was younger, I loved a series called Childhood of Young Americans where I discovered Annie Oakley, Elizabeth Blackwell, Nellie Bly, Mahalia Jackson, Sacagawea and Marie Curie. I’ve never forgotten those stories.

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  20. One more confirmation of my decision to not do Facebook, Twitter, etc. etc. etc. I don’t have an eReader or know anything about all the grading systems you mentioned (except the “like” button on blogs), but I can imagine. Sorta like the gold stars my piano teacher put on my pages? Didn’t mean much then, either, because I usually crammed my practice in an hour before my lesson.
    There are bloggers who read a lot and write about their favorites. I’ve found a few who share my taste in books, and I like hearing about new titles and authors to try. It helps me. Other than that, no thanks.
    I love movies, too, and see just about everything that comes out. I don’t need any advice there, but I do enjoy fan-girling with others about them. It’s a hobby.
    And as someone who writes fan fiction, I was stunned to even hear about Shades of Gray (and not in a good way). If I ever do read it, it will be with the same morbid curiosity as slowing down to get a good look at road kill.

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    • I just can’t handle that much “communication” and I think I started those accounts because I kept reading that as a writer, I would need them all. Turns out, they actually take away from writing – they take away time and critical thinking skills. I say this, knowing many people really, really enjoy social networking, so it’s subjective and personal.

      I’ve reached a point where I have accepted that I will not live long enough to read all the books that I want to read, so I generally don’t read about books anymore, except in the context of writing (Love Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer). I did read 50 Shades out of morbid curiosity. Had it not been on my Kindle, I would have tossed it across the room in irritation.

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  21. For counterbalance, I think all of this frenzied ‘doing’ and increased ‘noise’ or ‘drumbeat’ in the world needs regular antidotes: Meditation. Time in nature. Doing nothing. Thinking nothing. Stilling all thoughts. Calming the mind.

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  22. I was devastated when I first learned that my opinion doesn’t count. I was quite proud of my many and varied opinions. Then the lady I was dating informed me that being opinionated does not count as a talent.

    Your post, Michelle, is insightful regarding the great whirlpool of feedback we’re all swirling around in. Soon we may all be sucked right down the drain. My Facebook and Goodreads accounts are both little used, and like you, I’m thinking of resigning from them both.

    Email has become essential, replacing both letter-writing and phone calls. Texting is a variation of email, mostly for younger peeps with nimble thumbs.

    Blogging on WordPress is the social media I find valuable. One does come to belong to a community on WordPress. But it happens slowly, with a lot of thoughtful writing and commenting, and it’s based on shared interests in content.

    Twitter is my surprise! I recently started on Twitter, based on good advice. Turns out Twitter is an excellent way to keep up to date on a subject that interests you. Simply follow all the experts, journalists and practitioners of the subject, and some of them will follow you back. It’s like getting a rolling newspaper tailored to that one interest, and you can respond and share in real time. But I think you have to be fairly selective and stick with a limited topic to make it useful in that way.

    I think many people misuse Twitter. It shouldn’t be just idle chit-chat. Tweets are most valuable if they contain breaking news or links to content (especially content on your blog). But the social aspect is there as well. You develop involvement in the community by adding your thoughts to the passing stream of tweets, retweeting tweets you like, adding tidbits of breaking news, and of course linking to relevant content, your own or others. My Twitter group is a small one focusing on Democratic politics, esp Dem politics in Maryland. People with any interest in that narrow topic can follow along @BJohnHayden

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    • After responding to a lot of comments, I realized that these communication options and tools simply need to be tailored to one’s interests and priorities. I tend to like blogging and reading blogs because of, in many cases, great writing on a wide range of topics. There is definitely a sense of community here as well, but as you pointed out, it takes a while to develop.

      So much, too, depends on what kind of writing interests you. In your case, John, long having been a reporter and by design, a news junkie, I can see where the immediacy of Twitter might be very useful. For me, it becomes cartoonishly like rabbits multiplying until my screen and my brain are so filled with clutter I can’t write a complete sentence. As I mentioned to previous commenters, I just don’t have the filters to sort the wheat from the chaff. Since I write personal essays and fiction means that I don’t always have to be “in the know”. And when I want to be, I just seek out bloggers like you!

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  23. Kudos on a brilliant post. I especially agreed with your thoughts on “Fifty Shades.” I read a few pages and found the writing to be so lacking that it wasn’t worth even the brief time I had spent in the perusal. We have become slaves to media hype in so many ways. Loved this. Take care.

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    • Apparently you were wiser than I regarding 50 Shades! I think it’s easy to see that media hype is entirely unrelated to quality or substance these days, if it ever were. A lot of people are wringing their hands about the decline of civilization and the “dumbing down” of culture, but it has always been like this and we often have to go off the beaten path to find brilliance, but it’s there. Thank you for reading and sharing your comment!

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  24. This is a hard one because if you ignore the bad press then how do you handle the good reviews? Reviews and ratings are useful when they have a perspective not voiced. Rantings rarely if ever help because the tone makes me want to move on. I remember a writing instructor challenging the notion that everyone has something important to say. He did not believe this to be true but many in the class disagreed. I guess I have decided that everyone may have something to say, but I don’t have to listen. The exception is the writer whose voice I have learned to either trust or I feel can give a thoughtful opinion, even if it is one I don’t fully agree with.

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    • Maybe this brings us back to the point by one of the other commenters. It becomes about credentials. Either those that are widely recognized or as you point out, a level of personal trust. I think reviews after the fact are not useful to a writer, but I hope I would endeavor to evaluate advice and critique prior to publication with a little more circumspection.

      I often remind myself that just because I can say or write something, it doesn’t necessarily mean I should, so I agree with your writing instructor a little!

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  25. my thoughts on reviews are quite contradictory. I don’t read reviews just so I know whether or not to watch the film or read the book. I read reviews for the good writing style (if it exists). But I also WRITE reviews. And that’s a mixture of improving my own writing (because it’s easy to start with your own opinion on a certain thing) and because I have a complex view on a certain film or book that I really want to get out there. There’s also the fact that I really want to recommend something because I really liked it. But that is just my opinion and I can only expect to have credibility if I back up my opinion with fact.
    As for 50 Shades of Grey, I disliked it because it was a combination of “very badly written” and “extremely popular”. I just get annoyed when I think about all the good writing out there that gets ignored while books like these fly off the shelves.

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    • I enjoy reading well-written reviews as well. I hit a point of overload though, because now everyone has an opinion on everything and quality of writing or taking a balanced view is a rare combination. There is a lot of good writing out there – I just have to look a lot harder for it and maybe my opinion on this is too extreme. Reviews of non-mainstream literature are important in order to bring the lesser known works some attention.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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      • Absolutely! Unfortunately you can’t be heard if you’re talking about something no one else has heard of. So it’s really up to the big name reviewers to bring good literature and films/documentaries to our attention!

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  26. Raising one’s opinion can start the ball rolling in forums or blogs, just like what the readers in this entry did. Whether we agree or disagree, there’s always a point where we can meet halfway. I was one of those who rode on to the bandwagon with the popular “Christian Grey” of 50 Shades of Grey. To my disappointment, I felt I was reading an unedited story in the first volume. I didn’t go further reading the sequels. I do read reviews before I watch a film or read a novel and still, it will be my opinion that will matter after watching or reading the film or book of my choice. However, I came to know this Grey through word of mouth , such prominent character from a bestselling novel with nothing to flaunt except for its nonsense erotic scenes. Too bad, it seems it didn’t pass through a meticulous editor.

    By the way, I’m looking forward to that book you’re starting

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    • I’ve found that much of what is making its way to eReaders seems to be un-vetted and unedited. It is really unfortunate, since there are some awesome writers out there who are e-publishing and doing it well. It’s tough to sort them out from the flotsam and jetsam.

      Whenever I think about writing a review of anything, I feel like a bit of a pompous jerk, so it is perhaps only my perspective of my opinion that made me writing.

      I finished the first draft of my book, but am now doing re-writes and editing. It’s a torturous process, but you can bet it will be vetted and edited before going anywhere!

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