I got myself a bit riled up by this post — or rather, not the post itself, which is quite good, but some of the comments made by interviewees in the post. It’s about the function and status of book blogs, covering quite a lot of topics including how book bloggers can help small publishers, whether the criticism on blogs is any good, and whether book bloggers should post negative reviews. It’s this last question that gets me all irritated. Well, the second question irritates me too, but the idea that there is no good criticism on blogs strikes me as easily disproven, if only a person is willing to open their eyes and take a look around. But the question of bloggers posting negative reviews is not quite so easy.
I know I’ve written about this before, but what the hell — one thing that’s true about blogging is that it does little good to have an idea buried back in your archives from a few months ago. The post I’m referring to takes the side of freedom to write about books in whatever form you want, positive or negative, but one blogger they interview argues strongly that if you don’t like a book, you shouldn’t post about it. I think this is the sentence that got me:
… if you do not like what you read that is fine – but you do not have any authority to say so publicly and sometimes hurtfully.
Oh, dear. The things this sentence makes me want to say. Which I will refrain from saying, as I do not want to be mean and pick a fight. But I have the right to pick a fight if I want to! And I have the right to post whatever I want about any book I want, and I don’t need any authority from anybody to do it. It’s the absolute language that bothers me — you do not have any authority — whereas if somebody said to me “it might be better if you didn’t …” I would listen and politely disagree but I wouldn’t get angry.
People seem to have trouble accepting just what blogs are and what they do. Now I can understand this a little bit, especially if you are an author and you’d really rather not have random bloggers trashing your work, whom you know nothing about and, for all you know, may not have completed high school. But the reality is that if it’s going to happen there is nothing you can do to stop it. And pretending that there’s some authority out there that grants certain people the right to give their opinions and makes the others shut up won’t help any.
Blogging is a new and sometimes troubling mix of the personal and the public — it often feels like a combination of diary, casual coffee shop conversation, and published work. I can see that it’s hard to come to terms with the way blogging takes that diary or coffee shop conversation and puts it out into the world, giving a public voice to those who would have had none before. “Publishing” now has a new meaning and new connotations. These days there’s publishing as in going through the editing process and appearing in print, and there’s publishing as in typing up a blog post, with what degree of care it doesn’t matter, and clicking “publish.” It’s just not the same thing anymore, and I think it’s better to learn how to deal with it than to try to fight it.
But what I really wanted to say is that it doesn’t make sense to me that bloggers should write only about books they like. No one can stop bloggers from publishing negative reviews, yes, but I also see no reason for them to try to do so. To me personally, it feels dishonest to write only about positive responses, and I’m not sure I’d trust a blogger who never panned a book, ever. But even more significant, I think, is that the attempt to be honest and truthful is more important than an author’s feelings. One lone blogger writing reviews isn’t going to uncover the truth about a particular book — there isn’t any such truth to be found — but her opinions will add to the ongoing conversation about books in general and about that particular book specifically, and the value of that conversation supersedes the feelings of individual people. There would be no depth, no interest, in a conversation with no negativity whatsoever.
Now, really bad-natured bloggers who write nasty reviews are another matter entirely, but still, no one can stop them from publishing their nasty reviews, and any reader with sense will ignore them and move on to better blogs.
So, if you decide you’d rather not publish negative reviews, then you don’t have to, and that’s a perfectly legitimate personal decision, but it’s not one I choose to make. And I do wish people would stop telling me what I’m supposed to do or not supposed to do on this blog where I can do anything I like.