One of the lovely things about the internet is that you can spread your opinions worldwide. This is also one of the most problematic parts of the internet. Not so much the ability to, because I believe we should all have the freedom to share our thoughts, but rather more the question of should you, in a given circumstance. Which is trickier.
Of course, whether you posted in haste, or you change your opinion later, the internet remembers, which is one of the considerations of should you. But we all make mistakes from time to time, and I hope the internet remembers that, too. (I know, we’re probably all out of luck on that front.)
When I was first starting to communicate with people on the internet, I used to think that being able to get into discussions on the internet would give everyone the time and distance to be able to measure and really consider responses before making them in haste. This was clearly naïve; I didn’t take into account, for instance, the factor of anonymity, when people believe there are no consequences to raising a storm. Or that sitting alone in front of a computer is not necessarily the best way to gauge the dynamics of a conversation.
I learned pretty quickly that it wasn’t worth my time to argue people being vicious for the sake of it. I love to argue, but only when all parties involved are also willing to listen. And not be jackasses. I don’t go to forums looking to pick a fight, and I don’t want anyone reading my reviews to think I’m picking a fight with them, either. Note that “critique” and “picking a fight” are not the same thing, though many people confuse the two.
(I guess that’s my rule #1 right there: the critique of a book is not a comment on the author, their ability/morality/value as a human being or anything else. It’s a critique of the execution of a story, not of the person. I may harbor personal judgments about an author, but those should not have any place in my book review.)
So before I post a review, I do try to consider how people might react to it and phrase as fairly as I can. I miss things, being human and also not psychic. If someone points out a problem, I hope I will always address it. I can’t control how people react, nor should I try, but I can control how I present my thoughts.
And I am going to be honest in my reviews, because I think lying misses the point. I want to help people find books they might enjoy; if I misrepresent my opinion of the book, I do everyone who encounters it a disservice.
That doesn’t mean I have to post a review of every book I read. I have to remind myself of that sometimes.
I don’t believe in giving glowing recommendations indiscriminately, but I also don’t think slamming a book is helpful for anyone. If I disliked the book that much, maybe I just wasn’t the target audience. That I can point to specific aspects that bothered me doesn’t mean they won’t work for others. And I generally don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable about the kinds of stories they enjoy, unless I’m targeting a very specific point: it’s too easy for that to be really hurtful in a way I don’t intend. I want people, myself included, to re-evaluate the kinds of stories they enjoy and why, but that isn’t the same at all.
(You know, the kind of review that goes, “There is nothing worthwhile in this book and if you liked it or anything about it just quit now, you’re incurably stupid, what is wrong with you”? That’s the kind I really don’t want to write.)
In the end, I review because I love books, and I love the genre, and I want to help people find books, not to turn them away from books. I would rather promote books I love than slam books I hate. So my policy is that if I only have negative things to say about a book, I won’t review it. Which is not to say that negative reviews are inherently bad, but they’re not my preferred mode of operation.
If I have many negative things to say, I kind of play it by ear. In the last month I’ve read two ARCs that I really wanted to like; synopses and/or samples indicated I might, and they were by new authors, and I hoped I could help spread the word about some unfamiliar names. In one case, it’s a beautifully written book, but I really didn’t enjoy it, and so I feel like writing a review would be a disservice. I could still review it, I suppose, in a clinical sort of way, but I don’t have a whole lot to say about it in general. The book deserves better than an emotionless paragraph.
I’m reading another one that bothers me more with every page. I have SO MANY THINGS I want to say about it, but almost all of them are unfavorable. Those are the things that I will probably keep to myself. At least, unless it comes up in a personal conversation or a private forum. Because while I’m perfectly happy to promote books, I’m not in this for public slamming, and I choose to review on the internet both publicly and non-anonymously.
Sometimes I feel like choosing not to review is copping out. Maybe selectively reviewing isn’t truly honest, or maybe if I were truly polite or committed I would review every ARC I volunteered/requested to read, because new authors especially could use the word-of-mouth, so to speak. But do they really need negative word-of-mouth? I think there are worse things than refraining from spewing negativity all over the internet, however well-analyzed. There’s certainly a time and a place for that, don’t get me wrong, even certain review forums. I just don’t think it’s in my public book reviews. I’m not sure this is the “right” balance (you know, by some objective definition of “right”), but it’s the one I’m walking for now.