I touch on a touchy subject

In the almost-one-year since I joined Goodreads, the topic of authors reviewing books there has come up again and again. I haven’t been in on most of the conversations, and I’m not going to link to them (lest I draw the Eye of Sauron toward myself), but the upshot is usually something like this: authors should not post negative reviews on Goodreads because it will come back and bite them in the butt someday.

If you can’t say something nice, in other words, say NOTHING.

This morning I read a short blog post by one of my favourite YA authors, Melina Marchetta, wherein she explains why she only posts 5-star reviews on Goodreads (and never reviews other Australian authors). I get it – I don’t want to offend anyone either, particularly – but it also makes me sad. Marchetta’s books have such an unconventional, strong, fearless voice that it’s jarring to hear her express, well, fear.

It makes me wonder whether I ought to go through and excise all my sub-stellar reviews. Should I be more cautious? Am I too stupid to know when to be scared?

Phoebe North makes a good case for bad reviews in this guest post at YA Highway. It’s a well-reasoned post, and I tend to agree with her.

So I’m going to lay out my own reviewing policy right here: I am going to say what I think, plainly and honestly. If I don’t like a book, I will say so. I’m not a troll; I am a thinking, interested reader who values thoughtful, honest criticism. I will never make a comment about a book that I wouldn’t consider fair play on one of my books. I’m also a writer, and if  this comes back to bite my bum, well, that’s the portion of my anatomy best suited to being bitten, frankly. It could use a few bites.

And please, you reviewers, when it’s my turn to face the firing squad in turn, be honest. I expect it — no, I require it. There is no book so impeccably written and so universal in its appeal that everyone in the world is going to love it. Not the Bible. Not even The Giving Tree – I gave that 1 star, and I love Shel Silverstein with a love that is true.

(Of course, Uncle Shelby is also dead, and won’t be biting my behind anytime soon… OR WILL HE? Truly, if any author could rise inconveniently from the grave, he’s the one.)

5 thoughts on “I touch on a touchy subject

    • Well, as often as I can think of anything interesting to say about them, I suppose! Which isn’t much of an answer. I hadn’t intended this blog to be a review blog, exactly; I’m talking about Goodreads reviews, more, in this post. But I’m reading a book right now – Imaginary Girls, by Nova Ren Suma – that is kind of setting my head on fire, so I could see myself discussing it here.

      So, uh. How’s that for a non-answer? 😉 Would you LIKE to see more reviews here? That might go a ways toward making me more decisive.

  1. I’ve become a fan of the Sufi “Three Gates” rule when it comes to communication, and I think it applies to reviews as well: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Of those, the second is hardest when you’re writing a negative review, but it’s still possible and I’d argue worthwhile. It can be amusing to be snarky and mean, and can be satisfying to “punish” the authors of things you find particularly bad, but that doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Consider the difference in approach you might use in criticizing something that a loved one wrote vs. a total stranger… and then use the loved-one approach. You don’t have to be indulgent, but you sure as heck shouldn’t be aiming to hurt.

    • I totally agree with you there. The difficulty, in part, is that you can intend something kindly and they can still take it hard. I try to gauge by what I think my own reaction would be, but I suspect I have a thicker skin than some.

      Do you remember that negative review Tom Spurgeon gave Amy Unbounded in TCJ? I was really hurt at first, to be completely honest. Over time, I stopped being hurt, and was able to see where I agreed with him, and where I disagreed. And nowadays, if you asked me, I’d have to say some of his criticisms were useful to me later on. On balance, it was a good thing, but in the moment it was blazingly painful.

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