There have been several really interesting articles by authors that have me thinking, lately. Justine Larbalestier's "I Love Bad Reviews" is the only one I bothered to save for the purpose of linking, unfortunately. Here's the a link to the article by Janni Lee Simmer that began the conversation (which is mentioned in Larbalestier's post). Both are well worth your time.
What are they saying? Larbalestier is just one of many authors who are trying to make the point that authors need to be accepting of reviews, regardless of whether they're positive or negative. She goes so far as to say that a negative review -- even one in which a blogger or other reviewer truly stomps on the author and doesn't say a single positive word -- is a good thing, simply because it's better to have someone read your book and spout off about how awful it is than to sink into obscurity. Great point, I thought.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, last year or the year before, Shannon Hale wrote an article that asked bloggers to consider why they rate books and then send their words out into the universe to potentially wreak havoc and wreck lives. That wasn't her wording at all, but I will tell you I initially found her article upsetting because I had never thought of myself as a person who placed my reviews out there for the world to see. I have always blogged for myself. The whole reason I began blogging was to have a place to simply write my honest thoughts and purge about the books I read.
I had to give Shannon Hale's words a lot of thought. And, really, although I still don't think of blogging as a way of "presenting my thoughts to the world", I suppose the fact that most of my readers arrive via Google means . . . well, yes, I am. It was thanks to Hale's post that I ceased to rate books numerically. I'd never really liked giving books a rating, since I've found that the way I feel about a book can change a week or a month after I set it aside. In a way, she gave me permission to let go of numbers. It was difficult to let go of numerical ratings, at first, simply because I knew my readers liked seeing how I rated a book. I've worked diligently to try to rate in words rather than numbers, since then -- in other words, present my thoughts clearly enough that a reader can gauge how I feel as well as he or she would by glancing at numbers -- although I know it's not the same.
Getting to the point: How are books like hamburgers?
Here's my thought: Books are like hamburgers in the way we feel about them and the kind we choose. Some people like mustard, mayonnaise and ketchup. Some people like pickles and tomatoes only . . . or just cheese (that was me, a hundred million years ago, little miss "Plain, with cheese"). Some folks will not touch a hamburger because it's got meat in it or they want something just a little offbeat between the buns (bookwise: between the covers). One person's hamburger is another person's gag reflex. The same is true of books.
Sometimes, you get even get e-Coli from the contents. There is such a thing as a bad hamburger and there is such a thing as a totally awful book. I believe both are the exceptions. But, how we react to what's inside our hamburgers and our books is very individual. In both cases, it's a matter of taste, preference, sometimes even the way we happen to feel on a particular day.
The bottom line is that I have always believed and still feel strongly about the importance of honesty in reviewing. It's important to me to attempt to find something I like about each and every book and mention it, if at all humanly possible, simply because I've been published and I know what it feels like to be reviewed. But, I know it's not always possible. Some books just don't work for everyone. I love this particular line of conversation amongst authors. What do you think? Have you ever felt like you had to adjust your thoughts to avoid hurting feelings? Have you ever had an author attempt to debate your impressions of his or her book? Is complete honesty the best policy?
Addendum: Here's one blogger's response to the "pressure to be nice" at Literary Life. I don't personally feel pressured, but I am a bit of a nonconformist (nobody's going to tell me how to blog -- I'm here to do my own thing, period) and always try to be nice, anyway. If a book stirs my passions in some way, I'm going to say so . . . but as kindly as possible. At least, that's always my intent.