GoodReads. Oh, no. And I have to say I've been a bit bemused by quite a few of them lately. Maybe bemused is the wrong word. Outraged is probably too strong. Flummoxed, or even better--incredulous--would most accurately describe my feeling upon reading disparaging, even disdainful reviews of books that I love, that own a little piece of my soul. So perhaps you'll pardon me if I go on just a little bit of a rampage.
Before we go any further, let me just state for the record that everyone is entitled to her own opinion of any book. And they're entitled to state that opinion clearly and honestly in a review of the book in any forum. I strongly affirm that right.
I recently read a review on GoodReads in which the reviewer stated that she actually destroyed the book after finishing it. The reason she gave was so that no one else would accidentally come across it in a rubbish bin somewhere and, oh, say, have the abhorrent experience of reading it thrust upon them unawares. I don't know about you, but that shocked me. I sat there with my mouth hanging open. I mean, I have, in all my years of reading, thrown exactly one book against the wall because it enraged me so. And I own up to some very violent and unholy emotions with regards to that book. But that was the extent of my outburst. I then proceeded to calm down, pick it up, dust it off, and find it a good home, where it would be loved by someone with different taste from myself. Because I can still see beyond the end of my own nose. It's still a book. And therefore sacred, in my opinion. It's still someone's blood, sweat, and tears in paper form. That author lived, loved, and breathed it into existence and for that it (and she or he) have my respect. I would no sooner destroy it than chew off my own thumb. And I've talked to enough readers and read enough reviews and processed enough reactions to know that there is bound to be someone out there who will love it.
And so I'm just going to be honest and say that every time I read an arrogant, negative, or misbegotten review of Sunshine or Graceling, Jane Eyre or Girl in the Arena, Looking for Alaska or How Green Was My Valley, I die a little inside. I feel defensive. And sad. The reasons may vary from the earnest to the petty. From the possibility that the reader was in the wrong mood and couldn't connect with the characters (we've all been there), to the opinion that the dashes in place of quotation marks interrupted the narrative flow (your mileage will obviously vary), to the annoyance that the protagonist talked to herself too much (some of you must live with much more internal silence than I do), to the oddest of all in my view--that the author had some blatant agenda (commence eye roll) or that, in the end, the book just wasn't the book you wanted it to be (sorry, but it's just not the author's "fault"). Whatever the reason, when the tone of the review goes beyond a clear account of the person's experience and dips into contempt or, even worse, vitriol--I'm out. Yes, a part of me wants to sit down and have a very involved chat with the person about why they're wrong and why I'm right and couldn't they possibly give it another chance? But it's no use. And not really my place at all.
Of course I have those books, those authors, that I just end up washing my hands of because I've tried them repeatedly in different incarnations and at different times of my life, and they just don't seem to work. I feel bad, though. Especially if they happen to be well-beloved in general. I try to take that into account in my reviews, to be honest but fair. Because I know how I feel when I hear someone just hated a book I adore. It makes me blue. Usually I'm able to just shake it off. Go reread my favorite passage and smile. Or talk about it with someone else who got it the way that I did.
But today? I'm just mad. It's still a book. Even if it wasn't your cuppa, it deserves better than that nasty piece of work you call a review.
Haters to the left.