Saturday, May 10, 2014

Of Book Reviews: Brickbats, Bouquets and Everything in Between

I thought this week we’d have a little fun. Instead of listening to me drone on about cartilage defects, and glycosaminoglycans, and flaws in clinical studies that purport to show a link between X and Y, you can listen to me drone on about ... book reviews.

I’ve gotten 53 now at Amazon, which is kind of cool. A few authors say they never read their book reviews. Personally, I suspect that’s a rare few. I’ll confess that I read all of mine.

The first few were kind, even glowing: five-star raves about Saving My Knees and its message. Great, I thought. Then I looked at another knee book, this one by a doctor, that also had a few five-star reviews.

After the gushing endorsements were comments like this:

Nice try, doc. Five-star reviews by people with no prior history of reviewing anything on Amazon. What do you think we are, stupid?

Uh oh.

A few mouse clicks later, I discovered that my reviewers too, as luck would have it, hadn’t written about any other book or product on Amazon. You might say that only shows the brilliance of Saving My Knees -- that it stirs timid, often unopinionated people into lusty cheers of affirmation and joy. :)

But I realized most people would not arrive at that conclusion. Rather, they’d assume the same as the commenter for the other book: that I was somehow involved in fraudulently obtaining five-star reviews.

Clearly, I needed some non-five-star reviews (“Yeah, a great read, with really good insights into beating knee pain, but I didn’t like his usage of semi-colons and what’s up with the mold in his camera?”)

Soon, my wishes were granted -- almost.

A couple of reviewers, it so happened, didn’t think the book deserved five stars. They didn’t think it deserved even two. Their comments went like this:

No substance. Too expensive. Way too long. Waste of money.

Be careful what you wish for, huh?

Anyway, the good thing about amassing 53 reviews is that the criticism -- agree or disagree with it -- looks authentic.  

Sometimes I do want to disagree. Some comments leave me scratching my head or wanting to scream something like, “Page 37! Reread page 37!”

Then there are those ambiguous comments like “reads like fiction.”

In a five-star review, it comes across as high praise. In a two-star review, it carries an entirely different sense, suggesting I’m a breezy wannabe novelist, sacrificing useful information for the sake of indulging my creative whimsy to create narrative tension or capture the hue of a character’s eyes.

Finally, let me tell you about my favorite review. It’s not one of the most admiring. In fact, when the writer initially posted his thoughts, he gave the book one star or two -- I forget. In any event, I remember kind of shrugging. Can’t win ‘em all.

Then something really nice happened. He changed his review completely. It turned into a sort of mini-journal of his progress, following the ideas in the book.

And here’s what he wrote, over the course of several months: 
6/20/2013 - I am a 57 year old ex-athlete with very serious chronic knee injuries and recently my left knee has taken a turn for the worse, leaving me with crippling pain and difficulty walking. I am still experimenting with the recommendations made in this book for my knee problem. The best way to tell if the advice given here is worth anything is to see if it actually works so I will let you know later what my results are...

8/20/2013 - OK, it is now 2 months later and I used the advice in this book to devise my own knee rehabilitation program centered around a stationary bike. My arthritic knee is definitely improving as I can now walk a lot easier and no longer need to use a cane. I also don't lie in bed every night moaning in pain as I was doing before - it's nice to get a good night's sleep again. I am also completely off pain killers for more than a month. My knee still has a long way to go but I am really hopeful now. I'll update in a couple of more months...

9/11/2013 - The author is really onto something here as my knee continues to improve. Before reading this book I was preparing to do a lot of weight training to rehab my knee and I would have unwittingly destroyed the joint. Glad I found this book just in time to save my knee. The author gives sound advice with undeniable logic behind it. If I don't post here again it will be because my knee has recovered enough where I just don't think about this anymore.
That’s really, really cool. Yeah, there are still some one-star reviews. But there are always going to be one-star reviews on Amazon that say things like “tiresome, tedious,” “disjointed,” “rambling,” “rubbish,” “worst book I have ever read.”

By the way, those descriptions aren’t for Saving My Knees. They were used in one-star reviews of James Joyces’s Ulysses. ;)


  1. It's like when people comment on a recipe you have posted on a cookery site: 1/5 I replaced the chocolate with chocolate flavoured covering. This cake doesn't taste chocolatey enough
    Or 2/5: I haven't tried the recipe, but I don't think it will work because my aunty Martha makes a very nice chocolate cake and that doesn't sound like her recipe at all
    Or 1/5: I didn't have eggs nor butter so I omitted these, and the result is VERY disapointing.

    You'll have people who read the book in details, but somehow ignored the forewords where you say: I'm not a physician, I am not going to tell you what exercise to do nor how many reps... Then, they say 'there is no practical tips in that book'
    Or the ones who skipped pages and misread most of the others
    Or worst of all, the ones who did read the book, did nothing about their knees, and complain that the book didn't help at all....

    As it stands, I bought your book after reading the reviews. I found it at times fascinating because I could 100% relate and liked the fact that you had done all the research work for me. At times, yes, I found it a bit tedious, bordering on obsessional. Still, I liked it enough to read it in one evening and put it straight to use. I also gave the title to my osteopath (not to the sport specialist who was a real pri**k and would have dismissed it completely because it goes against all what he charged me for...)

    1. Your last sentence is a very interesting point de looupy. I've mentioned Richards book and approach to almost every medico I've seen and while most agreed with the general approach,not one said "write down the details so I can read it". I also gave my coach Paul Ingrahams book on PFPS and told him one section to read in particular. I don't think he did. You'd think from a professional learning perspective they'd read it but no. As you said, their mindset is pretty rigid and tied to their training. And you are spot on, there are some real arrogant pri*ks out there in the medical world.