Upon Further Review

I’ll always remember the first review I ever got for a stand-up comedy show. Sometime in the late eighties, when I had just started to land paying gigs, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune  reviewed a show that featured me and several other ‘up and coming’ comics. The reviewer, apparently having exhausted all of the show business metaphors then in use, and at a loss for a way to describe my act in comedy terms, instead went for a more visceral approach, describing my part of the show as being like:

…taking a cold bath with someone you dislike.

I really only endured that one bad review in about fifteen years of doing stand-up. Even at the time, it didn’t bother me too much. The wording of it always made me think the writer was just burnt out, and started randomly combining negative phrases. Frankly, I suppose I’m lucky he didn’t compare my act to “drinking spoiled milk with an investment banker,” or “undergoing a root canal with John Wayne Gacy.”

During the comedy boom years, being reviewed as a comic wasn’t a big deal, because no matter how monumentally you might have failed at a given show, you always had the next show, and if that crowd liked you, the previous gig was was irrelevant. Now that I’m an author, I’m trying to get my small collection of humorous essays to stand out from the eight hundred thousand other books published every year. Reviews seem to matter quite a bit more.

Some websites won’t publicize your book unless you have a certain number of reviews. And readers pay attention to reviews. When you are trying to decide between my book and seven hundred ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred ninety-nine others and all you have to go on is a few pages of preview and a cover image the size of postage stamp, reviews matter.

From this angle, Dane’s essays look funny. But do they hold together with any sort of narrative through-line?

The problem is, I can’t get people to review my book. In my most recent promotion, I gave away just shy of five hundred copies of “Stuck In My Head.” In the promo before that, almost seven hundred people grabbed a free copy. The book also resides in two bookstores, and dozens of friends and acquaintances have actual, physical, paperback editions.

By my math, that’s almost a gazillion people who have had the opportunity to read my book and write a short review on Amazon. Currently, the book has fifteen reviews. Fifteen people (out of a gazillion, mind you) have offered their opinions of my book. More people than that attended the most recent meeting of Muslim Mexican Women for Trump.

You can post reviews anonymously on Amazon, so it’s not like you’re even held accountable for your opinion, snarkycat47368. I don’t really understand what’s so daunting about it. It’s certainly not that people don’t have opinions–my Facebook feed is filled with questionably-informed and unabashedly judgmental opinions on everything from Colin Kaepernick to climate change.

I hate that I need to ask for reviews. It’s bad enough that I have to ask people to read my books. And I’m not even sure I care what your review says. If you truly can’t formulate any opinion about the two hundred pages of my soul that you just consumed, here’s an idea–you can copy a couple of sentences from the book and paste those in the little review box.

In an Amazon review, you pick a number of stars (out of five) and then you write what you thought of the book. The stars are even gold stars, in case you’re nostalgic for grade school. The thing is, as important as reviews are, I’m not sure anyone actually reads them. People count them, but they’re really just looking  at the number of gold stars.

As a writer, I appreciate honest reviews. As a human being, I’m more ambivalent about the concept. If you don’t feel you got $2.99 worth of chuckles out of the deal, speak your truth. Unfortunately, sometimes people review the book they wanted you to have written for them, instead of the book you actually wrote. One of the reviews of my first book “Does This Taste Funny?” expressed major disappointment at the lack of recipes, even though nothing in the title, subtitle or synopsis indicated that it was a cookbook.

If you’re still at a loss for what to say in your review, I’ve put together some examples for you, to give you a jump start. For instance, you could give a purely factual review:

This book turned out to be two hundred and fifteen pages long, and there were fifty thousand, one hundred and twenty-two words. Four stars!

Or, you could simply restate the premise of the book:

In “Stuck In My Head,” Dane provides an offbeat look at music and mental health, and since I’ve listened to music before and I have mental health problems, it was right up my alley. Five stars!

If you’re going negative, be creative:

This ‘book,’ if Dane wants to call it that, is nothing more than the ramblings of an obsessive-compulsive crazy person, and reading the ‘book’ feels like being trapped in a storage closet with a high school audio-visual geek who forces you to listen to his entire collection of Carpenters records . . . while taking a cold bath! Five stars!

Now, let’s briefly summarize what we’ve learned here:

  • Reviews are pointless
  • I need more reviews
  • I want them to be honest
  • (But there’s no need to crush somebody’s dream)

As a bonus, if you’re clever enough with what you write, maybe I’ll buy your book. After I check out the reviews, of course . . .


Blame It On Rio

Once every four years, we watch over-the-top displays of jingoism, flag-waving, and fear. For two weeks, we get beginning-to-end coverage of celebrities, big crowds and boisterous cheering, with accusations of corruption and cheating thrown into the mix. It’s a special time when the average American sits up and takes notice of things he only cares about once every four years.

I intended to use the paragraph above for a piece about the political conventions, but then I got lazy, then I got distracted, and, well, the conventions were over and I never wrote the piece. The cool thing is, I can use the same paragraph for this piece, about the Olympics. Continue reading

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Fair Enough

I don’t get out of the house much. Most of the time, I convince myself it’s by design, and most of the time, I’m kidding myself. It’s certainly easier to tell myself that I’m making a choice to stay home and write all day, or research markets for my writing, or continue binge-watching ‘Gilmore Girls.’

The reality is more nuanced than that. Actually, it’s not even a matter of nuance. The reality is that sometimes I justfeel too damned awkward to be out in public, due to what I’ve decided to call a neurological quirk.

Technically, it’s a spinal ‘condition’ — or is it an ‘issue’? No, ‘issue’ makes it sound like something I should just talk out, and eventually resolve. And I don’t think of it as a spinal ‘problem’, because that implies a solution, and there really isn’t one which doesn’t involve a risky neck surgery that only has a fifty-fifty chance of making a difference.

So let’s just stick with ‘quirk.’ It’s a quirk that, fortunately, rarely causes me pain, and almost never prevents me from doing my work. The awkward part — and this is the part that keeps me inside on beautiful days — is that this quirk causes me to walk funny. Not ‘funny’ in that people might point at me and laugh, but ‘funny’ as in “Why does he walk so funny? Is he OK?” I’m so wobbly when I walk that it looks like, at any moment, I’m either going to veer into traffic or tumble, ass-over-Keurig, into a broken heap. Continue reading

A Social Media Style Guide for the Far Right (From a Concerned Lefty)

I don’t wade very often into the waters of political argument, and I particularly avoid politics online. I’m opinionated and sarcastic, and I am notoriously bad at letting things go, so it would be far too easy for me to get sucked into some Facebook black hole. The next thing you know, I’m scrolling through hundreds of comments, and comments about comments, and clicking links, and posting links, and then I wake up one day and realize I never finished writing that third book. Continue reading

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A Letter to Dad


I know it must seem a little weird to get a letter from me, but I thought it would be good to catch up a bit, since we’ve been out of touch for so long.  It’s gotta be at least . . . fifty years, right? Continue reading

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Huge Science News


In a development that has rocked the world of particle physics, scientists at a hastily arranged press conference have admitted to losing the long sought-after and recently discovered ‘God particle.’ Flustered researchers in Switzerland released a tersely worded statement about the disappearance of the bosun. Continue reading

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