Come on in!

Opening a new book is something like entering a house for the first time.

I wonder if I’ll feel comfortable or unsettled in its ambience, like or disapprove of the people who live there, revel in their insights or be bored by their lackluster conversation.



I confess I walked out of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections because I didn’t like its inhabitants and didn’t want to live with them for the time it would take me to explore their household—I mean, read the novel.

In addition to checking out first impressions, I look at the details in both a book and a house—the color scheme (pastel florals? monochromatic slate?),

 the art on the walls (impressionists? kids’ finger-painting?). I try out the furnishings (contemporary? Shaker?) I listen to its music (jazz? classical?) and taste its oozy pizza or sturdy potatoes.

As writers, we read not just for story but also in multiple ways and for many purposes. We examine whether the arc follows a classic path, whether the voice fits the tale’s mood and setting, whether the ending was presaged in the beginning, then cleverly tweaked. As we read, we inevitably analyze and critique.

On this Wednesday’s EMU’s Debut, you’ll have the chance to read a guest-post by EMLA client Erin Moulton on what it’s like to read reviews, including a very slightly critical one, of her debut novel.

My husband, an academic writer, almost (note the “almost”) doesn’t mind critical reviews of his books. “As long as they spell the name right,” he says, “reviews are good for sales.” In an academic setting, criticism, though not welcome, can indicate that the reviewer at least took the work and its ideas seriously.

      My own reviews, should I be fortunate enough to get any, are many months in the future. Unlike my husband, I am not looking forward to seriously critical reviews, regardless of how they spell the name. Actually, I’d like the negative ones to spell my name Sinthia Robinson.

Thinking about literature as houses and about reviews of them led me to ponder book reviews as realtors’ descriptions. What if readers responded to our books as succinctly and, yet, as tellingly as ads in the Homes section of the Classifieds?

·       “Brand new construction” suggests a unique approach—an inventive story, say, or off-beat setting or quirky characters.

·       “Recently remodeled” might refer to an updated tale—Little Red Riding Hood in Miami (just think of all the grandmas there; you heard it here first!) or on the moon.

·       “Handyman’s special” might have needed more editing before it was published; or, maybe it’s an interactive story on an e-reader, in which the reader gets to determine its development.

·       “Tear-down.” Uh oh.

Try this yourself. Would you like your book to be described as “New England charmer?” “mega-mansion?” “lots of closet space?”  


What would you like your readers to settle into? Will they like living there?



Filed under rejection and success, Writing

15 responses to “Come on in!

  1. Such a fabulous post, Cynthia. A great metaphorical reminder that reviews are subjective. As for your own book, I highly doubt you’ll see any “Sinthia Robinson” reviews.


  2. Hi Cynthia,

    Interesting idea. If I’ve done my work correctly, my house will be dimly-lit and shrinking slightly every day. This is conflict and tension at work. It might not be a pretty house, like the awesome ones you showed us, but it has atmosphere. As for the more serious look at reviews, it sure would be nice if reviewers worked hard to describe our books the way the Classifieds describe homes for sales. But sometimes I wonder if certain reviewers set out to demolish homes. Eeks!


    • Cynthia Levinson

      Books, like houses, can be awesome in many ways. Even the tear-down is fascinating and intriguing and could be the setting for a great story–as I’m sure yours will be.


  3. J. Anderson Coats

    My bookhouse would look new and busy and proud, all crisp angles and new-hewn wood with a tidy yard and a pretty matching fence.

    Just don’t ask how it was built. And don’t look too closely at the foundation.


  4. Now that I think about it, I’m sure glad my contract for MAGIC CARP didn’t list the manuscript as a handyman’s dream!

    This is a fun set of metaphors, Sinthia. To continue the metaphor, I do spend some time thinking about this debut novel as being something like my starter home. Not that I hope it is little and modest, but I do hope that I keep building bigger and better and nicer things after this one, and that there will be many along the way. And I do think reviewers have a hand in that, especially for those of us that write books that we hope will do well in the library and school market. I think good reviews really help librarians and teachers find books that fit the kids in their classrooms and libraries.


  5. Lynda Mullaly Hunt

    Cynthia! This metaphor is so very clever! I got a big kick out of reading your post–thank you! I love your “Sinthia” joke, and your realtors’ descriptions as they would relate to books. I am looking forward to reading Erin’s post on reviews, as well. Book reviews already have me a bit nervous!

    In my book, emotional growth is shown in the trees, but it all ties to the house the “color of dirt,” as my MC describes it. However, it’s warm and well-lit on the inside and smells like dryer sheets–clean and fresh. Carley’s temporary bedroom is a room decorated in the theme of fire fighters —heroes who, regardless of their fear, do the hard things to save people they don’t even know.

    Thanks so much for this post, Cynthia. Well done!


    • Cynthia Levinson

      I’m not sure how much, as a reader, I pay attention to setting, unless it takes center stage. Otherwise, I think I lean toward impressionistic feelings. Reading everyone’s responses, though, has been fun because you’re all preparing me for tuning in on settings when I get your books in my hands!


  6. AVAILABLE: On the Welsh border (transported from its original location) charming Elizabethan cottage. Full of character and traditional details that reflect the personality and style of the builder/first owner. Original construction sound; updates retain spirit of builder but make 21st century living comfortable. Contact brokers Shakespeare & Co, London.

    Thanks for a great post! 🙂


  7. Great post! I’d like mine to be a Surf Shack on Whale Bay in New Zealand – sparse polished wood, small and simple, with a view of the ocean and the sound of waves crashing and the salty smell of the sea!
    Oh wait am I confusing that with were I’d like to be right now?


    • Cynthia Levinson

      They often say, “Write what you know.” Maybe you should write what you want to be!

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Keely.


  8. Natalie Dias Lorenzi

    Love this metaphor, Sinthia. 🙂

    Although my novel’s main characters are Japanese, not Chinese, I think I’ll go with Feng Shui–an uncluttered place where readers feel at home. That said, Feng Shui also suggests that our homes should reflect our personalities, so that might make a “meh” (or worse) review feel a little too personal.

    One site I came across said that if I master the art of Feng Shui, I’ll enjoy good health, an increase in wealth, and an elevated social status. M’kay…I’ll take that one. 😉


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