Monday, September 30, 2013

It's Not Just About The Book

I've been an active member of many reader message boards and social communities for years.

Never will you find a more passionate group of people.

We love to talk about books. We also talk about authors, what's available on Kindle, book prices, bookstores, our favorite places to read, Hollywood adaptations, if vampires are real, and when our grandchildren are born.

Reader social sites are NOT JUST ABOUT THE BOOK.

Telling folks at a reader social community that they can ONLY TALK ABOUT THE BOOKS is like telling a food critic he can only discuss the food on the plate in front of him. He's not allowed to discuss the ambiance at the restaurant, the chef's culinary background, and whether or not the dish uses farm-raised or wild fish. There are many different aspects to a dining experience, not just the food.

And there are many other aspects to a reading experience, not just THE BOOK.

And folks at a reader's social site will want to discuss these different aspects, possibly in reviews, on shelves, on message boards, etc.

That's sort of the whole point.

Here are my tips for the day:

1. If you're a writer, and you can't tolerate folks saying anything mean about your book, you need to find a new job. It's not bullying, it's called literary criticism, and it goes with the territory.

2. If you have a reader social site, and you can't tolerate folks discussing ALL aspects of their reading experience--positive and negative--which may include author behavior, publishers gouging us with price manipulation, the digital movement, and various other topics, then you might want to consider trying something different. Because it's NOT JUST ABOUT THE BOOKS. And if you haven't figured that out yet, it's a little bit embarrassing.

Please follow me at BookLikes!

Have a nice day,


Julia Barrett said...

I gotta disagree - if it's about the book, it's about the book, and that includes writing style, character development, editing, setting - everything about the book. Author behavior is superfluous. And usually these sorts of discussions about author behavior (bad behavior often gets blown out of proportion) devolve into a nasty game of telephone, the spreading of rumor and innuendo, even the creation of urban legends. And you get all sorts of indignant readers saying - "Well, I'll never read anything by that author and in fact, I'm going to blacklist her!"
Now, if something about author behavior or belief or religious affiliation is pertinent, such as in the nonfic book I just finished - The Witness Wore Red - it is pertinent that she was a member of the FLDS. That is at the heart of the story.
I read Ender's Game even though the author has lots to say about homosexuality with which I disagree. His personal beliefs do not detract from the power of the story and in a review of Ender's Game I don't think the author's personal beliefs are of any importance. They might be pertinent if Orson Scott Card was to write a treatise on homosexuality.
IMO both readers and authors need to keep it together and stop acting like we are in high school.
Okay, I'm all done ranting.

Penny Watson said...

Heeeeee! Rant away, please. I have FREEDOM OF SPEECH at my blog. ;^)

I know you and I don't agree about this topic, and I appreciate your point of view. I also just want to clarify that I do not approve of threats, obscenities, or high school behavior from either authors or readers. But my point is that reader communities do NOT just talk about the books. We talk about ALL ASPECTS of our reading experience, NOT just the book.

Sometimes we talk about why we love libraries. And sometimes we talk about meeting our favorite author at a book-signing. Sometimes we talk about how romance novels helped us get over depression after we had a baby. Not all of our conversations are negative. But a reader's interests will range far beyond what happens between the pages of a book, and part of the awesomeness of a reader community is talking about those things.

We all bring a subjective point of view to our criticisms, that is shaped by our own experience and by external events as well. We don't review in a vacuum, where it's just about grammar and character arcs. And I'm glad about that. Those would be extremely boring, dry analyses of books.

I think there is some confusion about "playing nice" and writing reviews. Instead of "playing nice" how about "being professional?" Reviews are not always nice, but they should still be thoughtful and professional.


Amber said...

I absolutely believe in the power to boycott authors based on their off-page behavior.That's not bullying. That's choosing not to support someone who holds views or acts in a way that you don't wish to support.

To me, it's no different than say...not buying Barilla pasta because their CEO has stated he doesn't like homosexuals.

I don't want to financially support someone who abuses bloggers nor do I want to accept review copies from an author with a history of handling negative reviews badly.

Talking about nothing but the book isolates the discussion in an unnatural little bubble. No book stands completely on its own. (Says someone who took way too many lit crit classes). These are reviews, not book reports, and as such they are an expression of both the book AND the reader. You can't have one without the other, although Goodreads seems willing to try.

Heidenkind said...


I always think of this quote by Lawrence Block when authors start whining about reviews: "If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. If you don’t want the peaches, leave off shaking the tree. And if you can’t bear disapproval, keep the stuff in a locked drawer."

Unknown said...

Wow, I thought I was gonna see a 'girl fight there, In the Blue corner Ms Penelope, high on cocktails and wearing her tiara slightly askew, and in the Red corner Ms Jules jumping from one foot to the other in her corner waiting on the bell to ring to spring out, like a stalking mountain lion, to lay down the law......

But then you all went mushy again, sheesh!

Me, when writing a review I just call it as I see it, nothing professional or remotely competent about em, but that's me

Lurv You both xx

Penny Watson said...

Hi Amber! I agree about the boycotting thing. I do not want to support authors who plagiarize, who are abusive to bloggers/reviewers, and even some involved in criminal activity. On the flip side, if I know an author is gracious and cool, I want to give her my business. This information works both ways.

Goodreads has a clear agenda, and it's disappointing. Some folks had shelves titled P2P fanfic, and Goodreads deleted them. There are readers who LOVE these books, and would purchase them because they are fanfic of Twilight. Others do not approve. How does Goodreads determine if this label is good/bad? They read through all the comments. If the comments are negative, they delete. If positive, they can stay? Completely hypocritical bullshit.

Penny Watson said...

Tasha...great quote.

So, what I'm wondering is what will happen if the "trolls" leave Goodreads. Will the posse enforcing "Good Behavior" read every review at every single book site and scream bloody murder if someone isn't nice? Will they follow every single on-line bookstore where folks leave reviews? Every message board? How are they going to control people's opinions all over the world?

You can't. The fact that they are even trying is such a futile effort, I weep for them. How about focusing on writing a good book instead of policing everyone's opinions?

Penny Watson said...

Heeeee! Hi Tom! I'm sorry Julia and I disappointed you. No girl fight. I have a weird point of view about this since I am both an author and reviewer. I've seen horrible behaviors from both sides....and excellent behavior from both sides.

Goodreads is just in the weeds. They have no clue how to moderate their site.