Apples and Oranges

   
Settle in, I'm about to go on a rant.

A couple weeks ago, I was leafing through my latest issue of Entertainment Weekly and came upon an article in the Books section entitled "The Hottest Self Published Books" by Rob Brunner. This sounded interesting for a number of reasons, so I read it and that's when I started holding forth with rather a lot of words and emphasis. Doing that for a while didn't release my irritation nearly enough, so I saved this rant for a post when the article appeared on the website. It took me a while to find it because on the website it's called The Trylle Trilogy review and really, would it kill them to have some consistency? Anyway, before I get started, go give it a read.

Ready?

The column reviews two very successful self-published authors, Amanda Hocking and John Locke. Hocking writes supernatural romances and I have to admit I'm tempted to check them out because nothing relaxes me better than a supernatural romance. Brunner summarizes the plot of Hocking’s Trylle trilogy and is it me or does the derision positively ooze off your monitor? Dude, seriously… It's a supernatural romance and as such, the plot is going to sound ridiculous when you condense it into a paragraph. C.E. Murphy’s Old Races series is about a woman who falls in love with a gargoyle, for heaven's sake! The Twilight series is about a girl who falls in love with a sparkling vampire (okay, so I think that one is dreck, but it's ridiculously popular, too).

Obviously, Mr. Brunner hasn’t read a lot of – any? - romance novels because a fair portion of his issues with Amanda Hocking’s books are pretty standard romance novel features. Take his quibble with the language. To wit, the quoted sentence from Virtue - A Fairy Tale that starts with "[s]he kissed him fervently, standing on her tiptoes to taste him more deeply." I've read a lot of romance novels – they’re a wonderful escape, so I have no problems with admitting this - and that isn’t at all unusual language. And this is the point where I got even more irritated because why on earth do they have someone reviewing a romance novel who clearly has never read a romance novel?

Moving on to the review of John Locke’s Vegas Moon. Locke has sold a ridiculous amount of self published e-books, probably partly because he's very prolific, but also because he prices his books very low – at $.99 each, they are perfect impulse buy and based on what I’ve heard about them, as addictive as candy. He makes it very clears that he writes a particular kind of book to entertain a very specific audience and does not in any way pretend to be anything other than a good ride. In his column, Brunner does acknowledge this, saying that "[t]o be fair, Vegas Moon isn't much worse than any number of disposable paperbacks available at your local airport at a far higher price" and that is exactly the point. Locke writes the equivalent of undemanding disposable paperbacks that will entertain you, give you a laugh and are perfect company for an airplane ride or the end of a stressful day.

And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, is there? I haven't read any of the novels by Amanda Hocking or John Locke, but based on my (vast) experience with undemanding disposable paperbacks that will entertain you and are perfect company after a stressful day, it sounds to me as if both of these authors provide just that. And this is when I get really ranty.

I was one of the original subscribers to Entertainment Weekly when it first appeared on the market and I very clearly remember one of the articles in the first issue. In this article, they talked about their philosophy of reviewing movies, saying they would review movies within their genre. That meant judging a horror movie within the genre of horror movies instead of comparing it to a potential Oscar nominee. What a wonderful notion! This way, you can get a more accurate idea of whether a popcorn flick is good because there are no pretentious expectations or judgments getting in the way of the ride. Which brings me back to Brunner’s review. More specifically, the last line of Brunner's review:

"But if you're after a bargain, why not wander down to the library and pick up one of the world's best novels for free?"

Because, dear Mr. I Am So Literary, if I'm in the mood for the kind of book that keeps me company with a good ride after the week from hell, I'm not going to dive into Victor Hugo or Margaret Atwood. I'm going to pick up a torrid romance novel or a macho adventure story. If you review a romance or adventure novel, you should compare them to other romance or adventure novels, not to "one of the world's best novels." It's apples and oranges and it is very much not fair. It is not fair to the author to compare their work with other books in a different genre and it is very much not fair to the reader who is not reading this review because they're expecting Great Literature. I want to know whether this is well written candy, not that it has no nutritional value compared to a well-balanced meal made with organic ingredients!
  

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