Saturday, 14 January 2012

On Book Reviews

The Internet, God Bless It, has brought many things, one being the ability to thrust our half baked opinions onto an unsuspecting world.  I'm as guilty of this as anyone.  What is a blog if not an egofest?  

Everywhere you look people are voicing opinions.  Twitter, Facebook, that new one Google started - not to mention forums (don't get me onto them).  Everybody and his Auntie are telling you what they think of just about anything. 

Not that that's necessarily a bad thing.  If you buy a faulty kettle and you want to save others from annihilating themselves you are duty bound to post a warning in the customer feedback.  

But books are not appliances.  No one ever died from reading a book - well, maybe of boredom, but you can always bin the bloody thing before it gets to that stage.

So this is why I cannot understand the reasoning behind negative book reviews.  You didn't like it - so what?  I don't like lime marmalade but I wouldn't give it a bad review.  Why would you want to slash and burn someone else's work unless there was some darker motivation than warning off an unwary public?

When it comes to reviewing our peers we have an advantage over Joe Public.  We know just how hard it is to write a book.  All the endless revisions, all the subbing and rejections.  Contrary to popular belief it ain't a walk in the park, unless you're a celeb of course but that's a different argument.  Getting a book into print is hard, and whatever you think of the end product you should respect the achievement if nothing else.  And it's not just the author's work invested in a novel.  Editors, publishers, agents, beta readers, cover artists....  

Of course being versed in writerly skills ourselves we are more likely to spot the flaws and weaknesses. But that's another reason for keeping our opinions to ourselves. If you are a writer trying to get published you are in competition with other authors.  At least that's how it seems.  If I read a negative review written by another author I immediately think the worse of them and so will other readers.  You might think you're being clever and constructive but to the Rest of the World it looks like nobbling the competition.  

But what if you hide your identity?  True, that might shield you from the outrage of the majority, but don't think you can fool everyone.  What many reviewers fail to realise is their reviews, like all of their online posts, reveal just as much about themselves as their opinions.  And true anonymity is very hard to maintain.  

I've only ever given a handful of reviews on Amazon, and they've all been good ones. It's never occurred to me to give a negative review of a novel, mainly because if it was that bad I'd give up and bin it before reading enough to make an informed opinion. Novels, like all art forms, are subjective.  What I hate many others would love.  Chalk it up to experience and move on.  

It's just too easy to rubbish another novel and people know it.  What have you to gain?  OK, you get it off your chest, you get to show how clever you are that you spotted a couple of research bloopers or that you know what third person omniscient means.  But you lose far more.  You run the risk of looking like a bitchy competitor or a frustrated wannabe, especially if your own writerly skills aren't up to par.  You run the risk of alienating the very professionals who could one day help you up the ladder a step or two.

But what if you really really hate a book and feel compelled to say so?

Well, say it.  I'm all for free speech.  But before you do stop for a moment and ask yourself what good would come of it.  Your review will last forever, long after your annoyance or urge to show off are a distant memory.  What goes around tends to come around, and you might not like the consequences, whatever they may be.

1 comment:

Writer Pat Newcombe said...

I so agree with you! I also believe there are ways of critiquing that do not offend people and stay within certain boundaries. It bugs me that reviewers seem to take great delight in rubbishing a writers work and make no effort to be pleasant or evn to be well mannered.