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Saturday Book Discussion: Book Reviews Spiced with Snark, and the Cult of Nice



How to read 'Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone'? Why, very quickly, to begin with, and perhaps also to make an end. Why read it? Presumably, if you cannot be persuaded to read anything better, Rowling will have to do.


— Harold Bloom on J.K. Rowling


If you call a book a piece of trash on the Internet, you're not expressing an opinion, you're being a jerk. Someone wrote that book, and there are better ways to express yourself.


— Nathan Bransford, Don't be a Jerk


I am not a famous literary critic and professor of literature like Harold Bloom — and I think he's wrong about Harry Potter, and a crankypants fathead for good measure — but at least he doesn't gloss his opinions.

I like Nathan Bransford, but I disagree with him, too, and I am very annoyed by the "cult of nice" that seems to be flowering in too many writers' circles. We all know about infamous author review meltdowns, from Jim Butcher to Christopher Pike to Anne Rice. Heck, most of fandom_wank is author meltdowns. Personally, I think a lot of this bubbles up from fanfiction culture (where "concrit" is often a heavily loaded and charged term) as more and more fanfic authors grow up to be book readers and occasionally professional authors.

Although I understand where Bransford is coming from, let's face it: a lot of books are trash. There are times when it's not appropriate to put it so bluntly (like if the writer has asked for a critique, or if you are an agent or an editor) but book reviews are for the reader, not the author. If you think a book is trash, that is an opinion. It may or may not be an intelligent or defensible opinion: the content of your review will determine that. What I dislike about Bransford's thesis is not his objection to personalizing criticism about a book to criticism of the author, but the implication that vicious reviews trashing a book are bad because the writer worked really hard to write that book and it might hurt someone's feelings to say it sucks. I have seen that opinion becoming more common and it's idiotic.

You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake

Nowhere is this "cult of nice" advocated more earnestly with the wide-eyed innocence of a precious, bruiseable snowflake than in this interview with Susan Dennard. Now, Dennard and Regan Leigh are specifically talking to fellow authors (or aspiring authors), which is not quite the same as telling reviewers in general that they shouldn't write harsh reviews. But the message is basically that if you want to be a writer you shouldn't ever write anything even a little bit critical about another author's book because golly how would you feel if someone said your book isn't a sparkly squee-making rainbow of win?

Don't publish if you don't want to be criticized. No book in the history of ever has been loved by every single person who read it, and almost no heavily-read and heavily-reviewed book on Amazon is without its share of flaming 1-star reviews. If you are an author, take the advice of most professionals: either don't read reviews, or put on your flameproof rhinohide suit and have a stiff drink before you do, and have a friend standing by to take away your keyboard before you're tempted to respond to any of them.

Generally I agree that criticism of a book should not turn into personal criticism of the author. I am sometimes uncomfortable when reviews begin to stray into speculation/assumption about an author's personal morals and ideology based on what he or she has written. Some authors' true personalities really are oozing out of every page; others are completely detached from their work and can write the most disgusting things that have nothing to do with who they are. Thanks to the Internet, it's easier nowadays to find out what sort of person an author is (which is why authors should also either be very professional, very thick-skinned, or else not have blogs), but authors don't generally deserve to be trashed because they wrote a book that rubs someone the wrong way. On the other hand, an author who reacts badly to someone pointing out issues in their writing is begging for an Internet to be dropped on their head.

Personally, I have been known to write a snarky review or two myself, but I have yet to write anything savage enough to get Twittered around the Internet, maybe because I just haven't read anything I hated that much recently. Or maybe because I'm just not snarky enough. (Or, maybe it's 'cause I'm a nobody and only a handful of people read my book reviews...) But my favorite reviews are the ones that come with heaping helpings of snark and well-seasoned with bile. Even when I disagree with them, I love reading incandescent paragraphs of rage, or just long, merciless vivisections delivered by a literary Josef Mengele. There are too few of those around.

What do you think of meanypants book reviews?

Poll #1785220 Snarky reviews

What do you think of mean, snarky reviews?

I hate them. I prefer professional reviews without the snarking and f-bombs, please.
2(2.3%)
An occasional dose of castor oil is good for you, but you really don't have to be mean.
9(10.3%)
I don't mind funny and pointed reviews, but don't be nasty.
39(44.8%)
If the book deserves it, then flame on!
37(42.5%)
The meaner and snarkier, the better!
0(0.0%)

What is your attitude when you write reviews?

I always try to be positive. If I don't like a book, I won't say anything about it.
2(2.3%)
I may be critical, but I try to be constructive. Authors are people, too.
20(23.3%)
I don't mind writing a harsh review, but I try not to be mean.
37(43.0%)
If a book pisses me off, I'll say so. With feeling.
26(30.2%)
I live for snark. If I don't like it, I go for the jugular.
1(1.2%)

If you were/are an author, what would be your reaction to a nasty review?

I wouldn't read them.
21(24.4%)
Laugh.
6(7.0%)
Cry (in private).
12(14.0%)
Politely thank the reviewer for offering her thoughts. (Any publicity is good publicity.)
9(10.5%)
Politely thank the reviewer for offering her thoughts while secretly hoping she suffers from anal boils.
19(22.1%)
Take the review very seriously and use it to try to improve my writing.
15(17.4%)
Get very upset and need my friends to talk me down off a ledge (or away from the Internet).
4(4.7%)
Write a flaming rebuttal, post it all over Facebook and Twitter, and mobilize my legions of fans to drive this presumptuous fool off the Internet!
0(0.0%)


LINKS OF RAGE



UR SO MEAN!

Okay, some are just snarky. Below, some of my favorite snarkypants reviewers, or reviews of note. Please add your own in comments.

FerretBrain produces consistently good and snarky genre book and movie reviews with a gloss of social awareness. In particular, I like Daniel Hemmens's reviews of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Patrick Rothfuss's The Wise Man's Fear. (He's totally wrong about both, but that's okay.:))

Requires Only That You Hate. The tags say it all. Not a place to go if you are the sort who will cry bitter tears of butthurt when your favorite author is slandered.

stoney321's Sparkledammerung is the best Twilight review ever!

hradzka's OH JOHN RINGO NO and the most horrifying thing Piers Anthony has ever written .

Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses, by Mark Twain.

The 50 best author vs. author put-downs of all time

ceilidh_ann's Sparkle Project (which spawned a spin-off blog, The Sparkle Project), including must-not-miss reviews of Hush, Hush, Halo, and Shiver (which provoked the author to step in it).

frost_light (Jeaniene Frost)'s Reviews – do’s and don’ts, some actual sane advice to authors.



Previous Saturday Book Discussions.
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