Among the links floating around in blogdom this weekend was this great collection of bad book reviews from Amazon.com. It took me back to the days—there were three or four of them, in early 2002—in which I spent far too much time hunting down terrible reader reviews on Amazon.
Most Amazon reviews are worthless; many items have dozens of five-star reviews that say nothing helpful, with maybe one or two by people who sound like they know what they’re talking about. And, if you’re lucky, some really *bad* reviews. Badly written reviews can tell you a lot. Almost any book on Amazon has those five-star reviews… but if you also see a couple silly, poorly argued, or incoherent one-star reviews, then chances are you’ve found something interesting.
After a while, most bad Amazon reviews seem to fall into recognizable categories. Here are a few I’ve found:
####1. The reviewer who wants to impress people.
Sometimes you see incomprehensible paragraphs full of what the reviewer probably thought was serious literary analysis. Like this review of _Alice in Wonderland_:
>I rate Alice in Wonderland a 3 star rating. The author is very creative in this novel; she uses the literary element personifications through out the whole book. […] Wonderland is a place of creation and imagination. The dream like setting gives her the adventure, like a labyrinth. […] Yes, she creates a great tone and mood for the setting yet the body of the story was boring to me. The only point I got from it was an internal conflict of whether to take one road or not, like whether to take and drink certain things and what she should do with the moment.
Which kind of sounds like something by a twelve year old who just learned a bunch of new vocabulary words in English. Bringing me to my next category:
####2. Reviews by kids.
There should be some kind of minimum age requirement for Amazon reviewers, because the younger ones usually come out with something like this:
>**THE SCARY BOOK THE ONE THAT WILL SCARE YOUR SOCKS OFF, June 15, 2001**
A Kid’s Review
>This book is really boring and stupid it should really be for 4 yr olds not 12!I read the whole book hoping it would get beter, but it didn’t. I do not reconmend this book to anyone. Don’t buy it!! or you are stupid
This was purportedly a review of _The Woman in White_, by Wilkie Collins. I don’t think it was actually about _The Woman in White_. Neither were a lot of other reviews on that page. Maybe it was a database error.
####3. The reviewer lacking a full command of English.
A lot of the time you see sentences like this one, also regarding _The Woman in White_:
>This story use many characters for leading the story in under to show the detail of the other person’s thought.
In fairness, the writer was from Thailand and English might not be his or her first language. So here’s another randomly chosen review, this time for _The Da Vinci Code_:
>this book reignited my long lost love of book I thought that it was beautifully written with great detail and most incredible pros.
####4. The irrelevant review.
Like this review—not of the book, but of a specific copy of the book, bought used:
>The cover was very worn and there were highlighting marks throughout the book. Still, for the price it was fine. I was just a bit disappointed.
####5. The reviewer who missed the point.
On the movie _The Third Man_:
>Orson Welles is alright but the charachter he plays is so unpleasent that one can not help but to wish him ill will and the end is poetic justice.
Well, yes. That’s because *he’s the villain.*
There are some classic examples on _The Seven Samurai_:
>**Boring kung-fu movie, August 26, 2001**
Save your money and time by not watching this badly made kung-fu movie. The guys in this movie do not know martial arts at all. The story goes as follows: Some shaolin monk gets hired by some korean guys to protect their village. He recruits some other kung-fu fighters and goes to the village and kills all bandits. End of story. The fight scenes are so bad that it is laughable. I have seen movies by bruce lee and Jet Lee and they are vastly superior. Even the recent movie “the Matrix” has great hong kong type fight scenes, but this hong kong movie does not have any.
>**Boring, December 20, 2000**
Lackluster HongKong export about a bunch of guys defending a Chinese village from bandits. I would prefer to watch “Wing Commander” rather than this trash. At least WC has some cool special effects and great action. I would give this sad excuse of a movie one star.
This also fits the next category:
####6. The reviewer who unfavorably compares the book and/or movie to some other, really bad one.
Still on _The Seven Samurai_:
>In short the last samurai is much better way truer to the way of the smaurai, if you dont think so read bushido, this movie couldn’t be more wrong to the way of the samurai, this movie makes them out to be savages and only like to kill and rape women, totally wrong, this movie may have been good a long time ago but anybody younger then 50 will not like this movie, -100000000 out of a 10, i gave it the Negative rating for not contributing anything, no entertainment, esspecially no action because action doesnt get more pathetic then this. The Last Samurai would kick all Seven of these samurai’s asses, but they all died of old age.
While we’re on the subject of bad movies vs. _The Seven Samurai_, here’s one that’s also an example of our next category:
####7. The review that might be a joke.
>no special effects at all. This movie could learn some tricks from the recent movie “The haunting”.
####8. The reviewer who didn’t understand the book.
>**”Bleak House” book review (byAJ from OLSOS), November 18, 2004**
A Kid’s Review
This novel begins in London during the 1800’s. The narrator has appeared in court to discuss the famous case known as “Jarndyce and Jarndyce.” The Lord Chancellor (the judge) tells the narrator to appear at an orphanage to talk to the owner. She appears at the orphanage only to meet the nicest group of children, and a very kind and loving woman named Miss Caddy Jellyby. The Lord Chancellor assigns the narrator to meet Miss Jellyby because they both have one thing in common, they love Africa.They both love the culture. After the narrators stay at Miss Jellyby’s place, she is given a letter with some very horrible,tragic information. This book was one of the worst books I have ever read. I drooled with boredom as I struggled to read each page. There are copious amounts of characters, and too many details to comprehend. These details tend to get you very confused very easily.
Apparently so. How did this kid get this plot summary from _Bleak House_? And who on earth thought it was a good idea to give this kid a 900 page Dickens novel in the first place?
####9. The reviewer who is probably the author of the book.
You can find these on any amateurish print-on-demand title. Like _Van Gogh in Space_, by Douglas Kendall:
>This is an entertaining book. It must be the author’s first book because the next books are written much better. ;-) It’s cool seeing VINCENT VAN GOGH come back to life. Pretty entertaining book and I recommend it. I’ve told my friends. My wife likes it!
####10. The reviewer who resents anything “arty.”
Any book or movie even slightly experimental will get at least one angry review from someone who inexplicably resents its very existence. On Terry Gilliam’s movie _Brazil_:
>**For Sensitive Artists at Coffee Shops Everywhere, July 1, 2002**
Bureacracy is bad. We are all mere cogs in the machine. Yes, these are concepts too advanced and intellectual for the average American cretin. But the Brazilophiles understand that after viewing this film 700 or 800 times, Gillian’s cartoonish visuals and hackneyed plot congeal into a brilliant miasma that only the elite can totally comprehend.
A recurring theme in this category is the idea that anyone who claims to like the subject is lying. Another reviewer on _Brazil_:
>The people who enjoy this movie are actually lying. They did not enjoy it, but they do not want to be alone in their suffering; therefore, they have given it multiple stars to trick you. Don’t let them win.
####11. The reviewer with an axe to grind.
Some reviews tell you more about the reviewer than the subject. These come from reviewers who filter everything through their own world view, reviewing their idea of the book rather than the book itself. Usually they submit political abuse or religious evangelism, but sometimes you get something a little more eccentric:
>”The seventh seal” can be a good introduction to Kierkegaard’s themes for those who never read a Danish philosopher’s books : for the others this movie can be superflous.
That was the entire review. I know that’s why *I* watch movies: to learn about Kierkegaard.
Sometimes these deal with less weighty subjects than politics, religion, or philosophy. On _Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell_:
>JONATHAN STRANGE IS A RIP OFF FROM DR. STRANGE SORCEROR SUPREME PUBLISHED BY MARVEL COMICS. IF I AM MARVEL I’M GOING TO SUE THE PUBLISHER AND AUTHOR AND GAIN MILLIONS FROM INFRIGEMENT OF COPYRIGHT. COME ON HAVING A STRANGE AS A SURNAME AND A MAGICIAN IS JUST COPYING AND STEALING. TALK ABOUT ORIGINALITY. AT LEAST CHANGE THE BLOODY NAME
Sometimes it’s not entirely clear what the reviewer is thinking of. From a review of the godawful 1999 version of _The Haunting_:
>A film that is absolutely recommended for the entrepeneur of parapsychology.
And some of them are just worrying, like this review of _Starship Troopers_, the movie:
>This is a great movie. I’ve always thought that war was ok, and that it necessary at times.
>This movie sort of changed that. I think that war is a great thing, and it is above necessary.
>The conquerors always knew the true power of war. There is Napolean, Alexander the Great, Cyrus, Nebucanezzer(sp?), Joshua, Moses, and Jesus.
>These people understood war, and what to use it for. There is no selfish pride involved, or power hungry persons. These individuals loved their men, and put their lives on the line.
Totally, man. Whenever anyone gets to talking about the great generals of history, Jesus is one of the first people I think of.