I got this email the other day:
"Dear Steve – I’m asking a few new writers this question and since I recently discovered your blog I thought I ask for your answer too. I was wondering if authors feel they have to filter their remarks when they write book reviews. The book reviews on your blog are all positive. Do you just love everything you read?”
First, thank you for the email. Second, that’s an interesting question and one worthy of a full blog post. So here you go.
I think you’ll find that a lot of authors are nervous about reviewing books they don’t like. Not just because they don’t want to offend another writer, but because they are inherently insecure about their own writing (especially new authors). Perhaps some are even afraid that criticizing a book may make them look naïve. Imagine a fledgling movie producer badmouthing the latest Spielberg flick. That new producer might come across ignorant or arrogant or perhaps a bit of both.
Another reason author reviews might be a bit tame is because authors know the publication process. They know that editors, designers, marketers … etc all rejoice when a book they worked on gets a good review and, conversely, cringe when it doesn’t. Book publishing is a labor of love for more than just the author so giving a book a bad review might sting more people than you intend. That said, I appreciate honest reviews of books. I pick a great many of the books I read based on what other people say about them. People have different tastes and if there’s something you don’t like, by all means share it. Just like with movies, some people are going to love what another person hates. I think diversity in book reviews is a great thing.
And no, I don’t like everything I read. Just like I don’t like every movie I watch, or every song I hear or every piece of art I see. I probably read five or six books a week, and I often run across a story that doesn’t resonate with me. But I do tend to review only those books I really enjoyed. I find it too hard to censor myself otherwise.
See, no ability to self-censor! I really need to work on that.
Just so there’s no misunderstanding, and so I don’t get angry comments, there is no question that Jane Austen is a brilliant writer and I do like a lot of her work. I enjoyed Emma, for example, but Emma was witty, her character was hilariously unaware and the plot was interesting.
Pride and Prejudice, on the other hand, was filled with uninteresting socialites who are desperate to marry for money rather than love. I’d recommend Pride & Prejudice to anyone who has always wanted a reason to harm a book.
Doggone it, there I go again! ;)