“It’s not his best book…”

That always strike me as a strange review.  By definition, there can be only one best book, and it is highly unlikely that every book I write will be better than the last.  I’ve published nine novels, and it’s safe to say that they don’t line up in some rigid and agreeable order.  It’s not like each book is 10 percent better than the last and so it will continue until I publish book number X, which will be my crowning achievement just before I die.

The Incredibles is my favorite Pixar film (probably my favorite movie ever), but it doesn’t mean that I don’t love Monsters Inc, Wall-E, or Brave.  Just because one jumps ahead in the pack, it doesn’t lessen the others any.

Being disappointed because something is not as awesome as it could be never made much sense to me.  I get disappointment.  Tron Legacy wasn’t nearly as cool or creative as the original film.  It didn’t need to be to satisfy me.  I just had to not be bland nostalgia masquerading as a movie.  Unfortunately, that’s exactly what it was, so I didn’t like it.  But if it had been “merely” good, I wouldn’t have complained.

I get the idea behind this type of criticism.  It’s saying that we like something, just not as much as we’d hoped.  But there’s a difference between Not Incredible and Disappointing.  It’s cool if you want to say you’re disappointed with something.  It’s just odd when that disappointment is because something wasn’t the best thing ever.

I hope to have many more books in my future, and I expect there will be a lot of disagreement over which one is exactly “The Best”.  Who knows?  Maybe there won’t be.  But even if the entire world agrees on one book as my magnum opus, I’d like to think they could appreciate my lesser works while they’re at it.

I wonder if Shakespeare had to deal with that.  “Romeo and Juliet is pretty good, but it’s no Macbeth.”  Beethoven probably was accused of phoning it in on his sixth symphony.  And I bet even someone, somewhere, told Dr. Seuss that Green Eggs and Ham was derivative.  If such geniuses had to experience those tribulations, I guess I’ll just have to put up with it too.

Such is my burden.  But I like to think I bear it well.

Keelah Se’lai

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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  1. Carol
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    I’m active on a book site, both in forums and in writing reviews, and while I don’t use the phrase often, I think another consideration would be looking at it in light of recommending a particular work over another to someone who is unfamiliar with an author. It might also be a backhanded compliment, an acknowledgement that some of the body of works really shine, and others not so much–but that doesn’t have to translate to one work being a ‘fail,’ just an acknowledgement that one work doesn’t reach the heights of the other.

  2. Mark
    Posted August 15, 2012 at 1:22 am | Permalink

    I always find this to be a pointless criticism. It doesn’t really say whether you think something is good or bad. I think Orson Welles had it the worst. He had to spend 50 years having people’s first reaction to every one of his movies be, “Well, it was no Citizen Kane.” If you are having a broader discussion of an artist’s career, than these kind of comparisons are useful, but as a review of an individual work, it’s meaningless and reductive.

  3. Victoria C.
    Posted August 30, 2012 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    Although the “It’s not his best…” line is unnecessary criticism, think of it this way: you still have a magnum opus (so far). For me, you have two: “Gil’s All Fright Diner” and “Chasing the Moon”.

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