So I got my first Goodreads troll yesterday. Not as entertaining as reading it second-hand on other people’s threads, FYI. But this post is not about trolls, so you can stop backing away from the computer now. What really caught my attention was the fact that I was accused of being mean and nasty regarding a negative review of a book I didn’t like. And that got me thinking, where’s the line between a constructively critical review and book bashing?
Fellow blogger Ceilidh pointed me towards this post on author Mayandree Michel’s blog. Michel talks about negative reviews and how “There is no thin line between an honest review written with no motive other than impartial feedback, and a book bashing that is clearly intended to hurt an author or their work's potential success.”
I find myself forced to respectfully disagree. Reader’s feelings on any piece of writing are clearly subjective. What I think of as the expression of an honest opinion (“this book is derivative and not suitable for anyone looking for a fresh, innovative read”) could possibly be construed by an author, or a fan, as a ‘hater’ comment, designed to stop people from buying the book. This may not have been my intention, maybe all I wanted to do was warn people against unreasonable expectations, but when you make a piece of writing public, be it a book, a review of a blog post, you automatically relinquish the right to criticize people’s interpretations of your work. People will put what meaning they choose to your words, and you cannot stop them. But this doesn’t mean that there IS no line— it merely means that the line blurs once actual human beings get into the fray.
Now of course, as reviewers, especially reviewers of YA books, we all know that negative reviews have become the subject of great controversy in the YA world. And of course, one cannot help but agree that using a review of a book to bash an author, such as in the example provided by Michel in the post, is crossing the line. But when it comes to discussing a book per se, how does one differentiate between an honest review and a malicious one?
Opinions differ, and even the most impartial review of a book may cause different reactions amongst different people. A review that I consider merely honest could seem harsh to someone else. But despite the inherent subjectivity of reviewing, is there still that line in the sand that one can draw between being opinionated and being malicious?
Some things are obvious to everybody. Author bashing, obviously, is a big no-no for any self-respecting reviewer. Ditto, trying to conduct personal vendettas in the guise of honest reviewing. But how about this? How about if I said that that a book was sloppily-plotted and that the heroine exasperated me? How about if I said that the writing was full of clichés and the ending was contrived? Is this being ‘disrespectful’ of the author? Or is this merely an honest expression of my opinion and feelings upon reading the book?
I don’t know what to tell you, guys. This is a question that’s been bugging me, and it’s one I’d like to put out there in the blogosphere so I can get an idea of what people think. Along with another thing that’s been preying on my mind. Why are YA books the ones that are getting so controversial? I think I find more YA reviewers tiptoeing around author egos and fan trolling than any other kind of reviewer. I hate the term Twitard, but how can we blame people for using it when YA threads get more trolls than any other book reviews? When YA reviewers are the ones being told repeatedly that they should be more sensitive in their critique, that they should just abandon a book if they don’t like it, instead of reviewing it. That’s not a good culture to perpetuate, surely? So why is it being enforced on YA reviewers, time and again?