Humanity, Reviews, and Letting It Go: Why Being Critical is A-Okay

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let it go

The other day, I had a thought. Now, it is worth mentioning that I have many thoughts every day, and nary a second goes by where I don’t have a thought even while I dream. But this thought was a strange one, something that generally does not occur. It was a thought about criticality, or maybe it was a thought simply about reading. In the end, though, it was a thought about perceptions and words, a thought about how readers treat the books they read, the books they read about, the books they buy, the books they anticipate.

It was a thought about books.

What is wrong with just the simple act of reading and speaking honestly?

Recent months – and years, even – have given rise to complaints that many readers no longer read. Instead, now they are angry critics, each one another mouth adding to a discourse that is anti-writer. And not just critics – they are haters who are against books. Some have urged readers to be nice, or readers to stop reading too deeply into things, or to stop being “haters” or “thugs” or whatever the word of the week might be coming from some popular New York Times bestselling author with thousands of followers.

A one star review becomes the source of deep-seated resentment not only in the minds of authors but also their friends. Wars foment over the angry words of a person spiteful toward a character in a book. Seething replies become the source for discontent that spirals into all out chaos and drama across Twitter and Facebook, leading quickly to divisions in the ranks, distrust, distaste, and dislike.

With the rise of self-publishing, a field dominated by go-getters who can pump out fresh new stories faster than traditional publishing can even keep up with trends from six months ago, has come a rise in this seeming anger towards criticality. Almost on a weekly basis you hear stories of angry Facebook posts where authors call their fans into a revolution against a blogger who has done the dirty deed of giving a one star review, calling out things as tame as “horrible characters” to unabashedly declaring that a writer cannot actually write.

But even as self-publishing gives it a much higher prevalence than a world without self-publishing and clicks that instantly lead to a story going on sale across the world for a few bucks, it has been a tried and true traditional throughout the history of publishing, even with the more conventional means. Authors like Anne Rice and Laurell K. Hamilton have morphed into synonyms of angry authors against angry fans, or, angry authors bitter that someone hates their latest book. Even John Green, a perennial favorite in the YA community, has been the subject of backlash for comments made after the Allegiant fiasco, boiling down to offering readers a piece of advice – read to read, not to critique. Enjoy the experience, not the hate.

At one point, though, is the seemingly warm-hearted advice to treat authors with respect become the advice to just be nice and keep all discontent to yourself? What is so wrong with disliking a book? Humans are allowed to dislike types of food they try because their friends urge them to, or to dislike a movie because of the representation of women even though a critic told them it was wonderful, or to dislike a political candidate. But you rarely hear stories about filmmakers singling out reviewers for being “trolls”, or for a restaurant to lambast a food critic (unless it’s Guy Fieri), or for a political candidate to lambast critics who mock them. In book world, it’s rarely mocking that is the recipient of scorn. Instead, we find reviewers singled out because of their fair but harsh language, or because they had the nerve to post the review on Amazon where others could like and share it.
Not every person will love a book. Some people will inevitably hate it for one reason or another, but why give act like these people are trolls? Yes, there are trolls. No, they do not make up the entirety of book world. No, they are not worth the time of day to hurl accusations at them, inevitably making authors more enemies than friends. An attack against one blogger, especially a blogger that has done nothing wrong other than say a few bad things about a book they hated, can be and has been construed as an attack against blogging.

Here is a piece of advice: bloggers are legion. And they’re like elephants – they never forget.

Criticality is human nature. We are a species built on jealousy and greed and envy. They might be deadly sin, but they’re built in. It’s time that we get over that and realize that nothing good can come from lashing out besides a lashing in. Accepting the desire to be honest and share our thoughts is good, whether the resulting opinion is good or bad, but what good can being hung up over words that mean nothing do?

Oh, it does a lot. Scorn. Resentment. Hatred. Fear.

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