October 12, 2010

Haters to the Left

So lately I've been doing a lot of rereading. Hence the lack of new reviews. I do apologize, but I have to go where the literary whim dictates, you know? Stacks of new books and all I want to do right now is cuddle up with old friends. And so that's precisely what I've been doing and it's been blissful in the extreme, I must say. But this does not mean that I've stopped reading reviews around the blogosphere and on 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.

However.

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.

44 comments:

  1. Someone actually DESTROYED a book? really? I find that a little extreme. And weird.

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  2. Hi Angiegirl,

    I agree. I have a really hard time disrespecting books in general...especially since someone worked hard to write that book.

    For me there is only one exception to this and those are cases where the book is technically horrible. When there are lots of spelling errors, punctuation errors, errors in character name consistency etc. This really makes me mad; I feel like the writer doesn't respect the story or me the reader enough to do a decent job and is intentionally trying to waste me time.

    Even given the above I wouldn't trash the book. But I would immediately get rid of it and possibly write a scathing review about how poorly written the book was.

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  3. I have a hard time watching people read books and folding them back like they would a magazine, I couldn't imagine what I'd do if I saw someone destroying a book!

    If I don't enjoy a book, I either pass it on via paperback swap or sell it on amazon.com. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but when I see vicious reviews, it makes me sad. There's just no reason for it.

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  4. It's funny that I read this post right after I write up a review (to be posted tomorrow) that's less than glowing. I did acknowledge the fact that I understood that the author did put a lot of effort into the work. However, I know a lot of the YA authors collaborate and edit and cheer each other on and the end up all sounding alike.

    I agree with Ophelia about technical issues. Writers and publishers have been getting very sloppy with that lately. It makes me crazy! I wish more reviewers would call them out on it.

    I think it's really weird that someone would destroy a book...

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  5. I have also thrown only one book against the wall, though for different reasons. I didn't think the writer had done a bad job, she'd just killed off my favourite character. Then I sold it.

    I've gotten reviews from people who don't like my books, of course. Some have been really helpful, pointing out a flaw that I hadn't realized was there, and I've used that information to, I hope, improve my books. Others were more a matter of taste, I think. They didn't like something, but I did. I don't find those at all offensive. Different people like different things, right? And then there are those who charge into the book destroying realm, where I firmly suspect that they are most interested in finding unique ways to say "I hate this book" so their readers will think they're clever. Those reviews aren't any use at all, because I don't know if they're really stating their true reactions or are just hoping for comments telling them how brilliant they are.

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  6. Destroying a book does go a bit far. I mean, short of destroying every copy in existence, it's not going to do much.

    But I can see where that person is coming from, too. There are just some books so bad that you don't want them poisoning anyone else's mind. (I'm thinking of a particular self-published book that I recently read that was chock full of grammar errors and weird sexual stuff -- like humans being attracted to animals. Oh, yeah... and it was a young adult book.) When something seems that potentially damaging, I'm going to think twice about giving it away or trying to sell it. I probably won't destroy it... but I'm not sure if I'm comfortable letting another copy loose in the world for some poor impressionable kid to read. (Since anyone can self-publish pretty much anything, though, this may be a bit of a different issue than books coming through the mainstream publishers. Most of them are going to be far more age appropriate and suited to their reading audience.)

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  7. Great post.

    I just recently came across two reviews that were so nasty and mean. I was totally shocked after reading them and I can't understand why people would be so disrespectful.
    I'm all for being honest but some people seem to mistake it with being an a..

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  8. I too have reacted emotionally and become defensive after reading bad reviews of books I love. I also admit to being a bit scathing sometimes when I write a review of a book I don't like but I always try to give substantive reasons. And I would never presume that no one else could possibly enjoy the book because I didn't like it. That's just arrogant.

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  9. I read a very negative, sarcastic review yesterday. I felt rather uncomfortable with the nastiness, yet I will also admit that I laughed. The sarcasm was funny even though it was at someone's expense. Reminded me of one of my law school professors who would have us in hysterics at our classmates' expense..unless you were the victim.
    Here's a question: What should you do? Leave a comment suggesting that nasty reviews aren't nice or just don't comment at all? I did comment...saying that I was sad that she didn't like the book b/c I want to read it, but also said that it was funny. In retrospect I wished I hadn't - I don't want to encourage that mindset.

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  10. I am of two minds on this. I think that one should not have to censor themselves, and be honest. However, I also think there is tact, and you can be tactful while being honest. I mean, I don't care for those reviews where it seems contrived, you know, those people who never met a book they didn't love. I also don't think that just because someone 'worked really hard' on a book gives them a free pass as far as reviews go, because that's not how life works. Even if you work hard on something, but do a crappy job, chances are you will get called on the crappy job, same as with books. That stated, there's a classy way to go about it, and a not-so-classy way.

    I hope that came across the right way, not rude or whatevs, just a viewpoint.

    ALSO, how could someone not like Looking For Alaska? (I am shocked!!) (actually, I bet its that whole different tastes thing, but still, what an awesome book)

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  11. I remember ranting with another blogger about a certain review of GRACELING. Ah, email. Useful in times like those. After I that felt a lot better and was able to put it into perspective.

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  12. I read a book that I thought was so awful that I didn't want it in my house. But, I knew someone that loves unlikeable heroines. So, I wrapped it up pretty and sent it to her. And she was pleased as punch.

    Destroying books is for cowards.

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  13. OMG...I so totally agree with you...especially about Graceling...I loved that book...but I don't think any book deserves that kind of treatment...so sad...

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  14. I think this is such a difficult issue. While my own review approach would never be to trash an author's work or be sarcastic, my view is that my approach isn't necessarily the right one. A reader might find the sarcastic person's review a lot more helpful than mine, if they end up feeling the same way about the book. I honestly don't feel that kind of hatred for any book, though, and I'm glad I don't.

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  15. Ugh. That is below petty. I don't understand how someone can say they 'love' books but would do something so destructive to a book - that, like you say - just might be someone else's favorite thing. It blows my mind and makes me frustrated.

    And all those awful reviews for many of my favorite books - especially those ones you mentioned. Basically I'm sad that they weren't able to discover the beauty of those books like I did.

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  16. Negative reviews of books I love tend to make me sad - that's why as much as I love reading other peoples takes on books sometimes I just skip the negative reviews. Though there are two different negative reviews - those that are able to clearly point out the problems with a book where I can understand where they are coming from even if I do not agree. The worst negative reviews are those that are just nasty about characters or the plot, grammar, etc. of the book - sometimes I wonder if people use book reviews as a type of therapy to exercise their demons...those are the kind that make me angry/sad... or sometimes laugh at how ridiculous they are..

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  17. I love you when you're feisty. I agree. Haters to the left.

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  18. I think I must have read the same review at some point, and I was a bit dumbfounded when I read it. Destroying books feels wrong to me--it brings to mind book banning demonstrations...

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  19. All books are treasures to me, but your post made me thing of this quote by Helene Hanff in 84, Charing Cross Road:

    “But they are profoundly shocked to see me drop a book in the wastebasket or give it away. The way they look at it, you buy a book, you read it, you put it on the shelf, you never open it again for the rest of your life but YOU DON’T THROW IT OUT! NOT IF IT HAS A HARD COVER ON IT! Why not? I personally can’t think of anything less sacrosanct than a bad book or even a mediocre book."

    I guess everyone has their threshold. Still, I think your point holds that reviews, even bad ones, should be respectful.

    Thanks for making me think about this issue.

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  20. I totally agree with you that vitriol is unnecessary and uncalled for.

    But I will toss out a counter story. Usually, if I don't like a book I'll find somewhere to give it away, but once I did throw out a book. Just once in my whole reading life. It featured so particuarly icky child abuse and the only way I could leave that nasty feeling behind was to actually get rid of the book.

    But I wasn't doing it to "save" someone else for reading it. It was my personal act of closure to totally walk away from the book.

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  21. That was full of typos. I do apologise and hope you can figure out what I meant.

    ...SOME particularly icky...

    ...someone else FROM reading it...

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  22. i sort of feel the same way, angie. on my own blog (which mostly covers music), i only review songs and bands (and books) that i like. i get a lot of submissions, but if i don't feel it, i won't review it. why? well - mostly because i don't LIKE to negatively review something, but also because somebody out there put a lot into their work and no one needs a slap in the face. on book blogs that use starred reviews or the like, i usually tend to scan down to the number of stars or whatnot. if it's low, i don't even bother reading the review, which is weird considering i use book blogs to find things i DO want to read.

    that said, seriously? there are people hating on "graceling," "jane eyre," and "looking for alaska"?!? whoa.

    and people who destroy books scare me. if they do that to a book they dislike, what do they do to other things?

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  23. Anonymous6:53 PM

    I'm in the minority here, I love bad reviews. I think to each its own if you like it good for you if you don't like it sorry. I always read the three star reviews when I'm thinking about a book, because the five and some times the four stars with all the: oh my, oh my, what a great book, OMG, Thankyou (insert name of the author here), etc. don't convince at all and why? because they look like reviews from a 13 years old (no offense to some pretty mature 13 years old I know). The point is, we live in a celebrity society, where it doesn't matter the material, just the popular. For me, to hate a book, has to do with the lacking in the heroine or the killing of a character that I love, for other people is writing, and for others different stuff, the advantage of having different reviews is that you get to see who agree with your tastes and maybe come back and read him again. The only thing I agree is that a book shouldn't be destroyed, just give it to somebody else or donate it, even when you think your doing a favor to the people in the world, maybe there is somebody crazy for your POV and would love it. I didn't like the two last books of Alana and everybody seems to love the entire series. There just my two cents.

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  24. i love this post. i agree some people are completely tactless. i also hate seeing a bad rating followed by someone writing they didnt finish reading the book or even worse, havent read it (which I have seen).

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  25. Personally, and I know this won't come as I shock to you or anyone else I share book thoughts with, I love a good strong review- negative or positive. It's wonderful when someone feels so passionately for something (for or against) and can really convey that. I'm never happier than when I'm truly head over heels in love with a book, or horribly, irreversibly heartbroken because I had to hate one so. Either way works for me. I just want to feel it.

    I have thrown more than one book in my reading life, but I've never destroyed one.

    I've also kissed countless.

    Bless you for feeling so strongly for those you love.

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  26. Applause! Applause!

    I've had one book (in recent memory) leave a very very very bad taste in my mouth, mostly because of how the non-fiction memoir male author treated every single woman he came across on his motorcycle journey. But I didn't burn it. I certainly didn't throw it against a wall. I didn't even both writing a "bad" review somewhere on the internet. I just put the book down, put the author's name on my do not read list and moved on.

    I recommend that course of action for the haters.

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  27. I've never thrown a book against the wall. I don't think I can do it. Let alone destroy a book. The most that I've done was pause while reading and say to myself "I don't like this book." Like you, I feel like even if I don't love a book, there's someone else out there who will like it a lot better that I did. Which is why I try to give away the books that I don't like, I'm hoping that they'll find better homes.

    I usually feel bad when I have to write a review of a book that I didn't like because I know how much the author worked on it.

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  28. I always throw a book against the wall. That is if the current scene or the twist is damn good. This is why the books that I really love are now in a bad state. It's a result of numerous rereading and throwing fits.

    I only have a few books that I hated and I stay away, as much as possible, from the books which are related to those. I like reading an honest review whether its good or bad. Those pretentious "intellectual" reviews are the ones I hate. I'm always like "come on, we want to know what you think and feel and not how many SAT vocabulary words you memorized!"

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  29. I love books. I love to read them and read about them, to organize them, hunt for them, and occasionally pet them. :) And I've thrown a few away.

    If I've expended money or time or booklove, I reserve the right to loathe and destroy. It's one of the perks of ownership, IMO. As much as I love and value books, they're not alive. They're objects. If throwing one away, ripping it up, or burning it makes me feel better, I'm not going to forgo that because it might be somebody else's favorite book.

    Even art connoisseurs have subjective likes and dislikes. I don't think "like" is more valid than "dislike" just because it's a positive emotion.

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  30. I do always try very hard to make it clear that books "don't meet my needs". I have deaccessioned books from my library for that same reason, and a few because they were just bad. AND they smelled. Still, I try to send them to better places where there might be people who like them, despite the odds. You're right-- no need to be cruel.

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  31. If I have a review of a book I didn't like I really try to make it clear the things that didn't work for me. Like my recent review of Jane, I just didn't like it and I tried to point out all the reasons why so it wasn't just "this book sucked". And I try to link to other positive reviews (like yours) to give an alterative perspective!

    It is sad when others don't like some of your favorite books. I've seen a lot of criticism of Graceling in relation to the author's "agenda" regarding marrigae. It's an interesting discussion but I can't say I agree with a lot of whats been said, but I respect that other folks have a different take on the book.

    But destryoing a book, definitely seems a bit....much!

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  32. I've thrown several books before (although, I think they were all college physics books), but I'm with you on destroying them. That makes my inner librarian cringe.

    Mind you, I'm a bit nervous to post my less-than-glowing review of one of those books you mentioned kills a little piece of you. But, I do try to be balanced and fair in my reviews so...we'll see.

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  33. " I die a little inside. I feel defensive. And sad. The reasons may vary from the earnest to the petty." I feel that way sometimes, but always try to remember that it is their opinion and that's all. Which is I think the best way? At least it is what works for me.

    However, I have a harder time when people start disrespecting a book, or maybe even worse, the people who like it. And destroying a book? That's such a pity, there will always be people out there who might like it.

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  34. I completely agree although for some reasons as soon as I see one of those reviews I simply HAVE to read it just the way I will watch a really bad show on tv...unfortunately trashy can be catchy

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  35. Interesting conversation. I am all for honest reviews but let's be constructive. Trashing a book is going to help no one.

    In my reviews, if I don't like a book, I always try to provide an alternative perspective and find something I did like to mention.

    I don't mind if someone reviews a book that hasn't finished it as long as that is mentioned. I do think that if a person has read enough of a book, that he or she can still offer a valid perspective even though they did not finish all of it.

    Thanks for bringing up this important issue.

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  36. Oh how I love you! So.much.word.

    I think anyone and everyone deserves a little respect regardless of a reader's opinion on a book. Have I experienced books that I didn't enjoy? Sure, who hasn't? But when I write a review I like to think when I express that opinion I do that respectfully, with great care for everyone's feelings and just all around professionalism.

    I often think that those that write the types of reviews you're talking about are simply doing it to gain attention for themselves more than anything else. Seems a bit childish to me.

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  37. Some reviewers will be very passionate about the books they read and their opinion. Just as those who review and praise a book to everyone and their dog, there will be those reviews where a reviewer will be just as passionate and go as far as saying they want to burn it or rip it apart.

    Look at reviews for movie and tv shows? Those reviewers are very mean sometimes, going as far as saying some actors should give up their job.

    Unfortunately people will state their opinion about books.

    And wouldn't an author want sometime to talk about their book, good or bad, rather than not mention it at all? The worst thing for an author is no one knowing that your book is out there.

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  38. Very well said! It's one thing to review a book that you didn't like and explain why it wasn't for you, but some people go way overboard and seem to forget that everyone has different taste.

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  39. Destroying a book.. Yikes! I have read books that I wanted to drop off a tall bridge into the dark depths of the raging river below but that is because of how I feel about it. I write reviews and I try to have a straight forward and honest opinion of it and yes that opinion can sometimes be Don't Read it- run really fast. The important thing is to state why you feel this way and realize that not everyone is going to feel the same way.

    Be honest and be fair.

    As always Angie -- love the post.

    (I am in a re-read mode too! Must be something in the air.)

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  40. I actually value negative reviews. Sure, they make me sad when they're about books I loved, but for other books that I'm debating whether or not to buy? I appreciate both the good and the bad. No, I need both the good and the bad.

    The difference is: negative reviews need to be constructive. I'm not interested in hearing how much the book sucked and how much one hated it. I want to know what worked, and what didn't work for them.

    The same applies to positive reviews. I HATE reading all those reviews where all the person states is how much they love this book. Why do you love it? Why should I want to read this particular book?

    I've had some instances where I wished there were some coherent negative reviews about certain books I was considering. There's nothing worse than reading hundreds of positive reviews, buying the books, and absolutely despising what you read.

    So long as people are professional about their reviews, I don't see any problem about positive or negative reviews.

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  41. Destroying a book is a little much. I can only image how that person handles real life issues if they freak out over a book like that.

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  42. I really appreciated what you had to say here. I just found you today through an old post on Ilona Andrews site where she used you as a "good example" of a point that she was illustrating. I have a goodreads account but I had been feeling guilty that I don't really leave reviews. I think the star system lacks the depth of why you did or didn't like what- which is the important stuff, IMHO, with a book review. I had writen a few reviews for a series that I wasn't feeling and afterwards I felt bad about it but couldn't figure out exactly why. I don't want to crap all over someone's creation but I also wanted to be honest. I read your post here and it hit me- my reviews were just too snarky. I could give a lot of lame excuses on why but the truth is like someone said above I think there was a bit of me trying to be clever and forgetting that, as a person, I'd rather be a little bland but kind and fair, than clever but snarky or even disrespectful to the work someone put into that book. Just not who I want to be. So I went back and deleted the reviews that I couldn't word to my satisfaction and changed the ones that I could.
    You know what's funny? I'm starting to realize that books that I read based on reviews are the ones that usually end up leaving me disappointed. I don't know if it's because my expectations are too high, based on the reviews, or maybe just that I have any expectations at all? I've noticed that the books I've come to love most in my library are the ones that I read "just because" with no real expectations when I began reading.

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  43. Have you guys ever seen that video where two girls have some copies of Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, then they start to rip the sheets off and set the books on fire? I got shocked. Like WHORE WHY DON'T YOU JUST GIVE THEM TO ME? I was a Twilight freak back then so it really shocked me. It's okay if you don't like it, but please don't do that. It's obvious that those girls just wanted a bit of attention.
    When I finish reading a book and I don't like, only thing I do is tweet something like 'I didn't like it at all' or 'I think I've lost a couple hours of my precious time reading this' kinda rude, but that's all. I'd never burn a book just because it wasn't worth it.
    Another thing: I hate school so I'm often taking some books with me so I have something better to do than listen to people who teach me things I won't ever need in my life. Then my classmates (they call me freak, just for the record) come near me and say WOW YOU'RE READING A BOOK IN ENGLISH (I'm Brazilian) LET ME SEE IT and turn the pages, look at the cover, pretend they're actually understanding what the story is about OR making fun of it. Breaks my heart. But can't do nothing but pray to God so they don't do anything bad with it. Some lollipop girls even say I'm just pretending I read books in English, blah blah blah that I'm weird that's why I'm 17 and don't have a boyfriend, 'cause I live my life in my head and a lot of shit you guys don't want to know. I hate people. If they only knew where a good story can lead you to, this world wouldn't be so full of pain.

    PS.: I loved your blog.

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  44. I agree. I've only also ever read one book that made me so mad - I was actually livid. It was obviously an author's attempt to publish her own 'agenda' if you will, and I was just plain old kick the wall mad.
    But.
    I agree. You dont' just throw away books like that. I'm curious as to what the book in question was? Or maybe I'm better off not knowing if it was a favorite of mine. :)

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