July 25, 2011

How to avoid bad reviews at Amazon: Write a bad book


Well, there are a lot of things you can say about reader reviews on Amazon.com, and among them is that they seem to be, as a rule, written by a pretty humorless lot. But one book has been garnering a lot of attention lately to some very good comedy writing indeed amongst its reader reviews. In fact, the reviews in question — for How to Avoid Huge Ships by Captain John W. Trimmer — are so well done as to have developed a “deep underground following,” according to a PWxyz blog post (which, although alerting us to this terrific discovery, simultaneously commits one of the more typical hyperbolic sins of reader reviews at Amazon — it calls this book, which I’m going to bet the farm no one at PW has read — the “Worst Book Ever”).

A New York Times report also cites the book, and so does a hilarious blog post at Cracked.

So what’s all the fuss about? Well, take the review headlined “Caution: Check the title before purchase,” from reader Graham Thomas of Surrey, England:

I live near a park and frequently walk around the local area. Given the amount of dog mess that is on the pavements I thought this book would be the ideal read to stop me having to scrape my shoes on the grass before going home. It was only after it arrived that I looked closely at the title and realised it said ‘How to Avoid Huge SHIPS’. A simple error that means I am still treading on massive examples of canine excrement. Having said that, I read the book anyway, and I’m pleased to say I’m not even having near misses with huge ships anymore. No sir, they aint getting anywhere near me!

Then there’s this one, from Citizenfitz, from the Salt Grainery, which ran under the subject line, “Reads like a whodunnit!”:

I bought How to Avoid Huge Ships as a companion to Captain Trimmer’s other excellent books: How to Avoid a Train, and How to Avoid the Empire State Building. These books are fast paced, well written and the hard won knowledge found in them is as inspirational as it is informational. After reading them I haven’t been hit by anything bigger than a diesel bus. Thanks, captain!

But not all the reviews are of praise. Altair Voyager writes,

I am a huge ship. Imagine having an entire book devoted toward actively avoiding you and your kind. I have always been bigger than other ships – and yes, I have endured years of being moared in the distance, never being able to enter the shallower bays, requiring tugs to guide me in – but now THIS! Mr. Trimmer, you sir, should be ashamed! Please do not be swayed by his drivel. I ask that you judge me not by the size of my cargo hatch but rather the content of my wheelhouse.

But Madeleine B. of Boulder, Colorado won’t have any of it:

I’m a little annoyed with the sarcastic “reviewers” of this book. You all seem to think it’s funny that some people would honestly like some expert advice on ways to avoid huge ships. What, you’ve never been traveling at a very, very slow speed straight toward something really, really big that you could see for miles and miles away, and wished you’d known what steps you could take to avoid crashing into it? Well, all I can say is “congratulations!” What’s it like to be so perfect? You haters just keep on enjoying your huge-ship-collision-free little fantasies. I for one am going to buy this book and learn something, because I live in the real world, where huge ships and the dangers they present to people like me are actually a serious issue.

Who knew? The only thing disheartening about these reviews? If you click on the “See all my reviews” link, these are the only reviews most of these people have written on Amazon.


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives