By Jeff Davidson
Any book of consequence today, particularly a political book, which is reviewed on Amazon.com or some of the other book vending sites, is going to draw an array of reactions. Books by conservatives will be slammed by people on the left. Books by liberals will be slammed by conservatives. Still, we can attain a fair idea of a book’s value by reading some of the longer, more thoughtful critiques; by ignoring the reviews written by people with an obvious agenda; and by examining the overall pattern of 1 to 5 star ratings.
It isn’t always the case that a political book, per se, attracts agenda-driven reviewers. One of my books, that is as straightforward as you can imagine, was reviewed by someone with distinct agenda. I call this person a narcissistic reviewer who couldn’t see the value of the book for anyone because she couldn’t see the value of it for herself.
Here is my semi-amusing, illuminating story about the narcissistic book reviewer.
The Eager Beaver
Did you hear the one about the narcissistic reviewer who requests a book and
then says one of her first tests as it arrives in the mailbox is, “Just how eager am I to read it?” The book, which is featured on Amazon and all other book vending sites in the world, is listed as:
- a) containing 456 pages,
- b) 8.8 x 11.1 x 1.1 inches in landscape format,
- c) weighing three pounds,
- d) having this subtitle: “A Back-to-Basics Guide to Cleaning, Furnishing,
Storing, De-Cluttering, Streamlining, Organizing, and More.”
This reviewer, however,
- a) is surprised at the book’s size, hard cover, and glossy pages filled with
- b) laments that the book won’t fit into her purse,
- c) concludes that “a book of this kind of heft and size isn’t going to be simple to carry with me for the kind of reading I have to do on my schedule,”
- d) complains that the author used 950 stock photos as opposed to paying a
photographer a fortune over the course of a year to take unique, individualized pictures,
- e) has decided that this coffee table book doesn’t belong on her coffee table, which is reserved for books and magazines on art, travel, and poetry. Indeed, she asserts that this book would clutter her coffee table, “just the thing that this book is trying to tell us to avoid.”
“It Won’t Fit in My Purse”
The reviewer laments that she was “forced to tote it along in my briefcase so that I could do some lunch hour reading.” She points out that the author told her up front it’s not the kind of book one reads cover to cover, but then couldn’t figure out how exactly she would use this book: “As I started to skim through, reading a page here and a page there, I had to consider just how I would use such a book? And is it formatted for that kind of best use?”
She waxes that her plan is to retire to a one- or two-room cabin, so extra stuff will definitely have to go, and concludes that “this book would have to go… Not only because it is so large and so heavy, but because it attempts to cover too much – some 1800 hints on how to simplify one’s life.”
She then decides that “perhaps the author should have considered his own
advice and simplified in order to be more relevant, timely, and accessible,” and concludes, “the book is a clutter of far too much information. Less really is more. In this day and age of easy access to the internet, I’m not sure I see the purpose of this book at all.”
“It’s All About Me”
Here we have the quintessential narcissistic reviewer, planning on moving to her one-room cabin where, surely, she will live alone. She is unable to surmise that anyone else in this world (you know, people married to each other with two or three children and perhaps a house of more than four rooms) could possibly benefit from this book.
“The idea of Simpler Living seems to be that when I am contemplating what to
do about this and that… I would go looking for this book for advice?” For this reviewer, the profound answer is, “Um, no.” When her car has stalled, she’ll go to a mechanic, not a book. When she’s redecorating, she’ll employ her local handy person. When she’s considering her finances, she’ll set up an appointment with a financial advisor.
When looking for specific advice in a highly timely manner, hardly anyone will go grab a book. They will go to the Internet. So, let’s chuck all multi-topic, self-help or reference books! That will free-up the world.
Simpler Living is as a reference book, not a page-turning novel: the same could be said of any reference book, self-help book, or how-to book ever written.
“At First Blush”
The reviewer goes on to say that, “Among the 1800 tips offered, a few nuggets of wisdom are useful, but they’re too hard to find. In fact, at first blush, I can’t recall any.” She adds, for emphasis, “Most everything in the book is very general and painfully obvious.” She also comes to the conclusion that there is some “questionable and odd advice”, and goes on to nitpick ad nauseam.
The reviewer concludes that because of her vast knowledge in the game of
life, and because so much of this book, advertised as a BACK TO BASIC GUIDE, is general and because the 1800 tips “are painfully obvious,” there’s no reason for its existence. It just adds to the “dumbing down of America.” The narcissistic reviewer ends with the admonition to readers, “keep your money, pass on buying this one.”
Unique Among Narcissists?
We must admire the reviewer’s individuality. After all, these are her opinions, even if they are at odds with 130+ others who have given the book a favorable review. The four different acquisition editors at the four book clubs that selected Simpler Living must not know too much about what people need these days. The foreign publishers around the world such as those in China, Finland, and Indonesia, who have seen fit to translate the material in this book, probably have no idea what the citizens of their respective countries need, either.
Never mind that the advice contained within has been serialized in magazines
and newspapers across America and around the world. Never mind that it was featured by Rodale as a monthly column, and Boom Magazine in the Triangle area in North Carolina featured excerpts in a year-long as a monthly column. Never mind that the Career Track division of Skill Path produced a four-CD audio book on the material.
Let’s give this reviewer five stars for originality, cynicism, and a parallax view that only a person living alone in a one-room cabin in Montana could hope to offer.
This reviewer, stating forthrightly that the material in this book is not for her, and by twisted logic, therefore not for anybody, tells us all to save our money. Narcissists of the world, arise! The only books that should ever be published are those that have direct, complete applicability to you!
Jeff Davidson is “The Work-Life Balance Expert®” and the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management.