If You Can’t Say Anything Nice, Write a One-Star Review

Selected for the Pushcart Prize series, 2017

“This book sucked!” “Vastly overrated!” “Boring!” “Tedious!” “Waste of time!” “Just shoot me!” They were all screaming at him—I mean at my friend, whom I’ll call Howard, who got great reviews in the New York Times and the Washington Post for his latest novel but who couldn’t stop the shouting from Internet reviewers, whose inspirational and cheerfully inventive names all sounded like JerkWadJunior, EffYou69, and DarthReader. The whole negativity thing was getting to him, big-time.

“Have no fear,” I told Howard. I’d monitor the Internet. I’d take time off from my one, singular guilty pleasure in watching footage of celebrities leaving restaurants on tmz.com and check his reviews instead. It’d be fun. I’d spare him the screaming meemies, I said. Let him know if the snoozers and slammers lived up to their names. That was the plan, anyway, until on my watch Howard got his first one-star review, and I got mad. I got so mad I scrolled obsessively through reader reviews of literary masterpieces that have stood the test of time. What did the Howie-haters have to say about Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice or any of the ones you wish you could read for the first time? God help me, I opened the door onto those reviews the way you might peer into the refrigerator after midnight to see what’s lurking behind the cheese. With some appetite but not expecting much, I began with reviews of Pride and Prejudice because who, after all, would take on Jane Austen?

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