The Review Debacle

(I have a lot to say, so bear with me)

This has been going on far too long. I think every year there comes a time when the eternal debate of whether authors/aspiring authors should be book reviewers too comes up. This generally sparks off several more posts regarding reviews (blogger reviews, to be specific) and how positive or negative they should or shouldn’t be. And it’s alright to have these discussions. That’s why we are human beings. We have the power to reason and discuss, test and explore new ideas. And every year we have some very interesting discussions on said topics, which leave us with greater understanding of things, even if our fundamental beliefs remain unchanged.

This time, though, something went wrong. Something spiraled beyond discussions and took on an ugliness of its own – where certain authors ganged up on certain reviewers, certain agents conspired with certain authors to rig the review rating system on Goodreads and Amazon, mudslinging and bitch-slamming in public took place – it’s been one hot mess after another.

And it’s been very, very disappointing. This is NOT the book world as I know it. The book world I’ve grown to love and respect is the one where writers and reviewers and readers co-exist in harmony – occasionally going to tea with the Mad Hatter and the March Hare, engaging in Wildean witty banter, tipping their hats to each other when they gather at book clubs or pen clubs (where they brainstorm ideas. This doesn’t officially exist by that name). There are differences of opinions, yes. As long as there will be people there will be opinions and everyone has a different opinion and everyone’s entitled to it. But this is done with a respect for each other, with the thought that – ‘Yes, I understand that’s what you think about me/about this book and while I don’t necessarily agree with you, I appreciate your thoughts’.

Unfortunately, that’s the ideal. Which obviously, also makes it unreal. The ugly truth of it is that somewhere that line between public and private has been crossed and dirty linen is being washed in full view of the rest of the world.

I mean, look at us. I’m assuming (and rightly so) that we are all literature lovers here. And literature preserves the ideals of humanity. It’s supposed to give us a better understanding of life. Supposed to sensitize us to people and their situations. Of all people, we, readers and lovers of literature should know that jumping at each other’s throats is not the way to go about things. And creators of literature? You should know better.

My biggest dream is to be a published author. I want to hold a book in my hands, which has a shiny new cover and my name on its spine. A book that people will want to read and hopefully, some of them will love a little. Yes, that’s what I really hope happens someday.

But you know what? I was a reader first. It’s my love for reading, for books, that made me want to be a writer. I love talking about them, what they made me and didn’t make me feel. What worked and what didn’t work for me. Would I be reading it again or would I be putting it aside? I like the process of reviewing, evaluating a book and then interacting with fellow readers and getting to know their thoughts on said book.

But when someone tells me that by putting forward my honest thoughts about a book I may as well be killing off my future career as an author, that disappoints me. You’re asking me to choose between my love and my dream. I ask you: WHY? Why does it have to be a choice between either? I understand that the writers of the books I don’t fangirl over might become my colleagues when/if I do get published, so it might get awkward, but whether I deal with it by simply deleting all reviews I’ve written or not, is entirely my decision. If I’m not mistaken, whether or not I become published or not depends entirely on my own merit and not because I may not have liked a book by a fellow author and publicly said so. Unless there’s a conspiracy of some sort brewing in the industry.

Which brings me to a post by a certain very well-respected author that saddened me a great deal. The author made some interesting points but it all boiled down to her perception that book bloggers aren’t real reviewers. That, I vehemently disagree with.

Now, guys.
I understand where she’s coming from. She talks about jerk-fests – personal attacks that come under the guise of reviews. That is wrong. That is just very, very wrong. Yes, we live in a free world (at least most of us do) and we are allowed freedom of speech (at least, till now) but that’s NOT to be exploited. Reviews that go: “Oh jeez, I think this author wrote this book simply to annoy me! She should be locked up in an asylum and that goddamned book should be barbecued!” NO. That is NOT how book reviews should go, no matter how much you hate a book. Be snarky, yes, use funny gifs, have a good laugh – heck, yes, that’s fine – but you cross the line at cruelty and meanness. I get that. And I’m totally against it.

But what I don’t get is the distinction she makes between paid reviews and unpaid ones. Between how real the professional reviews (say, ones that appear in The Guardian and the New York Times and other literary publications) and how not real the unprofessional reviews (say, on Goodreads and book blogs) are. I mean, seriously? That’s like saying that books that don’t win awards aren’t real books.
Blogger reviews are NOT all jerk-fests that take potshots at the author’s personal life. NO. They probably comprise only 2% of the blogosphere. So clubbing every blog reviewer under the ‘jerks’ umbrella is biased and wrong.

The author also says:

Let’s talk about the negative “reviews” that authors have been lashing out at. They often involve animated gifs, swearing, and snark. They’re often quite funny. But here’s the thing, though. When a blogger writes a biased, hilarious, snarky rundown of a book they despised, he/ she is not writing a review. They are writing a post about a book. I’m not saying that bloggers shouldn’t write biased, hilarious, snarky rundowns of books. I’m saying that those rundowns are not reviews. Bloggers who regularly write them cannot expect to garner the same respect and treatment from authors that pro reviewers or non-pro reviewers do. They can’t expect authors to read their posts and learn something from them. And they cannot expect authors to not take it personally. They’ve made it personal. 

Um, hello – WHAT?
So because they are informal, these are not reviews? I don’t get it. How I evaluate is book is entirely up to me. And what’s the deal about these being personal? DUDE, art is personal. Everything about art is personal. There can’t ever be anything such as looking at a book ‘objectively’. I mean, how can it? The way you respond to a book is entirely yours. You and I might love a book but on a deeper level, in almost all probability we love it for very different reasons. EVERY REVIEW IS SUBJECTIVE. It is personal, because it it about how I personally feel about the book. Irrespective of whether or not I mention the ‘I’ in my reviews, it’s omnipresent. It would be ridiculous to suggest otherwise.

I realise it’s very hard to let your book – your sweat and blood and tears – out there and watch other people take a swing at it, but that’s what happens when you go public with your work. If you want the fangirls, you have to accept the non-fangirls as well. You are allowed to be secretly angry with them but don’t lash out at them. Don’t demean the bloggers who are putting forth a thought on your book because of their love of reading, irrespective of which way their opinions might swing. I stumbled upon this blogger’s post while writing this. Go read it. It’s more articulate than I can be at this point.

As for the reviewers, you’re allowed to be honest. You’re allowed your opinions. You’re allowed to like or dislike a book (don’t let anyone threaten you otherwise) but be careful not to turn that dislike into a personal attack. Don’t. Do. That.

Guys. Look at us. We’re Literature lovers. All of us. Lets not indulge in such pettiness. It’s unbecoming and savage and puts Literature to shame.

We are all doing something we love. Bring on the respect, guys. And be a sport.