It’s often interesting to read negative reviews on Amazon.com, particularly of books that received overwhelming praise. Really, you can’t please everyone.
I came across a negative review yesterday that illustrates some of the points I made in my post on book covers (Cover Art: What Does it Say About the Book?). The review is for Julia Stuart’s well-received novel, The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise, published roughly two years ago. I have yet to read the book, which I’ve added to my list.
Before I get to the review, I will say that The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise is a forgettable title. Despite reading reviews online and looking up this book’s availability at my local library, I can only remember, “It’s the one that sounds like The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.” It sounds like a children’s book, doesn’t it?
It looks like a children’s book, too. The whimsical drawing of animals captured my attention and probably relates to the quirky theme of the book. But don’t be fooled: It’s not a children’s book, which the blurb makes clear in the second paragraph:
Among the eccentric characters who call the Tower’s maze of ancient buildings and spiral staircases home are the Tower’s Rack & Ruin barmaid, Ruby Dore, who just found out she’s pregnant; portly Valerie Jennings, who is falling for ticket inspector Arthur Catnip; the lifelong bachelor Reverend Septimus Drew, who secretly pens a series of principled erotica; and the philandering Ravenmaster, aiming to avenge the death of one of his insufferable ravens. (emphasis added)
I don’t know too many books for children or young adults that include an erotic fiction writer among its characters. So, I wouldn’t be fooled into buying it for a child or pre-teen but apparently someone else was:
I bought this book thinking it was a book for children as the cover is very cartoonish…My daughter brought it to me saying, “This is not a nice book..it has a lot of sex in it!” Very misleading cover Ms. Stuart.
I laughed when I read this one-star review, as I pictured a mother unknowingly handing a 320-page novel featuring an erotic fiction writer and infidelity to a child. I can’t imagine the child was that young to be reading a novel-length book, as pre-teen books tend to be a little shorter in length than the average novel intended for adults. But who knows; I certainly remember reading books intended for adults during my pre-teen years. Either way, this review shows us how much importance consumers place on the cover; we think the cover art says a lot about the book.
The review also raises another issue: whether books should have an age rating on them. I’ve written about this subject before in relation to children’s books (here and here), and I generally don’t believe books should be rated because the problems of censorship outweigh the potential benefits. Instead, consumers should be a little more careful about what they’re purchasing; maybe they should read the blurb and a few reviews before spending $9.99 on an ebook. The lesson is not to judge a book by its cover alone.