I have had a whinge on my Facebook about Snark/Nastiness in book reviewing. I am talking mainly here of Goodreads, those .gif laden pieces of performance art that seem to pass for critical response to books.
I am not a fan of snark unless it’s done well (obviously “done well” is subjective and probably in line with my biases, political opinions etc). I have come across discussion threads where piling on an author is carried out with maniacal glee and where until recently people could name their book shelves ‘this author should be shot”.
My complaint is that when I as a member of the public, reading a publically posted review seek to query, discuss, perhaps challenge people in the discussion, they aren’t prepared to participate in a discussion, I am policing their reviewing. In essence they are willing to lump truckloads of shit on to an author but are not prepared to defend that position or clarify a stance. They have an opinion and you dare not express one that is counter to it.
My position is of course that you are entitled to an opinion if you can argue it sufficiently (and civilly is my preference, an honest civility not civility masquerading as tone-policing).
My feeling is that if you hold an author to the standard “well if you put it out there, you take the good with the bad” then as an ”author of a review” you should hold yourself to the same standard.
Maybe I need to look for better reviews, seek out better reviewers. Maybe its a case of SOMETHING IS WRONG ON THE INTERNETS!
Maybe the hardest part about being an author is developing the ability to take it on the chin( with the same regularity as sports stars but without the money)- it’s not about you but more about the reviewer.
But even after 3 years of reviewing I am not sure what effect reviews have. Do they really influence sales? Is any publicity good? Does it all matter?
I also wonder in a hyper connected world where authors are expected to do more and more of the selling, to be online and active, if, while reviews may not matter, angst, hate and the magnifying effect of social media might very much matter to the writer. Gone are the days when you would wake up to a week of bad reviews in the papers (where bad might have been some intelligent snark) now you could wake up to perpetual poo flinging that can drag on for months, confront you every morning while you realise that you get paid less than an unskilled labourer.
Mind you the other side of that coin could be waking up to fan love each day. But I still think we tend to like complaining and criticising more than praising.
It’s not a phenomenon restricted to book reviewing mind you. A culture of nastiness, of flinging shit and not having to deal with any consequences will be familiar to anyone who has teens on Facebook or anyone who followed political discourse in Australia over the last 6 years. I think it cheapens and polarises the discussion, it’s cheap entertainment at the expense of good solid discussion.
Sure the other end of the spectrum can be as bad - if we pat authors on the back, fail to interrogate the work enough then we do risk becoming stagnant.
Which brings me to the title for this post.
Am I being critical enough in my own reviews? Am I every bit as to blame as the monkeys on Goodreads, because in the main I choose to talk about books that I enjoy, that I don’t find too much of an issue with. Am I not interrogating these works sufficiently. Am I too nice?
This is the question I am left with and the question I ask you, fellow book reviewers, are we critical enough, where being critical is interrogating the work and having honest opinions without playing it up for the reader?
Feel free to list reviewers/bloggers that you think do a good job of being critical. I have some in mind but I don’t want to skew your answers.