I am a writer because I write. I am a reader because I read. I am a book reviewer because I review books. I am all these things, though I get paid for none of them. But the lines are destined to get blurred sometimes. There have been times when my book reviews have been written by the writer in me, and others by the reader in me. In general, I try to be objective- what did I wish I knew about this book before going into it, what will others appreciate knowing before they pick it up? But sometimes...just sometimes... I can be harshly critical. Usually only when I really hated a book. The problem is, if I really hated a book, chances are there's someone else out there who really loved it. And even when that person isn't the author of the book, they tend to take it personally. They tend not to be able to say, hey, we disagree. no big deal, and walk away. They feel like they have to defend their love of the book.
I know what that feels like because a couple days ago, I read an excerpt of a novel I've been waiting on pins and needles to read. I loved the first book, I admire the author, I think his work is the very definition of modern epic fantasy. It has never occurred to me that there might be people out there who hate his work. Yet it was there in black and white, in the comment area after the excerpt: mean, nasty, critical hatred. It burned me up. I wanted to tell off each and every one of those know-nothings who would rather read the pretentious drivel of some puffed up snob so they can feel better about their own intelligence level. I particularly wanted to throttle the arrogant ones who claimed they could write better themselves (a claim I don't think I've ever dared make among my criticisms).
All this got me thinking: even if I write the most brilliant piece of fantasy in the history of the world, some people are going to hate it. I knew that before, but I imagined all these insulting people were commenting on my work. And it made me wonder how I'll ever be able to get past it to continue writing. I could do as many authors do and just not read any reviews on my books. But I don't think it's possible to avoid all the criticism, no matter how hard you try. I still don't have an answer on this one, except to hope that all the rejection preceding my first publication will give me a thick enough shell to not let the post publishing ugliness get to me.
Now to the heart of the matter: turning over that new leaf I mentioned. I've determined to abandon the criticisms. If I hate a book, it's okay to hate the book. But I don't have to hate on the author or his abilities in his craft. I don't have to rip up his style and put him down as a human being. Okay so I've never done that last one, and I've done the others only rarely. But from this day on, I will do them not at all. I will strive to create a balance between honesty and tact that will leave the author and any other lovers of the book their dignity and a sense that their love is not being mocked or ridiculed in any way. I offer my comic apology to the ones who have been offended by my harsh reviews in the past and I give my cosmic promise that I will strive to avoid giving offense in the future.
Huh... that leaf is kind of beautiful on the other side. Who knew?