The Multiple-Choice Book Review

Amazon.com have added a system of drop-down menus for reviewers to use. This will be very handy for all those people who have read a book and gone to Amazon with the express intention of leaving a review, only to find themselves unable to think of any words.

There’s a summary here along with a useful graphic of the various menus:

amazonI’m pretty sure it could use a few more options. (You know, like how there may be other metrics to judge plot than ‘surprise!’, and how we distinguish that simple topic ‘writing’ in a slightly more nuanced way than okay vs good.) So, all-round helpful person that I am, I’ve come up with a few other drop-down menus Amazon could add, in order to bring us all to a real, close, yet fully multiple-choice understanding of every book ever written. I think this should cover it nicely.

What did this book make you feel?

  • Joy
  • Mild to severe discomfort
  • Wistful yearning
  • Sexual desire for a billionaire
  • Seething hatred of one or more characters / the author
  • Anomie
  • Weltzschmertz

Why do you think the author wrote this book?

  • To bring joy to humanity
  • Over-confidence
  • Couldn’t afford therapy
  • Demonic possession

Does this book include krakens?

  • No cephalopods, sea monsters or Lovecraftian beasts whatsoever
  • Some tentacular activity
  • HORROR IN THE DEEP

If this book was an animal what would it be?

  • Cute puppy
  • Fluffy kitten
  • Dragonfly, fragile yet iridescent in its beauty
  • Filthy lumbering hog
  • Kraken

What is this book worth to you?

  • Toenail clippings (discarded)
  • 1-3 hours of my time
  • Firstborn child
  • Later-born but secretly preferred child

How will the author respond to a bad review, in your opinion?

  • Obliviousness
  • Unconvincing gratitude
  • Flounce
  • Social media meltdown (two or more platforms)

What book should the author have written instead?

  • Her last one, over and over again, forever
  • This one, but with a different hero and maybe a different plot
  • One with pictures of cats
  • A much shorter one

What is your favourite colour? [This question is compulsory.]

  • Puce
  • Taupe
  • Madder
  • Gamboge

I look forward to seeing these enhancements to the multiple-choice reviewing experience, and welcome further suggestions in the comments.

_________________________________

KJ Charles is

  • a freelance editor
  • a romance author
  • inclined to sarcasm
  • going on holiday

 I’ll be back in mid April, see you then-ish. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. And feel free to swoon at the cover for A Fashionable Indulgence! (Loveswept, August, since you ask.)Fashionable Indulgence_03_04_15

Advertisements

Terry Pratchett and common humanity

Terry Pratchett, dead at 66, was a humanist, in the best and widest sense. It is impossible to read him without getting a sense of his huge compassion, a deep understanding and acceptance of people in all their flaws, petty and huge. I think it may be this that made his passing a source of active grief to so many. People wept. I wept. I sat on the bed with Reaper Man, and read the scene where Death begs a little more time for Miss Flitwick, and cried big, snotty, ugly tears, because I didn’t want him to be gone. (Or, more specifically, because I wanted him not to have had Alzheimer’s, not to have had his mind taken from him so cruelly early, to be alive and well.)

‘Compassion’ is one of those words. Terry Pratchett was not a twinkly jolly kindly uncle, nor was he a flaccid liberal. The body count in his books is high. There is retribution. Death comes with a sword as well as a scythe. It’s fantasy, and the heroes kill monsters, but the monsters are not dragons and trolls; they are us. He loathed the idea of meaningless forgiveness and the ‘can’t we all just get along?’ school of argument. Hogfather, his great attack on shallow sentimentality (“Real children do not go hoppity skip unless they are on drugs”), skewers this perfectly, with its well-meaning department store display of Dolls of All Nations playing the song ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice If Everyone Was Nice’.

Pratchett’s compassion was not sentimental: it was fierce, and angry, and uncompromising. But it was still compassion, and not the ‘compassion’ offered by some religions which entails torturing people for their own good. (Small Gods is a roar of rage against that.) He offered a clear-sighted look at humanity, and an intense belief in our capacity for good as well as evil. This line from Reaper Man says everything. (Death speaks in capitals, incidentally, and without quotation marks.)

THERE IS NO HOPE BUT US. THERE IS NO MERCY BUT US. THERE IS NO JUSTICE. THERE IS JUST US.

That is humanism: accepting the moral responsibility for ourselves because there’s nobody else to give it to us, and knowing that if we don’t take that responsibility, if we don’t provide the hope and mercy, and the justice as well, our night will be long and dark indeed.

I believe in freedom. Not many people do, although they will of course protest otherwise. And no practical definition of freedom would be complete without the freedom to take the consequences. Indeed, it is the freedom upon which all the others are based.

(Going Postal)

I grew up reading Pratchett, from his early fantasy parodies, watching him mature into not just a deeply wise thinker, but a superb stylist. As a genre writer, I am prickly about the dismissiveness with which genre is treated, the relentless belittling of I don’t read that stuff and Why would you write that rubbish. Pratchett is one of the great writers who show precisely what genre can do, that it can be as well written and say as much as any kind of writing. It took a very long time for him to get critical as well as popular recognition for his skill, in part because he wrote not just fantasy but comic fantasy, of all the low-status things. (Some people apparently don’t understand that any half-arser can throw in terrible human suffering to give their book Deep Meaning, whereas it’s actually hard to write a good joke.)

He used his world of swords and sorcery, silly names and funny gods, to say so much, as well as so cleverly. He filled his books with so many good jokes that you’re still spotting new ones on the tenth reading. (There are two rival clans in his fantasy city, the Selachii and the Venturi. Look up selachii. Know that ‘venturi’ is an air flow, or jet. Kick yourself.) At his best he wrote with magnificent wit and precision, with his narrative description as compelling as his action scenes. He was passionately committed to the value of laughter and the value of imagination.

HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

(Hogfather)

We have lost a great man and a great writer. Yesterday his legacy was visible: so many people exchanging quotes, naming favourite books, glorying in his work. Tomorrow I hope his legacy will be every genre writer writing with pride, as well as she possibly can, and every one of the millions who read his books remembering what he had to say about imagination, and laughter, and compassion. And, most of all, about facing up to our duties to one another, not just to ourselves.

As it happens, this week in romance was distinguished by some fairly crappy stuff. An article in the official publication of Romance Writers of America recommended that authors could avoid losing sales by remaining ‘neutral’ on ‘polarising’ subjects such as equal rights for LGBT people and racist police brutality. (Not in those words, needless to say. Summary here.) This was along with a particularly disgusting business of authors making 50 Shades jokes about the rape of a 14-year-old black slave, and a flurry of defence in which people literally tried to explain away the problems inherent in turning the actual life of an enslaved woman into either a romance or a BSDM fantasy, for God’s sake, what the hell is wrong with you?

Well, Terry Pratchett knew what the hell was wrong with you, and here it is, in a comic fantasy about vampires, during a conversation between people with silly names.

” […] sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.”

“It’s a lot more complicated than that–”

“No it ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.”

“Oh, I’m sure there are worse crimes–”

“But they starts with thinking about people as things.”

(Carpe Jugulum)

Rest in peace, Terry Pratchett. I leave you with a quote from Sourcery that means everything to me, as romance author:

“And what would humans be without love?”

RARE, said Death.

______________________________

If you have not read Terry Pratchett, don’t start from the beginning. Go for Reaper Man, Hogfather, Thief of Time, The Truth or Going Postal, all of which work standalone. Then go back and start the Guards sequence from Guards, Guards! and the Witches sequence from Wyrd Sisters. Then read all the other ones.

Comments about Terry Pratchett, shared quotes and memories and requests for recommendations, are very welcome.

Comments defending the slave book, or any other aspects of the associated row, will get you kicked off here so hard you’ll bounce.

______________________________

KJ Charles is a freelance editor and writer. Her most recent release is Jackdaw, published by Samhain. Think of England  won Best LGBT Romance in the All About Romance 2015 Readers Poll.

My Book is My Baby! (Now pass me the wet wipes.)

We’ve all come across this metaphor. It’s a cry of ownership, a plea for kindness, a go-to excuse for displays of hurt feelings and bad behaviour at negative reviews. “My book is my baby! I love it! What you say about my book hurts me!”

This metaphor is of course very easy to mock. Thus: I don’t put my baby up for sale on Amazon; I don’t think a poorly baby can be made better by cutting 20% of its length; it is not good practice to put a misbehaving baby in a drawer and forget about it for six months. Et cetera. You can entertain yourself with this on Twitter for hours. But there is a serious reason why this is a bad metaphor, which is worth looking at in depth.

Consider what the ‘book as baby’ metaphor conveys: you create a thing, you love it, and you feel deeply protective of it. The metaphor holds up fine for the first two points with a book. You conceived the idea of a book, gestated it at some cost to yourself, brought it into the world with hard work; hopefully you’re pretty proud of the end result.

The problem is point three, the protectiveness.

The thing about a human baby is that it is incredibly, frighteningly helpless. You can’t even pick them up at first without cradling their oversized heads in case their necks snap. Drop it, shake it, hit it, and it could die right there. Babies survive only because they have adult defenders. We are wired to protect them: most people feel an incredible repulsion at the idea of harming any baby, and when you actually bond with one, you will put its existence above your own and, yes, defend it to the hilt from the least insult. Because if you are cruel about my baby, there is an outside chance you might be cruel to my baby, and before I let that happen I will rip off your arm and beat you to death with the wet end. That’s parental protectiveness at work, and it’s necessary because babies are so very easy to hurt.

Whereas, to state the glaringly, gibberingly obvious: You can’t hurt books.

A book isn’t a human baby, it’s a crocodile. It crawls out of the shell fully formed, mobile, independent, and ready to bite things. You should give it a helpful nudge towards the water with marketing, sure. But a protection response is as unnecessary and stupid as if you picked up a baby crocodile and tried to give it a nurturing cuddle, or maybe breastfeed. (Don’t do that.) A bad review may feel like someone throwing mud at your baby, which is just one step away from throwing rocks, PARENTAL MURDER DEATH KILL RESPONSE TRIGGERED. But actually they’re throwing mud at a crocodile ambling by. And the crocodile doesn’t give a toss.

Someone may give your book one star. They may quote it unfairly or make inaccurate assessments. They may do a review on Goodreads with animated gifs to indicate how much they don’t like it. But the book continues to exist, undented by that dislike. The book will not carry the review with it as a bleeding wound, it will not have its final chapter leeched away by the power of negative criticism. A hypersensitive parent of a baby may perceive an insult as a threat, and react accordingly. But an insult to a book isn’t a threat, and carries no risk of harm. It’s just a bad review.

You know who can kill your baby crocodile? You, the author. You can create a crappy three-legged crocodile in the first place. You can kill your crocodile before it leaves the egg by refusing to take editorial advice that might change the way your baby looks. (It looks like a goddamn crocodile. Get over it.) And you can destroy it when it’s out by screaming, “DON’T YOU DARE HURT MY PRECIOUS BABY YOU BITCH I WILL CUT YOU,” at the first person to chuck a handful of mud, until you’ve attracted a full-on stone-throwing retaliatory mob. (Because if you don’t like your book being attacked, well, reviewers don’t much like their reviews being attacked either, and still less a personal assault.)

You cannot and should not try to curate every reader’s response to your book. It’s published, you launched it, now it’s going to have to cope for itself out there in the swamp. Maybe it will thrive, maybe it won’t, but that’s its problem because it is not your baby, and your responsibility for nurturing ended at the point you hit ‘publish’. Go forth, little crocodile! Fly! (Or whatever, I’m not a naturalist.)Hogarth Croc

And this is why I never want to see ‘My books are my babies’ again. Because it’s a fundamentally inaccurate metaphor that conveys exactly the wrong message about what the author’s relationship to a published work should be.

Just let it go, lay some more eggs, and hope at least one of them grows.

lake placid

________________________

KJ Charles is a freelance editor and metaphorical crocodile farmer. Her most recent release is Jackdaw, published by Samhain. Think of England  won Best LGBT Romance in the All About Romance 2015 Readers Poll.

This post is not an endorsement of Lake Placid, from which the above still is taken. Nothing is an endorsement of Lake Placid.

Flying crocodile by MCA Hogarth, gloriously!