The big gossip story today is the review of Jacqueline Howett’s book on Big Al’s Books and Pals. Well, not the review itself – which was not very favourable, by the way – but the author’s reaction to it. She didn’t take too well to the review, and I can understand her very well. Anyone who writes has at some point felt upset by feedback. But it got me thinking: why do we feel so angry at bad writing? What is it about writing that makes us so upset if what’s written is not to our taste? (I rush to add that I have not read Jacqueline’s book and in no way can I comment on her writing in particular at this moment.)
It isn’t about the money because I have also felt angry at books I hadn’t had to pay for. Is it about the time? Do I feel angry to have wasted my time reading something that wasn’t worth it? Probably not. I have been known to waste my time on less important things than reading bad books. I think one of the issues here is the high expectation we place on a Writer, with a capital W, and the disappointment we feel when that expectation is not fulfilled. Maybe subconsiously we feel that the fact of writing somehow elevates the writer over the rest of us and that it is similar to a sacred ritual. Especially when it comes to published books. Self-publishing is quite a recent phenomenon and a lot of readers still feel that if something is published, it definitely deserves to be, if so many people who are involved in the process and who are specialists in their area all agreed that it does. Maybe we need to get used to the idea that not everything that gets to be in print is guaranteed to be good, just like not every TV programme is worth watching, and not every garment in the shops is of good quality.
Or is it about the service? The modern way of living is based around providing a service. When we don’t get good service, say in a restaurant, or a shop, we get angry. We have hundreds of TV shows all based around the concept of being judged, or reviewed. Come Dine With Me, The X Factor, America’s Next Top Model, to name just a few. So when we read a book that we think is substandard, we get upset and we voice our anger. I wonder whether this is the right way of encouraging anyone to get better at what they do. The contestants in any of the above mentioned shows don’t seem to get any better after they have been ‘reviewed’ and who is to say that the writers that get bad reviews would get better at writing? On the other hand, in the world where anyone can now publish anything, how else would we separate the good from the bad?