Friday, July 5, 2013

A Book Is Not A Baby

"Criticize: To evaluate or analyse" - World English Dictionary

In case you all missed it (and I rather hope you did), some author-blogger drama went down this month. Unlike most author-blogger drama (including some other drama that happened this month as well, it started and ended fairly quickly. The author was very much in the wrong and seemed to realize it with startling speed. Also unlike most drama, he apologized prettily and sincerely. It was nice. However, the pre-apology drama made a huge splash because of the fame of the author in question.

I don't see any point in rehashing that particular drama, but I do want to talk about WHY it happened. Basically, the author in question was put out by a blogger's review of another author's book. He then tweeted the blogger directly and told her that she was a mean, hurtful person and that she was doing a incalculable damage to the world of books. All because she dared to give another author's book a one-star review.

I read the review. It was not a bad review. The blogger in question listed the various elements of the book that she disliked. She then backed up her points with specific examples from the book. Was she snarky? Yes. Was she sarcastic? At times. Could it be deemed harsh? Maybe, depending on how thick your skin is.

But since when is harsh out of bounds when backed up by evidence? The blogger was criticizing elements that actually appeared in the book and backed up her claims with proof. I've seen harsher reviews written by reviewers in newspapers and magazines. Should her status as a blog reviewer somehow require that her reviews be "softer" or "more pleasant" than reviews by professional reviewers? No. Such a requirement would be illogical. In fact, I wonder why people seem to give a pass to professional reviewers where they wouldn't others. Is it because they're stereotypically male? Highly educated? White? Old? In contrast, YA bloggers are, for the most part, female, young (anywhere from high-school-age to thirties), and journey the spectrum in race and education.

A claim that is thrown around a lot in such situations (and was in the comments of the blogger's Goodreads review) is that the blogger was "author-bashing." Author-bashing means to, well, bash an author, to attack an author on a personal level. Some examples are name-calling, attacking an author based on perceived physical or personality qualities, engaging in racist/sexist/ageist behavior, making threats, telling an author that he/she should give up writing/doesn't deserve to hold a pen, etc.

A very tiny percentage of reviews do engage in actual author-bashing. It's wrong and deplorable, and I do want to address reviewer etiquette at a later date. However, 99.999% of the time, the charge of author-bashing is applied to legitimate reviews that do nothing more than criticize a book. (Please take a moment and look again at the definition at the start of this post.) The author is not being attacked. The book is being evaluated and found wanting by the standard set by the evaluator.

Being reviewed and criticized is part of a book's natural life cycle. The only books I don't criticize, either formally in a review or informally amongst my friends, are books I flat-out don't care about, either positively or negatively. Can you imagine that, writing a book that you (presumably) like, but that no one can manage more than an apathetic shrug for? If every single person you shoved your book at merely yawned and walked away, would you truly be content, because "well, at least no one hated it"? Even vitriolic hatred would be better, because at least then your words have proven to have enough power to incite a reaction!

What inevitably follows after claims of author-bashing is the excuse (for that's what it is, and a weak one at that) that a book is an author's baby. The thinking is that an author is incapable of separating his or her feelings from her work in the same way that some parents take negative comments regarding their offspring personally. First of all, what a crummy parallel. Who wants to be the foam-mouthed, overbearing parent who rages when told that Precious Angel Johnny bit another kid? Even if books and babies were analogous, wouldn't you want to know if your child had some deep, debilitating flaw?

But guess what? A book is NOT a baby. A book is a product, even a work of art, but not a baby. It is a thing that is constructed, edited, and then distributed to the masses to be enjoyed and, yes, criticized. It is not a baby. It may FEEL LIKE your baby, but it is not, just as sometimes I FEEL LIKE the only rational human being left on this earth, but I am not. Feeling something does not make it fact, no matter how strongly you feel it. A metaphor, even a strong one, can only be taken so far.

I have no misconceptions that this post will change anything. Those most likely to listen and heed my argument are those who agree with my stance to begin with. Those most likely to commit one or more of the offenses listen will read and move on, or read and argue, or just not bother to read at all. But I had to say it, because saying it now is much nicer than screaming it later.

So please, everyone, just don't. Don't attack another person who offers valid criticism. Don't accuse a blogger of author-bashing when really you mean opinion-giving. Don't read reviews if you can't handle them like a rational adult. Don't confuse criticism with censure. And don't call your book a baby.

Note: I purposely avoided other posts discussing this issue while writing my post so as not to be influenced. However, after writing this post, I came across two very well-written posts that cover much of the same territory and also take the discussion into other areas that I did not cover. I think they're both worth a look. There's also a flood of similar posts from the last few years, which a quick Google search will bring up. Post #1. Post #2.