- by Elaine Isaak
We’ve been saying for years that everyone’s a critic–but it has never been more true than now, thanks to the internet. On-line, you can review movies, doctors, bloggers, books, auto mechanics and contractors. You can even review other people’s reviews! Was this helpful? yes? no? And nowadays, when I finish something I enjoy, like a new workout video, I consider going on one or two of the popular sites to let people know about it. I have a voice, an opinion, and a venue to express it for all the world to hear!
I think many reviewers on-line feel this same kind of power and excitement, which may explain why some of them take it a little too far.
Some books are better than others, it’s true. most have some flaw or another, and often what one reviewer sees as a flaw, another would appreciate. When I write a review, even of something I love, I try to note things that may have bothered me about the work as well. A little bit of balance is a good thing. Some reviewers don’t seem to see things this way. They will write a lengthy screed that makes one wonder what attracted them to the book, and why on earth they finished reading it. Life is too short to read books you can’t stand. Put it down and go for something else.
Instead, these aggrieved readers take their fury global. They rant, they rave, they make personal remarks about the writer–they disparrage everything about the work from its cover to its coda. From the authorial point of view, it’s nice to know they cared enough to shred your work in public. But these ranters may not be considering the view from the other side of the screen. A handful of people with similar sensibilities may admire the critic for letting go with both barrels. Manymore are taking a metaphorical step away in case the critic is merely reloading. And some of the most virulent of critics, as in the realm of print, are writers, or would be writers, themselves.
I envision them writing at lightning speed, infuriated that this drivel has been published while their own work is ignored by editors or neglected by the reading public. I think a lot of writers have had that response to a book, and used it to spur themselves to write harder, to polish better, to submit a few more times instead of giving up. So I wonder why one writer, who yearns for an Amazon listing of his own, would so thoroughly demolish the work of those already there. In this great digital world, bad reviews are forever. It’s bothersome to the author being reviewed, but I suspect it lurks as well in the history of these reviewer-writers. When their own works are available for comment, what will readers say? Will the parties they wounded with their own words return in vengeance? Will they become suddenly self-conscious about the screeds they formerly enjoyed–and now discover laid upon their own doorstep?
If you read something that really strikes you, feel free to review. But, especially if you are an author yourself, I would advise a note of caution. Balance your saber-wit with some notes about the aspects of the work that drew you on. Make space in the storm of your fury for an awareness of the author, the poor soul on the receiving end, whose work inspires your own. Your gleeful desctruction is unlikely to rock the world, except for the world of that one person who worked so hard, and hoped so much, for your approval.