The Voices Not in my Head

Today, which is robot day, is all about links. Hmmmm. Perhaps this should have been the day I gave away the Esskay tin or the the Oscar Mayer bank. Links! Get it? Get it? I crack myself up. More correctly: I am delirious with exhaustion and alone in my own house for the first time in a very long time.

You can turn the page -- or adopt this robot

There have been quite a few reviews of The Most Dangerous Thing since it was published Tuesday. I am going to present the links here, without comment. I can’t imagine anyone but my mom clicking through and she doesn’t use a computer, but I just don’t have anything to say about most of the reviews. I sat down for an interview with a Washington Post Magazine reporter this morning and the subject of reviews came up, I said what I often tell my students: That’s the price of this particular carnival ride and it’s a tariff that’s actually gone down in price because there are so many “reviews” available now. (I particularly like the people who give books a low rating on Amazon or because they don’t like the cost.) 

But I want to single out one on Amazon, which I wouldn’t have seen if the reviewer hadn’t sent it to me. Oh, I’ll check my rankings after a big media appearance, but I am holding firm to my pledge not to read about myself on the Internet. It’s a positive review, written by a librarian in Brooklyn. But the thing that blew me away is that she started with a line from the novel that I consider seminal, although I gave it to a character who is not particularly wise or self-aware. ”You get the world on loan, on terms you don’t dictate and can’t control.” Love me, hate me, all I ask is that readers accept the novel on its own terms. And you know what? Most do.

Today’s question: How do reviews affect you? Also, if you under the lede of  the People review — could you explain it to me?

PeopleMag Review 09-1.05.2011_jzG



Los Angeles Times

Oline Cogdill



AP (Shout-out to Edgar (r) winner Bruce DeSilva for a tweet that was kinder than the headline — and, I would argue, closer to the spirit of what he wrote.)

Seattle Times


Also two bonus links: The interview with Kate Atkinson (swoon!) and my turn as the Book Brahmin in Shelf Awareness. There are more, but I am so weary of myself. As the title of this blog indicates, these are the voices I can’t allow in my head when I’m writing. And the praise is much more dangerous than the criticism.





41 thoughts on “The Voices Not in my Head

  1. I don’t read many reviews anymore and I hate to write them, especially if the author is kind of pushing you to do it. It’s a strange feeling to connect with writers personally on the internet, because they were sort of shadows, you would just imagine a little about them from the picture on the book.

    I love all your books (that’s my review) and I’m about to start The Most Dangerous Thing, which I know in advance is worthy of five or six stars and lots of likes. :)

  2. I get more worked up over reviews of my friends’ books than I do about my own. Most of the time, I can laugh, or at least shrug, at my reviews (knitting books get nasty ones sometimes too, and every once in awhile someone posts new reviews of the mysteries). It’s when reviewers use the word *lazy* to describe writing that does not please them, that I go ballistic (no matter who is being reviewed). I have to sit on my hands to keep from posting, for the thousandth time, that effort is not visible from the outside. It’s just as hard to write a bad book as it is to write a good book (or wherever in that scale my own books fall- some are better than others, and they all nearly broke my brain).

    I’m fairly sure that I’m not a spambot, though some days, I wonder.

  3. Reviews matter if (a) it’s a book I was unsure about reading and (b) it’s by a reviewer whose opinion I trust. And sometimes I’ll find out about a book I otherwise may not have heard of. Those are always good, too. :)

  4. Great question. Before the interwebs came along, I didn’t pay much attention to reviews because those in most newspapers I found to be much too pretentious, espousing Tess of the D’Ubervilles instead of Travis McGee (so to speak). Now, I very much trust reviews from book bloggers, readers, authors and (some) publishers. I often read books because of their recommendations, and always use them to prioritize m TBR pile.

    Can’t explain People…not sure I’d even like to try.

  5. I read reviews on the internet of tech gadgets like cameras and phones. We also read reviews of places to stay on vacations, restaurants, and repairmen.

    I took a review-writing course in Journalism School, because I took every writing course I could get my hands on, and I realized I simply can’t write reviews, not even when I’m trying to make Tift Merritt albums ring up better on amazon.

    My wife attends to movie reviews for new releases, but I only read them when I’m looking to rent a download.

    When it comes to books, if I’ve got a writer I like, I buy the book when it comes out and prefer not to read any reviews. I will, however, read the notes from the Regulator Bookstore for ideas on books to buy for my wife.

    If you want to talk links, I’m not sure how you can pass up a golf course, even though many of the greens in this area have been devastated by this summer’s heat.

  6. There is much cynicism and negativity in the world. I say, “celebrate the good” that comes your way. Anyone can be critical of something.- it’s very easy to do so. Generally, a “better” review is also one where the reviewer really took the time to think about the work and found it offered much worth considering beyond a surface level.

    The only negative reviews I heed are those for appliances and tech equipment.

  7. The People lede was probably an extremely lame criticism. I guess maybe you’re not edgy enough for the leading lights of ledes at People? Other than, I got nothin’.

    I’ll consider reviews for appliances, shoes, and makeup. Everything else, well, you know what they say about opinions.

  8. Reviews to me are simply “perceptions” of what people have gathered from what they read and added to that their life experiences related to it! Since everyone is not the same, you cannot expect all reviews to be the same. No matter how good it will be there will always be someone who thinks different. That is ok because in the end if I feel good about what I did and I know I did my best ” A critic will always be a critic”! :)

    But Laura your books are great! I have been hooked since the first one and cannot wait to read the newest release! :)

  9. I do read reviews for books with authors I’ve never read. But with authors I enjoy, I don’t normally read the reviews. I don’t want any spoilers in the way of plot or negativity. I want to bring to the book an open mind. I might read a review afterward if I were especially impressed, or not, but generally I don’t read them.

  10. I used to read the Amazon reviews when choosing a book but found that more and more they seemed to be written by frustrated self-proclaimed erudites with more time on their hands than sense.
    The only reviews I trust now are provided by Pete, the bespectacled manager of my local independent bookstore. When I stopped in yesterday to buy your book, he handed me George Pelecanos’s The Cut. I thought it was apt since you both are Baltimore-bred writers having worked together extensively on The Wire (I see the event has been updated on the TimeOut site).
    As for the robot, when I recently went on a business trip to Baltimore, I asked my 4 year old what she wanted me to bring her back as a present (aka Mommy guilt-reliever). Instead of a doll or book, she asked for a robot. I have a feeling she’s going to pose a bit of an out-of-the-box parenting challenge in the years to come.
    Congratulations on this book and looking forward to many more!

  11. looking forward to reading every secret thing. not reading any reviews until then. AND i think your robot would look fantastic in my new kitchen!

  12. There are a few reviewers I do read, but usually only to “discover” new-to-me writers. A review written about a book by a writer I’m already familiar with and like isn’t going to stop me from reading that book.


    THE MOST DANGEROUS THING arrived in today’s mail and I am over the moon. Cannot wait to read it. But, we’re having company for the weekend and I have to be somewhat sociable, so TMDT is staying on the nightstand until they leave to head home on Sunday.


    That robot would look adorable on my nightstand and would be a nice buddy for Sissyfriss Sockmonkey.

  13. That’s a very cheesy robot…

    I generally only care about reviews by people whose tastes I have grown to trust (not necessarily agree with, just know that they are consistent)… so that would mostly be Woodstock. And they would be more like recommendations than reviews, per se.

    @People mag, they obviously didn’t know how to say what they meant in fewer than ten lines. It wasn’t bad… just dumb.

  14. I’ve seen the New York Times Book Review from Sunday, Sept. 3 — I have a time machine — and it’s very good. I thought the People review was a comment on the title itself? I mean, it is three out of four stars, and that’s a very respectable score. Plus, it compared my book to “The Body,” which is pretty cool. My last three books received rhapsodic People reviews, so I adore the mag. I honestly don’t know what this meant, though!

  15. I anticipate that this book will be a gem…love the quotation featured above about the ‘world on loan’. More people should learn this. :) As soon as Bookperk sends my copy, I’ll be in reader-heaven!

  16. Personally I stopped reading reviews for movies since they never agreed with my thinking. For books, I stick with those I like and to tell the truth, I got 2 Laura Lippman books from a library sale and gave it a try. Have been in love with your writing ever since, so I wouldn’t listen to any review against anyway. Oh yeah, the quick brown fox jumped…….

  17. I can only comment as a reader, not a writer. I love Bookmarks Magazine. They take all the reviews and just excerpt the salient parts, give a summary of the book and a summary of the reviews. I get all my best reads out of there. On the other hand, I’ll read a full review by Anthony Lane of anything-even the most boring book or movie I’ve never heard of-just to enjoy his writing style.

    I wouldn’t bother reading reviews of a book I know I’ll love, like your new one, until after I’ve read the book. Then I like to read them and pretend they’re my book club. :)

  18. Might pay attention to reviews of books by an author I’m not familiar with. Laura, listened to your MPR interview and found it very interesting.

  19. I read reviews for work but since I’ve starting doing that I find that I don’t read them for personal reading info. Reviews definitely influence purchases by small libraries.

  20. I’d love a robot! As for reviews, I get annoyed reading them on Amazon about an author with whom I’m not familiar when something is obviously given away about the story that shouldn’t have been. On the other hand, I like knowing who my favorite authors like to read. So I will thank you for turning me onto Mark Billingham and “Miranda” Dean James. I don’t recall where I read something you wrote about Billingham, but I’m hooked on the Det. Thorne series now. I got the James book you recommended buying from a Houston bookstore, although I purchased it for my Kindle. It had an Agatha Christie-esqueness about it, which I loved, and plan to read more. In the meantime I’m looking forward to a weekend soon to engross myself in The Most Dangerous Thing. :-)

  21. As a reader, I would never read a review before I read the book. Especially in your case because it’s just like a DeNiro film. If it’s a new Deniro film, I’m going to see it. If it’s a new Laura Lippman book, I’m buying and reading it. Because of the web, the art of literary criticism is something I associate with Hemingway or Fitzgerald, Way too many modern “reviewers” (actually customers, like on Amazon) think the focus of the review is not the author’s book, but themselves.

  22. Good reviews = good. Bad reviews = ignore (unless written by James Agee or Brooks Atkinson or the bookish equivalent). I don’t need another robot. The two I have are eating me out of house and home.

  23. There are many good reviewers out there. One of the hardest things in the world is to get a smart review by a smart person, which happened to me when Elizabeth Hand reviewed Every Secret Thing. (She’s a terrific novelist, too.) She held me to as high a standard as I hold myself; how can one complain about that? She said I might one day write a great American novel. She said in the next breath — well, phrase — that this book wasn’t it. How can I complain about that?

  24. Yes, everyone here will be entered into the robot drawing.

    One more observation on the subject of reviews: The Leftovers received a less than glowing review in the NY Times today, but nothing can dissuade me from buying that book. I heard Tom Perrotta read from it and I love everything he writes. All the review did was make me crazy-impatient to obtain it.

  25. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Getting reviewed is a pat on the back, because it means people think the book was worth the time to write about.

    Just don’t read the actual reviews. :)

  26. I’m with Heather-the recommendations from my local independent bookstore (The Ivy Bookshop) are my best bet for finding books I’ll enjoy. I do subscribe to the London Review of Books but am so far behind that I’ve generally already read the book by the time I see the review. If the book is on my TBR pile, I’ll wait to read the review till after I’ve finished the book and blogged about it (if I decide to).

    Same with the Memory Project-I can read it now that I’ve finished TMDT. And now that I’ve written my blog post on it I can read the reviews. I think the People lede just means he didn’t understand the title. Curiously, I too marked the line about getting the world on loan, along with a few others, as something to come back and ponder. FYI My blog post on TMDT will be published tomorrow at

    Heh heh you might also enjoy my blog about Behind the Scenes at the Museum (in the All Past Articles section).

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