Home > Books > Goodreads Voyeurism: Who hated ‘Salvage the Bones?’

Goodreads Voyeurism: Who hated ‘Salvage the Bones?’

I find myself transfixed by the idea of investigating the general tastes and preferences of people who rated ‘Salvage the Bones’ as just one star on Goodreads.

Okay, not ‘transfixed.’ Wrong word, but you get what I’m saying, don’t you? I don’t know whether people expect their public profiles on such websites will be viewed by complete strangers as a way to poke and prod at one of their myriad public opinions, but hopefully they’re all semi-aware that’s a distinct possibility of having the profile.

Still, it all seems to have a touch of the voyeur, non?

Not going to stop me, though, is it?

Jesmyn Ward’s National Book Award winner has been rated 1,038 times (as of tonight) and reviewed 312 times by Goodreads users.

Suddenly, I find myself wondering whether it’s possible to know how many publicly available reviews of, say, ‘Great Expectations’ existed within its first year of life. Safe to say fewer than 312?

Of those ratings and reviews, 25 raters gave the book just one of five stars. Seven of those folk took the time to write a review as to why they disliked the book enough to slap such a scarlet number on it.

Gotta start with those magnificent seven.

Michele (54 books ‘read’), Cherry Hill, NJ  (Note: I suddenly had the urge to add the reader’s location to this. I don’t know why.)

The first thing in Michele’s review of ‘Bones’ is that she received the book for free as part of the ‘First Reads’ program. My general sense of this program is that people habitually submit requests for lots of books regardless of appeal in the hopes of getting one.  Michele says she “thought it would be good,” so it could be she is selective in the books she attempts to gain through First Reads, but it’s not definitive.

We do know, though, that this was a bad match and not necessarily from the review.

Disclaimer: Don’t spend a lot of time getting overwrought about me making broad assumptions about people based on their reading preferences. OF COURSE that’s what I’m doing, and YES I realize it’s a flawed premise. Damnit Jim, I’m not a scientist! (Yeah, just enough Trek to know this exists and to know I’m getting the quote wrong.)

Of the 54 books Michele has listed as having read, 20 of them got the full five stars from her.

Three classics stand out: ‘Of Mice and Men,’ ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’  Once you get past those and the handful of memoirs and non-fiction titles, you’re left with some very-much-not-NBA fare, with Dan Brown being the sole two-time prize winner in the list.  There is also the fifth Stephanie Plum title by Janet Evanovich and the second of Stieg Larsson’s Milennium series. My assumption is other entries in both series will appear later.

From Michele’s favorites alone, I’m not shocked that she found it to be “boring” and didn’t “really know what the point of this book was.” The books she seems to really like mostly have the reputation of being crowd-pleasing page-turners.

You have to admit, ‘Salvage the Bones’ is definitely not that.

There are more than 20 books rated with 4 stars, including several of the predicted Stephanie Plum books, another Stieg Larsson, and…wait for it…’Crime and Punishment!’

So, let’s face it, Michele does not need a fast-paced story to enjoy it! Dostoyevsky FTW!

Down at the bottom, slumming it with Ward, are four other books, one of which doesn’t really count, as it’s a cupcake cookbook. However, among those bottom four is a familiar name: Janet Evanovich. Talk about your twist/surprise endings! Apparently “The Rocky Road to Romance” was a bit of a rocky read compared to all the other Evanovich stuff. There is also James Patterson’s “Judge & Jury,” about which I know nothing, and “Crazy for the Storm” by Norman Ollestad. All I can think about the latter is that it turns out a full fifty percent of Michele’s least-favorite reads are books centered on storms.

So, if you know Michele, no storm books as gifts, eh?

Spencer (135), Overland Park, KS

Although Spencer has well over double the number of books rated as does Michele, he comes off as a LOT more finicky, with only 17 earning five stars in his esteem.

Three authors have two books each in Spencer’s short-list of top books: Cormac McCarthy, J.D. Salinger, and Alain de Botton?

The first two make me think we have a clear “lad” on our hands, but I had to do a quick look to learn that de Botton is a Swiss I did not connect with this book at all. The writing was smart and articulate, but it struck me as inauthentic. More to follow…”writer and television producer” who is a bit of an essayist, but also writes fiction? (Okay, I’m not THAT invested in telling you who he is. You have the internet; Google him if you need know.)

Otherwise, there is a mix-and-match collection of books I know (‘Lolita’ and ‘Catch 22’) and books I most-certainly do not (‘The Moonflower Vine’ and ‘The Adults’). Essentially, nothing here to clue one in as to why ‘Salvage the Bones’ was such a miss for him.

It should be noted, his review, in entirety is, ” I did not connect with this book at all. The writing was smart and articulate, but it struck me as inauthentic. More to follow…”

Lack of ability to connect can happen anywhere, right? He recognizes the writing as having some good qualities, but seems to have been put off by a perception of inauthenticity. That seems odd, but not the sort of thing that can easily be quantified.

Spencer has 11 1-star books, including McCarthy’s ‘The Road.’ Not only that, but Joseph Heller also goes hot and cold with this reviewer, getting low honors for ‘Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man.’ Between this and Michele’s Evanovich thing, I begin to wonder about my own ratings and whether I have an author who appears on both ends of the spectrum. He also has books two and four of the Twilight series in this group. Considering the books he really likes, I’m a little surprised he even bothered to read them.

Spencer’s ratings, like his review, is a bit of a mystery.

Jon (201), no location listed

Jon has 30 5-star book ratings. Many are memoirs (Kathy Griffin, Kristen Chenoweth, Carrie Fisher, David Sedaris) and ‘Memoirs of a Geisha.’  There are six Armistead Maupin (a name I know only because it’s memorable and not because I’ve read any of them) and ‘The Help.’ There are some children’s books and some Oprah’s Book Club fare. It’s not a fully formed picture, but from what is there, I’m almost surprised he didn’t like ‘Bones.’

Of course, part of the problem is that he didn’t actually get past page 40, having found it “not my cup of tea.”

I guess I don’t know why Jon likes the books he likes, but I hope he goes back to this one and finds its heart. If he does that, he’ll enjoy the book. I’m fairly sure of it.

Jon has only four other 1-star books. Like Michele, one of them is about food: “Death by Pad Thai…” (The name alone sort of makes me want to read it, to be honest.) The others, I don’t know, but I see a familiar name among them: Lisa See. Jon has a Lisa See book (‘Shanghai Girls’) among his favorites! It’s officially a thing! The ones you love the most also have the capacity to hurt you!

Janet (311), White Plains, NY 

Back to the northeastern US!

First thing I see is that Janet also rates ‘Shanghai Girls’ and ‘The Help’ with five stars. She should be friends (well…Goodreads friends) with Jon. Were I a Goodreads match-maker, I’d be hooking them up.

I’m not. So, I won’t.

But I still want to.

Janet also, like Jon and Spencer, had a very short review.

“THere is a lot of hub bub about this book. I totally don’t get it. If someone else reads it, please let me know.I did not get into this at all.”

Well, Janet, Jon read it! Okay, he read only 40 pages, but he sorta read it!

The most books read so far and also the most five-star ratings, with 36 making the grade. Wally Lamb and Jennifer Haigh are the only two-timers in there. I see “Marley and Me,” which Michele also liked, if I recall (I’m not going back to check; remember, I’m no scientist.). Otherwise, it’s a lot of books I don’t know (surprise! There’s a lot of books I don’t know.).

On the other end…WHOA! A whopping 52 one-star books!

Of the first four I see, you have ‘Bones,’ Eugenides’ ‘The Marriage Plot,’ and ‘We the Animals’ by Justin Torres, which are three titles which have had a hearty portion of praised heaped upon them in recent months.  Plodding further into the bulk of ‘hated it’ books, Jonathan Franzen’s ‘Freedom’ and Tea Obreht’s ‘The Tiger’s Wife’ also get the razzberry from Janet.

I almost feel as if we have our first real definitive conclusion (okay, aside from the clear fact that everyone has to have at least one author appear in both the five-star and one-star reviews, which continues here with Janet, who really didn’t like one of Lisa See’s other not-‘Shanghai Girls’ offerings), in that I just think ‘literary fiction’ is not for Janet. Just say “no,” Janet!

Grace (452), Delmar, NY

Grace has a book blog, which I’ll link to here. She seems to read a lot and write about it, so if you’ve bothered to get this far into this, you’ll might want to check that out as well, especially if you want the first well-detailed explanation among the poor reviews as to just why it didn’t work for the reader. It’s not as long as this, but it’s vastly more well-written!

Grace liked 89 of her 452 books well enough to anoint them with five stars. There is some non-fiction. A funny is that the first two authors I come across with multiple books are Elie Wiesel and Alan Alda. Well, it’s funny to me.

Generally, it’s a real mixed bag of books I’ve read, books I’ve been meaning to read, and books I have a definite desire to never read. It would seem eclectic to me, in that sense.

Goodness, all those paragraphs begin with “G!”

I think I counted 25 one-star reviews. Dan Brown, Stephanie Meyer, and Jennifer Weiner are all authors I just assume I won’t like based on a multitude of things I’ve read and heard, but can’t say I know first-hand that I get why Grace would lump them in with the Ward book. There’s also Gary Shteyngart’s ‘Super Sad True Love Story,’ which fits under “books I’ve been meaning to read.” However, the only book she really disliked that I have read is “Salvage the Bones.”

And, on top of everything else, we seem to have broken the streak of authors representing in both the upper- and lower-tiers of a single user’s reviewed books.

Grace, you are a pioneer.

Stacy (607), no location given

With all those books read, only 72 get the full five stars. Stacy is stingy with the ratings!

Stacy’s review of the book centers on the premise that this is the book version of a phenomenon she experiences with film, wherein she avoids seeing well-reviewed movies because she’s come to learn the people who review film professionally have a different set standards for quality than what she does.

So, give it to her for knowing what she likes, but I’d have suggested up front that, if you don’t like critically acclaimed films, there’s not much reason to believe it’ll work any better for novels.

Among those are all but the third of the Harry Potter books, as well as a book ABOUT the Harry Potter films, and yet another book by J.K. Rowling about Quidditch. In fact, it seems like the vast majority of those 72 are “young adult” titles, and, while some feel the need to vehemently defend YA from being looked down upon by readers of literary fiction, there’s not a lot of common ground between what I know of that ‘genre’ and a book like ‘Salvage the Bones.’ It almost seems loony to even attempt it, especially with the aforementioned tendency to not agree with critics.

Looking at the 44 books on the one-star end of Stacy’s ratings, there is an inordinate number of self-help books (not helpful, then?), as well as a few Stephen King, and a surprising appearance by Stephanie Meyer (some Twilight outtake thing I wish I still didn’t know existed). I think the question will have to remain: Why on earth did she choose to pick this book up? But, full points for making the effort. I think it’s good to try things outside your strike zone, as it were. Too bad it didn’t work out.

Okay..that’s it. You’re still here? Go home. Go on. Get!

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