Recently, in the New York Times, there was a discussion between two authors on the subject of reviews. More specifically, whether or not there was a need for negative book reviews.
Apparently, for a variety of reasons, negative book reviews are being frowned upon. The book publishing industry is in trouble, so we shouldn’t pan books; we should only encourage people to read, not discourage them. There are so many good books to review, so we should concentrate on those, and not spend our time reviewing bad books. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s just mean. Isn’t there enough negativity in the world? Why create more?
I call bullshit, you guys.
Listen, I’m all for nice. I think the world could use a little more nice. I completely agree that there’s enough negativity in the world – most of all, on my beloved internet, where I tend to live – that putting more out there is something that needs to be thought about before you do it. (Please note: I’m all for some good-natured snark. But outright meanness? I just think you might find something better to do with your time.)
I take my writing very seriously. More so my reviews, both my book reviews and my theater reviews. And I’m not comfortable putting out a review of anything that I’m not honest about.
When I’m writing my theater reviews, I don’t have a choice to review or not to review the show. I’m assigned certain shows, and I have to write a review of them. Sometimes I write a good review, sometimes a bad one, depending on how I felt about the show (and all the accompanying things like the set, the costumes, the direction, the acting, and the list goes on.) If I can’t write a good review of a show, I just can’t. This tends to really upset the readers of the paper, and they write very scathing (and often poorly-written) comments on my review, sometimes calling me names. However, I can still sleep at night. I told the truth as I saw it.
Now, here, on my blog, I can choose what to review and what not to review. And, to some extent, I do; if I read a book that I don’t feel enough about either way (or I don’t think I could write a whole review for), I just write a brief review on Goodreads and leave it there.
I suppose I could do the same with bad books, right? I could just read the book (or even NOT read the book; write it off as a bad job and give up and move onto something else) and write “I didn’t enjoy this” on Goodreads and forget about it.
But why would I do that?
Before I read a book, I often do a search for it online. I read a few Goodreads reviews (or reviews on Amazon, or on book blogs I trust, or elsewhere) and this helps me make an informed decision about whether or not to read the book.
If there were no negative reviews of it, and I read it, and hated it, I’d be kind of sad I hadn’t been tipped off and I’d wasted time on the book. And I’d write a review, stating exactly what I didn’t like about it, in the hope I could save someone else from reading it.
I’m not saying I’d write things like “OMG THIS BOOK MY EYES MY EYES” or something. (OK, unless it was 50 Shades.) But I’d say exactly what I didn’t like. And WHY I didn’t like it.
Also, even if the publishing business is in trouble…why would a bad review hasten that along? Really, in my eyes, what it would do is warn people off one book, and onto another. It’s not like it’s going to stop them from reading forever. It’s just going to warn them off this PARTICULAR book. There are MORE books. This isn’t the ONLY book.
Also, you’re not doing authors any favors by not writing honest reviews of their work, be they negative OR positive. Once you publish a book, it’s out there. It no longer only belongs to you. It belongs to every reader who puts eyes to it – and they’re entitled to an opinion. They might like it; they might not. But to muzzle all negative reviews – well, not only are you not doing the author any favors (how can they improve if they’re not aware they’re doing anything wrong?) but you’re not doing the readers any favors (it’s only fair they know what they’re in for) and you’re certainly not doing the reviewers any favors (I don’t know about you, but I have a slight issue with being told what I can and cannot write about, book-wise, on my own blog.)
Do we need negative reviews? Well, here’s my answer to that. We need HONEST reviews. We need reviews that reflect exactly what the writer felt about the book they read – good, bad, or otherwise. Yes, there’s more than enough negativity out there – but there’s always a place for honesty. And as long as you’re honest with yourself and your readers, you can sleep with a clear conscience. And isn’t that always the best kind of sleep, after all?
(And the two women in the article, after much discussion, agreed with me on this point. Only they did it in a much more New-York-Timesey way. I’m more of a free-newspaper-you-pick-up-in-the-gas-station writer. Sorry to break it to you, all.)