The Reading Writer's Quandary

YA Highway's report of a recent discussion in the blogosphere left me, another lowly aspiring writer who blogs and gets into Goodreads, with a lot to think about. Their link aggregate is excellent, but for those of you who don't want to put in the half hour to read every one of the articles, I'll summarize:

Aspiring writers who read and review books can find themselves in trouble with potential agents and editors by posting negative statements about books. Further, should the aspiring writer find some success, especially NYT bestseller-list success, their words about books liked and disliked suddenly carry much more weight and can actually affect other authors' careers. Some bloggers have chosen to go on hiatus because of this conversation; others are moving forward cautiously; still others intend to keep their straightforward modes of expression.

For me, the discussion only exacerbates the concern I already feel at making negative statements online, even without reference to my desire to get published. The internet is public and permanent. My policy has already been that I don't review a book unless I found it enjoyable and valuable in some ways, even if something about it didn't quite work for me.

But writing real thoughts on books, anything beyond a list of the five best books to take to a desert island, requires sometimes saying something negative. I've said negative things about books by authors whose success is spectacular and deserved, authors whom I greatly respect. I've fussed about the overwhelming horror in Mockingjay—but Suzanne Collins created Peeta Mellark, one of my favorite characters in fiction (and one of the most redemptive). I've said that Coraline left me with a strange cold feeling—but Neil Gaiman rarely writes a sentence that I don't sit back and admire. Heck, I think J.K. Rowling overused the word 'screamed' in Deathly Hallows, and you know how I feel about Harry Potter.

There's not one of these writers that I wouldn't meet with trembling hands and a sudden tendency to stammer. Not even if my writing got successful.

I'm not sure what all this means for me. I like talking about books. Having had my nose in one almost constantly since age four, there aren't many subjects I like better. If I'm going to blog at all, books will get mentioned, and honestly. I will continue to concern myself with keeping opinions respectful, but as I've learned in many an area of life, the desire to be perfect doesn't always win against the human capacity for failure. So I guess this is a risk.

Would you take it?


  1. I've always enjoyed reading your reviews, Jenna; I've found some new books to read that way.

    You don't engage in the ill-informed book-baiting that some internet trolls do, and you are aware of a real person with feelings and likes and dislikes behind each book. I find it hard to believe that any sensible person could find your reviews offensive.

    Besides, I'd miss reading them! :P

    Actually, I have so many thoughts about this--with your permission, I'm going to move my conversation to your inbox.

  2. Thank you, Mr. Pond, that's truly encouraging. And you don't need my permission, but you have it--I'm looking forward to hearing the rest what you have to say!

  3. If possible, may I be cc'd into your conversation?

    Anyway, not being an author, I don't feel the same pressure to be judicious in reviewing books or movies. However, as a Christian & a pastor, I've got a similar dynamic going on. Which I've been struggling with & trying to tame. That is, to be judicious & circumscribed with my comments no matter what they are on throughout the Internet. Both in discussion with other Christians but also non-Christians.

    To think more about what I write & even in passioned debate & disagreement to remember the person on the other end. It's a hard task but a good one I think because it requires more thought & reflection.

  4. Sure thing, George. I haven't heard from Mr. Pond yet, and if he doesn't catch this in time to add you in, I'll do it.

    I know what you mean about being judicious and remembering the person on the other end, no matter what... it's quite the challenge, especially when debate happens over a passionately held belief, and even more especially when such a debate turns ad hominem. But it's a worthy pursuit. :)


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