My niece, a New York City actress with a long list of credentials and accomplishments, never reads her reviews. Many in the theater do not. I read once that the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman never read his own. He believed it would be hard not to fixate on that moment of glory or to rise above a withering critique, making it difficult for him to do his work.
In this respect, actors and writers are similar creatures. They have tender egos yet must be strong enough to survive the Sturm und Drang of their crafts.
Theater critics are notoriously nasty. Literary critics can be the same way. But I’ve found that most who read for pleasure and review books are usually kind and considerate of a writer’s sensibilities.
I wondered why and thought about it for a while. Here’s what I concluded.
To see a play or a movie, one invests only a few hours at most in the experience. But when one reads a book, particularly a good, involved novel, the reader joins in the experience. As I wrote at the end of CAIRNAERIE: A novel, thus, is art that becomes an adventure where a unique story is discovered—an amalgamation of a writer’s words and a reader’s experience and imagination.
Because readers linger thus, a successful book becomes part of the reader. The reader, properly invited, enters the writer’s world. Children do this better than anyone. Do you remember a book that completely took you in, captured you, and has never let you go? I certainly do. It was Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. It has never let me go.
In this sense, whether conscious or not, a reader and a writer get to know each other. They join together to create a unique experience. They become, in a way, friends.
While many professional reviewers (read: jaded) can throw out nasty or overly-critical reviews, they are not the same kind of reviewers that ordinary readers are. The “pros” are readers-for-hire, so to speak, and thus have a vested interested in being seriously and sometimes overly critical.
But readers are different, I’ve found. Generally, they are honest but gentle. Perhaps it’s because by “living” a book the way an author intends, readers get a glimpse of the writer’s heart. (And trust me, every writer’s heart is out there in one way or another.)
As a writer, I must confess a great desire to reach out to everyone who takes the time to review my books and say: “Hey, could we chat over a cup of coffee? I’d love to hear more about your experience reading my book. I’d love to learn what you can teach me.”
But alas, even in this age of social media, we authors are cautioned against contacting reviewers. It’s considered SPAM. And I get that. But it doesn’t stop me from wanting to buy them a cup of coffee and pick their brains.
After all, every reader is a part of my book — and I love that aspect of writing.