Today I read an old blog post on Slate from 2012 by someone who is tired of people being nice to writers on the internet. Okay, okay – maybe that’s not exactly what I was supposed to take away from the article, but it actually *is* what I took away from it. Basically, the author of said article asks the big money question: Have nice readers and nice writers created a “chilling effect” on literary criticism?
Evidently the author believes that if a writer is a great person on twitter and social media, people will be afraid to criticize that author’s work.
My initial reaction was, “Really?” If anything, “literary criticism” is alive and well on the vendor websites and book review sites I see every day. I’ve read both good reviews AND bad reviews of every single book I’ve ever purchased. I’ve even read stellar three star reviews! I watch “literary critics” (i.e. readers) praise books and authors and others rip into books and their authors. I see critics extending their criticism from an author’s work to the author’s personal life. I’ve watched successful authors get bullied via “reviews” by less successful authors due to professional jealousy. I’ve also seen less successful authors praise books by more successful authors.
For any creative person, whether writer, musician, artist, or content creator, the Internet is a jungle filled with both sincere readers and legitimate reviewers, as well as ax-grinding trolls, those with professional jealousy, and bullies. From my own experience I can honestly say there’s no shortage of “literary criticism” in the world today. As-a-matter-of-fact, I contend there’s enough criticism to go around.
Yes, as a reader I refuse to review anything I can’t give at least three stars to. Why? Not because I want to fill the internet with false praise, but because I feel the world is negative enough. Why should I add more to it? So while I may not criticize books I didn’t like, I don’t promote or praise them either. That’s my personal choice. I know MANY readers and writers who disagree with me and take every chance they have to share with the world exactly what they think of books, and sometimes their authors.
But here’s the thing — opinions are like assholes. Even the BEST literary criticism out there is just an opinion. I can spew criticism of 10 bestselling books right now if I wanted to, but I won’t. Not because I am afraid to voice my opinion and catch the ire of an author’s fan-base, but because I know my opinion is just that — an opinion. Does my opinion really matter in the grand scheme of things? Probably not. Whether I like an author’s work or not, if writing is his/her calling, (s)he will continue publishing with or without my critical (or not) reviews. That’s life.
Let the readers who want to voice their constructive criticism do it because there is certainly no shortage of those readers. Likewise, let those of us who see no need to bash what we hate leave well enough alone. I prefer to promote what I love, thank you very much. And it’s not because I’m afraid to criticize. I just don’t see any reason to dwell on those books I don’t like or admonish their creators for creating them.
ADDED: Someone just asked me what I think about Internet bullies. As an author I have been the victim of Internet Bullies. Especially when it comes to my non-fiction. While I think it comes with the territory and some authors handle it better than others, I also think if anything – bullies have a chilling effect on young writers. I do report bullying when I see it. IMHO an actual review of a book should not mention the author personally at all. It should address the book, its content, and describe both the weaknesses and the strengths of a book for it to be a review of ANY merit. Saying you don’t like a book and why is fine. Saying you don’t like a book and then admonishing the author for writing it is NOT fine.