I've always had a problem with amazon.com and the way they let people review any book whether they've actually read it or not. Okay, amazon has cleaned up its act a bit. You have to actually buy something from amazon before you can post a review (but NOT necessarily the item in question) and they give reviewers the option of using their real name [which is denoted in bold letters]. The former has especially cut down on the number of reviews cluttering up the site. Still, the problem has never been with the reviews so much as with the reviewers.
Now let me make it clear that there are intelligent people posting insightful and helpful reviews on the site. But sometimes they seem to be outnumbered by -- well, let's just say people who are so grammatically and intellectually challenged that you wonder if they're even capable of reading a book let alone reviewing one. "Ordinary" people certainly have a right to their opinion, but not everyone can express themselves well, and not everyone is a responsible critic. Some people post reviews on amazon simply because they have an uneducated opinion on a certain subject or on a book that they haven't even read, let alone bought from amazon. They just want to blather incoherently, and in general amazon lets them get away with it.
The trouble is these reviews are generally not done by responsible journalists for well-known or respected periodicals; they have not been vetted by an editorial or legal department. Sometimes the authors of the reviews have agendas that have nothing to do with the book's quality or lack of same. Just as an author can have friends or relatives post glowing notices, the author's enemies -- or competitors -- can also have a field day. But not to be paranoid, sometimes you just have the bad luck of getting some jerk who's out to take an ax to your work whether you like it or not. This can happen on occasion in responsible journals, true, but it happens more often on amazon.com.
Take the case of my book Opera of the Twentieth Century which came out last summer. A reviewer named Tom Franks decided to put in his two cents worth and do a hatchet job on the book on amazom. com, calling it "truly dreadful." Why does he feel this way? Because I offer many [educated] opinions of different operas and composers and how DARE I do that -- according to Franks -- when I am not somebody famous like, say, James Levine or --get this -- John Simon! He assumes I have no right to write about the opera because the publisher's blurb only says that I live in New York "which I accept," says Franks (who lives in New Mexico; is he some sort of anti-New York City bigot?) I have written on opera for many publications, attended the opera for decades, taken music courses, and listened to all of the operas I discusss many, many times. The book, in fact, took me many years to write, but does Mr. Franks ever even consider that? No, he probably just disagreed with me on some operas -- I certainly hope we have different taste -- and of course that meant that both I and my book had to be "dreadful." [Make no mistake -- a hatchet job is as much an attack on the author as it is on the book.] Franks infers that in my book I "judge operas by their immediate effect on the listener, rather than by any intrinsically musical qualities which they might have." Nothing could be further from the truth, but Franks isn't interested in the truth. Nor in being a responsible critic. (This was only his second review; I hope he doesn't do any more.) And I have to wonder, how much of the book did he actually read, and with how much comprehension? Besides, what the hell does Franks know about opera anyway -- he's a teacher of philosophy, for Pete's sake! (Why am I not surprised?)
If we were to follow Franks' logic only famous people could write books about -- well, anything! There have been hundreds of excellent books published on the subject of opera and most of them were not written by famous conductors or sopranos. Ditto for film books, biographies, and so on.
I swear I wish authors could just sue people like this who deliberately misrepresent our books for who knows what personal and stupid reasons with not a care about the work we put in or how it may affect sales [hopefully not a bit as most people are smart enough to see hatchet jobs for the mean-spirited barrels of bile from sad, bitter people that they are].
I won't even bother to speculate about poor philosopher Franks. He lives way down south. May we never meet at the opera.
On a much more positive note, I am always delighted to see some of the highly flattering comments left on amazon.com in regards to my old horror novels like SAURIAN and THE DRAGON. I'm so glad that many people have enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them. Their comments are much appreciated, as are the positive reviews that some of my other books have received. Now these people, of course, know what they're talking about!