Soon I'll attend a wedding on a beach in a warm and festive locale. Because I've been focused on the "wedding" rather than the "beach" part, I hadn't given much thought to clothes.
Luckily, I talked to friend (and friend of this blog) Lark Howard last Saturday, and mentioned I was planning to wear a dress I'd already worn to a couple of weddings to the exchange of vows on the beach. Her initial reaction: utter stillness. That muted response warned me my tried-and-true dress, so appropriate in a traditional setting, would be a wash-out on the beach.
Lark suggested a pretty sundress or white slacks and a knockout blouse, and I'm on the hunt.
Tomorrow, I'll hit bricks-and-mortar stores, but in preparation, I've "shopped" online for ideas and inspiration and have read roughly 200 posted reviews of dresses. (Yes, that many. Apparently, women don't hold back when they like or hate a dress.)
Reading all those dress reviews changed my attitude toward book reviews. I used to think one-star reviews of books by my favorite authors were written by unhappy, impossible-to-please trolls or mean-spirited competitors. Now I view the giver of one-star as a pear-shaped woman with buyer's remorse over a pleated skirt.
It's easy to accept outlier opinions about dresses because a quick look around the office, gym, or street shows that two women, both size twelve, may be built so differently, it's hard to believe they wear the same size. What's more, we all have assets we want to play up and flaws we want to minimize. If I read ten reviews in a row that say a dress fits bigger than expected and one that says it's tight, I know the unhappy reviewer means the garment highlights an area she wanted to hide--or she gained weight and doesn't realize it.
One-star book reviews may be written by plot-centric readers who find character-driven stories dull or by character-happy readers who prefer to take their pivot points with lots of introspection. If a main character reminds the reader of a hated ex, the book may be doomed from the start. If, on the other hand, a hero or heroine shares a name and traits with a loved one, the story may benefit from a unjustified halo effect.
Sundresses that require dry-cleaning are doomed from the start with me, and those that can be laundered and pulled from the dryer wrinkle-free get points. Why, then, are writers baffled by readers who won't pick up a 400-page book or say their workdays are so stressful they need light reads at night? "If you try this book, you'll like it," we say, forgetting that we'd shut the fitting-room door on a saleslady pushing linen.
Some women won't consider a hot pink-colored item of clothing, and some readers won't pick up a book with a whiff of suspense.
When a dress or book shopper steps outside her comfort zone and likes something she expected to hate, the result is especially sweet. The following is a compilation of phrases I read in those sundress reviews: "The sale price was irresistible, and I needed a dress at the last minute, so I tried on such-and-such and, to my surprise, it looked great on me."
As readers, haven't we stumbled across a writer and then read her entire backlist, including books we wouldn't have picked up before because the premise or plot didn't grab us?
While some reviewers are impossible to please, others are too rah-rah. Read enough reviews, though, and it's possible to get a good feel for a sundress--or a book.
Wish me luck shopping!
Your turn: Do you read reviews? How much or how little do they influence you? Do you refuse to consider a certain color of garment or a certain genre of book? What was the last book that surprised you in a good way?