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[On Negative Book Reviews] Hurting whose feelings?

June 8, 2011 \pm\30 2:55 pm

[All this week, WWAATD contributors wax poetic, lyrical and philosophical on the pitfalls, perils, and passions of the negative book review.—Ed.]

Not sure this is what the editors had in mind when they put forth this negative review challenge. As with most other things these days, I had a hell of a time writing it, and I realized that it was because I was of two minds on the subject. So, I deleted the crap I was trying to write and wrote this. It may be crap too, but it’s honest-how-I-feel crap.–Robin

Me: I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable writing a negative review of a book. I just keep hearing If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings and all that.

Me too: Yeah, but if something is awful, shouldn’t that be pointed out to the author so as to help them improve? Or save us from being subjected to their bad writing again?

Me: But this isn’t a critique group.

Plus, who am I to say something is “bad” just because I didn’t like it. It’s all so subjective.

Me too: It IS subjective. Even the hoity-toity academic-like reviews are subjective, don’t let them kid you.

Me: But they’re intimidating. I don’t have any credentials. And this goes for positive reviews as well as negative reviews, by the way. Which is why I’ve had such a hard time writing them (or not writing them, as the case may be).

Me too: Yeah, but if you read something and don’t like it, there’s got to be a reason, right?

Me: Yeah.

Me too: Well, then give your reason. Reasons. Because I bet there is more than one. And I’m pretty damn sure that there are folks that think along the same lines as you. You’re not special. They’ll read your review, say to themselves This is full of shit and move on.

Me: But, but, but.

Me too: But what? Do you really believe that only positive feedback is good?

Me: No. And I often find negative reviews to be very useful. Not just of books, but movies, and music, and what-have-you. Sometimes the reasons given for something being “bad” is what specifically piques my interest. I’ll go Whoa! I really need to read that!

Me too: See?

Me: But I don’t know how to write something like that. Besides, I’d feel bad for the author. Remember, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

Me too: You know that’s not possible, right?

Me: I’m afraid too.

Me too: Of what?

Me: Of how I’d feel if someone said something like that to me.

Me too: How would you feel?

Me: Hurt, angry, defensive. Probably. Maybe I’d want to give up writing. I do that on a regular basis anyhow. I’m my own worst critic.

Me too: But maybe this authorself had the same questions or comments you do, even though their book was published. If you, and enough other people point out something that doesn’t work, they might go Oh, okay, I was right. Shoulda gone with my gut. Or whatever. You could be providing that author with a service. You want to deny them that?

Me: Yeah, but still, it’s subjective. At least anything that I’m going to say is. And honestly, though I don’t quite agree with the If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all sentiment, I do tend to live my life like that. Maybe I’m channeling some grandmother. That’s the kind of thing a grandmother would say. Not sure mine ever said that to me though. Her saying was It takes all kinds.

Me too: Well, you don’t have to say MEAN things. You can acknowledge that others may have a completely different take on something. Welcome that even.

Me: Well, so far there’s been nothing I’ve not liked in some way. Probably because I don’t tend to read stuff I wouldn’t like. Self-selecting. But hell, I’m even having trouble writing positive reviews of stuff for some of the same reasons.

Me too: You’re fucked up, you know that don’t you?

Me: Yeah.

Me too: You’ll never get anywhere thinking that what you say doesn’t matter to anyone.

Me: I think you’re trying to talk me into something.

Me too: Damn right! You didn’t think you could do this, and look, you’ve typed up two whole fucking pages!

Me: Yeah, cause I told Ani I would and I didn’t want to let her down. Plus there was that damn deadline she set for us.

Me too: Well then, set yourself deadlines. Write those reviews. The positive ones, and then negative ones. Don’t be afraid. I know you don’t like people to be mad at you. But you’re mad at yourself and that’s holding you back. Now look! You’ve gone onto a third page!

Me: This was supposed to be about negative reviews, not about my writing inadequacies. As it is, I didn’t follow the guidelines all that well. At least I don’t think so.

Me too: Stop thinking/obsessing/worrying about it so much and just put the words down.

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