Received a bad review lately? Then this one’s for you.

One of my favorite films of 2007 was “Ratatouille”, about the rat who dreams of being a chef.  Toward the end of the film, there’s a quote that resonated with me as a writer.  It’s spoken by the fictional food critic Anton Ego.  It’s worth printing and hanging on your wall, to comfort you whenever those lousy reviews come your way: 

“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy.

We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read.

But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”

— Anton Ego, “Ratatouille”

16 replies
  1. Ghasem Kiani
    Ghasem Kiani says:

    I have read your books from “The Sinner” to “The Mephisto Club” and I have enjoyed all of them immensely. In fact, Michael Connelly and yourself are my favorite writers in the thriller genre. Your blog is very useful, too. BTW, I agree with the quote you mentioned, because I think most people are biased towards expressing their negative views and forget about their positive views!

  2. Josephine Damian
    Josephine Damian says:

    We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read.

    No, it’s not. As a critic and a book reviewer, at least it’s not fun for me. What I love is giving a great book a much deserved rave review – but my standard is to make an honest evalution of a book’s real flaws so that people don’t waste their time and money on something that’s not worthwhile. There’s nothing fun about being disappointed in a book, nor is it fun to be deceived into buying a book because of false rave reviews.

    What I risk is my intergrity if I give a good review to a bad book.

  3. knaster
    knaster says:

    Hi Tess,

    I found the following in a fiction writing magazine. It may or may not critique your blogpost, but here it is:

    “Reviewers are like snipers, aren’t they?” says Greg Bear (Quantico). “Not responsible for the emotional carnage of a quick shot in the dark. Reviewers, writing a really negative review, are not at all like doctors cutting away gangrenous flesh — they are flies, buzzing cheerfully as they try to lay their little eggs in stinking piles.”

    Stinking piles of eggs aside, nobody likes a critic, particularly an author who is on the receiving end of a negative and very public judgment. While some authors can shrug off a poor review with ease, other authors feel as judged as the book itself.

    What do you think?

  4. Kyle K.
    Kyle K. says:

    Hey Tess!

    Yeah, I still remember how heated you and Matthew Pearl got about critics during the Globe Talks event last year… It’s amazing some people can be so bitter! Anton Ego, I think, is the critic we all envision in our heads.

    There’s nothing fun about being disappointed in a book, nor is it fun to be deceived into buying a book because of false rave reviews.

    Josephine, what about being deceived into NOT buying a book because of a false negative review? Matthew Pearl was talking about a critic who, in one review, not only crapped all over his book (which was brilliant, by the way), but revealed how much he got as an advance! Later to find out that this critic is an aspiring writer who just got rejected by Matt’s publisher…

    I don’t know you, but I’m guessing you’re not the type of person who would do that, someone who would let your personal feelings get in the way of your reviewing… but what about the critics out there who don’t hold themselves to the same standard? Is it fare for the author to have their integrity in question after one of those reviews?

    I don’t know how I would react in that situation… Would it be worth fighting back, or would that only add more legitimacy to the review? I don’t know…

    Have you ever had a similar experience, Tess? Where a critic had a personal vendetta against you for some reason? I remember you mentioning the Michael Crichton incident, where he wrote his arch-nemesis critic into one of his books as a pedophile, with a small you-know-what to boot… (Which still makes me laugh, by the way.) Ever been a target like that?

  5. therese
    therese says:

    What I would like from the world of critics is – whether a good or bad review – include a list of what the critic gave a thumbs up in comparison to their thumbs down. This would add value to their judgement and give the reader a bit more information about who’s advice to take.

    My example is Nora Roberts who critics have trashed while readers adore. I’ve met her and she’s an intelligent, compassionate and business savvy woman. However, of the dozen or so of her books I’ve read, I liked four. There are other less prolific authors who I enjoyed reading some of their books, not others.

    The problem with critics is the marketing strategy that infects our whole culture. Too many people have forgotten to think for themselves and take all advice with a grain of salt.

    Hence, Anton Ego wins and everyone who doesn’t take a taste themselves, loses what could be a great new flavor to sample.

  6. naomi
    naomi says:

    I love that movie. And that quote/review toward the end of the movie made me stop and pause. It’s true that there are those who thrive on the power they have to promote or to destroy. And there are those who try to use their influence for good.

    The tricky part with critics and critiques is that we may all look at the same thing and walk away with different opinions. Some may love a movie, a book, a restaurant. Others may detest the same. Still others don’t care one way or another.

    Critics are offering an opinion. Nothing more. Nothing less. They base the opinion on some form of criteria, perhaps only known to them. Unfortunately, we have a public that leans toward putting their faith in critics instead of exercising their own critical thinking.

    I have nothing against most critics, if what they write is respectful. There is no need to offer up a negative opinion and fill it with disrespect or disdain. Someone worked hard on that movie, book, play, etc. Someone offered up themselves to the public. No, not everyone has to like their work, but please be respectful. And remember, when reading critiques, they are just opinions. Not inherent truths (tho they may contain truths).

  7. BernardL
    BernardL says:

    In real life, critics play a less whimsical role, Tess, as you know all too well. While critics may indeed pale in comparison to even the worst author in creativity, a bad review can lead to financial ruin for a whole host of creators, while bolstering the critic. When I remember how many books and movies critics panned, I really liked, it gets a little worrisome.

  8. johnwrt1
    johnwrt1 says:

    As a reader and a member of a book club I find reviews very problematic. Unless you personally know the tastes of the reviewer, what the person says is useless. I have friends who hate the types of books I love and who love books that I hate. They are nice people. In some cases if they say “I hated that book”, I know it’s one I should read.

    As a person who has written a book and is in the process of trying to find an agent I am constantly reminded (even by agents) that a book may be good even though they aren’t interested. It is still hard to deal with.

  9. Tess
    Tess says:

    Thanks for all the great comments. And Kyle, I’m not aware that I’ve had any critics with personal vendettas against me, but sometimes the reviews made it seem that way!

  10. Tom Young
    Tom Young says:

    That was funny. Yes, as in life it’s much easier to sit by the sideline and critcize than to actually be part of the game.

  11. T.Jones
    T.Jones says:

    Tess – I agree with Tom Young…life is always much easier from the sidelines than going in and playing in the game called life!

    In every position in life there are critics. Someone always evauating how you do your job or how you raise your family. All I can say is, I listen but not always follow!

  12. struggler
    struggler says:

    I took my daughters to see Ratatouille a few months ago and I thought it was great, out of all the animated movies over the last decade from Toy Story to Shrek and all the many others, it’s right up there with the very best. If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend that you do.

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