Friday, July 9, 2010

Clearing the Air: In which I defend this blog...

I've been fortunate to never get any "hate mail" per see, but I did recently have 2 accusations leveled against me (and one "accusation" that was conveniently expressed in a post but not to me directly), and this is my attempt to clear the air. So far, I'm sure it's very obvious that I review books. I do not endorse books. I am not a publicity person, I am not in advertising...I review books. And I am always, always honest. Counting here and goodreads, I have reviewed over 100 books in the last year. Out of those 100, there have been only 3 that have been majority-negative. Only 3. The accusation that I never like a book is ludicrous and untrue. It's so much easier to speak in extremes, to say "well she always writes 5 star reviews" or "she hates every book she reads" or even "she hates the author." Well, that is conveniently one-sided. Of those 3 books that I wrote highly negative reviews for, I feel like I had every reason to do so. You may not think it, but I am objective (to a certain extent). The 3 books in question were so outrageous and personally offensive to me that I was totally lost for anything constructive. Have you ever been in that position? Maybe not, but I have, and I don't really like writing negative reviews. But these 3 were so outrageous and really hit me on a personal level, I felt I had to. How wonderful it must be to always find something good. But that's not always the case.
Now, I have written reviews that contain criticism or somewhat negative tones, but most of them are a mix of positive and negative. The last "critical" book I reviewed was Forgive My Fins, which I still gave an overall 'B' rating to, and the first part of which I praised the author and mentioned the things I liked about the book. I did NOT 'hate' it, and to insinuate that I did totally misses the point. On the other side of the scale, even my 5-star reviews are never without something. If I just wrote a drool-worthy review of say The Dark Divine, I wouldn't sound very objective, would I? And who exactly would I help? It may sound weird, but I actually appreciate 1-and-2-star reviews. Some of my goodreads/blogger pals are very outspoken in their opinions, and I appreciate that fully. I want to know why someone doesn't like a book, because in all likeliness, I will probably agree. I guess this is my way of "returning the favor."

And now to the most unpopular part of my "diatribe," concerning authors and what I have said about them: When an author publishes a book, he/she is pretty much saying, "This is as good as I can make it. This is ready to go out and be evaluated by others. I have done all I can." When I read a book, I'm reading a finished product. And yes, this may sound outrageous, but I do expect the finished product to read like a novel, not like a draft. So here's my answer to the accusation made that I personally attack authors: no, I don't. I have said things that are somewhat critical. There have only been 2 times, however, where I have come close to "attacking" an author on a personal level. Both of those cases involved content issues. This may be a really radical idea, but if you're an author and you choose to put content in your books that you know will offend others, you do open yourself up to criticism, sometimes very severe criticism. If that's okay with you, fine! Any person who is creative or in the arts has to have thick skin. But it is a little on the immature side to write things that you know will divide readers and then turn around and complain about negative comments. That's unreal. Now, the accusation made in this circumstance was entirely blown out of proportion. Saying a person seems like "blah blah blah" is not the same as saying they definitely are blah blah blah. And to accuse me of "hating" them is just immature, because pretty much what that says is "If you make any kind of negative comment whatsoever, it's the same thing as 'hating.'" No, it's not. The funny thing is, the comment(s) in question was not made on any of my reviews - it was the kind of thing you have to go looking for to find. And what's even funnier is that I didn't totally 'hate' that book, as I was so conveniently accused of doing. It actually got 3 stars from me. I'm not mean-spirited, and I try to think before I type. I don't set out to hurt anyone's feelings, but I seriously doubt that my 2-and-3 star goodreads reviews are read by the actual authors. By most of their own admissions, they only stick to 5-and-4 star reviews. I don't try to hurt anyone's feelings, but if you're an author, this is your job. If someone calls you unoriginal or says that you sound a certain way, that's not personal. Let's all TiVo The Godfather and replay that scene: "It's not personal, it's business. It's not personal, it's business." But I'm getting off track.
It was heavily annoying to be called out like that, and not even by the author in question, but by other readers, especially when the accusations made against me were not even true, and they reflected the accuser's inability to comprehend anything but "either-or" scenarios. That may sound mean to some of you, but good gracious! It's true. Don't go throwing accusations around unless you're willing to back them up. But really it all boils down to me saying something that got taken out of context and that upset certain people. I stand by what I said, and I encourage the person who made the accusation to go read that comment again and see precisely how I worded it, since s/he seems so comfortable vocalizing their displeasure.

I seriously thought last night about changing Imagination in Focus to only feature positive-reviews. That seems to be the trend, right? But I'm not going to do that, because like I said, most of the time (except for 3 very specific occasions) I do make my reviews as objective as I can. To only feature 5-star reviews would be to warp reality. And you know, I like reading the honest, "I didn't care for it" reviews. I'm not in this to be friends with publishers. I'm not even in this to be popular. I'm in this to be honest, to review books and share information and recommendations. And most of the time, I have a blast doing it. Truly, I look forward to checking updates, reading comments, and making comments, because this is a wonderful community. And thank you to all the friends I've made. Your comments mean so much to me, and I read every single one of them. Thank you for your friendship
:)

31 shout-outs!:

Chelle said...

Personally, I love reading your reviews because I know you're not afraid to speak your mind about a book - about those you adored and those you thought were crappy. I'm highly skeptical of any source that never has a "bad" review. I do understand that it becomes easier to choose books you're likely to enjoy. But every reads something they didn't care for at some point. And you have every right to share the pros and cons of books with the world. Don't let this person bring you down. You're a good reviewer! Keep doing what you're doing.

Jillian said...

First of all, I did read every single word you just wrote ;) Second, I love reading your reviews because I know they're honest and true. If I thought that you didn't, I wouldn't even be following you. I really don't trust most blogs that never give bad reviews. I like reading bad reviews -- if they are frank yet tact. They are as helpful as the positive ones. I also get to see what the blogger's taste and voice is like, and to me, it's important if I am to read their reviews. All I'm going to say is, you are doing an awesome job. Don't let the haters bring you down.

Check out my post about haters, right here. It's highly related to your post as well.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

I like your reviews. You're honest and true to your self but you still carry a sweet tone. Perfect. Don't change a thing.

I don't like super negative reviewers but I have never considered you too negative.

You rock! Seriously ;0)
Chip up chica :)

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Oppps I meant "chin-up" :)

BTW, you can never make everyone happy. Honestly! Some people will complain you're too happy and some will complain you're not serious enough. Just be true to you and keep doing what you love :)

Check out NotNessie's post today:
http://www.todays-adventure.com/2010/07/reviews-my-way.html

Okie said...

Well said.

Book reviews multi-faceted. Some reviews provide an overview of the book in terms of tone/structure/voice/characters/plot/etc. Others will compare against other books in the genre.

But perhaps the biggest thing to remember when reading a review is that the reviewer, regardless of how impartial/constructive/fair/whatever, has the right to share his/her own opinion/response to the book.

And honestly, I prefer it that way. There are reviews that are completely and wholly impartial, only focusing on the literary and/or structural components of the book without exploring the emotional and personal response. While these reviews give an (almost) unbiased view of the book, they don't really give me a good feel for if I would like to read it or if I would enjoy it. A book could be perfectly written with great syntax/form and well developed characters/plot, but it might not appeal to me on a sensory/emotional/personal level.

There will always be disagreements...most often these will come up when a reviewer is at one extreme or another (loves a book or hates a book) and the person reading the review is at the other extreme. What's interesting, is that generally the person who took offense at the review will then try to defend his/her own standpoint by doing exactly what they'll complain about the reviewer doing...namely, sharing their emotional/personal response. It creates a sort of paradox....some people don't want me to say I hate a book that they loved, but they're argument is that because they loved it, everyone should love it. True, there will be people who will argue about a review by touting the literary pros/cons of the book and how they contradict the reviewers praise/critique. But again, whether a book is "well-written" or "poorly-written" doesn't necessarily determine how well a person will LIKE the book (though if a book is painful to read because of poor writing, I have a hard time pushing through, even if the story is enjoyable...but again, that's just me).

So, to all those who complain about reviews, my advice is this:

1 - Read a LOT of reviewers and find a reviewer who has tastes similar to your own...that way you'll not only tend to agree with the reviews, but also you'll be recommended books that you will very likely enjoy.

2 - Read reviews you disagree with...even if you initially disagree with the review, you may actually learn something not only about the book/genre/style/etc but also about yourself. If you can figure out why you disagree, it will provide insight into why you like/dislike certain elements and help you become a better reader.

3 - Be respectful. It's alright to disagree, even with your favorite reviewer. But just as you expect/hope reviewers will be fair and respectful when they review a book, you should provide the same respect when you "review"/respond to their review.

4 - If you really feel like you can't agree with the reviewers out there and really must contentiously disagree...then by all means please, please, please start your own review blog or share your reviews on goodreads/librarything/etc. If you're going to criticize and slam other people's reviews, then come up with a good/viable counter-argument by presenting your own reviews.
4a - As a caveat to this...do NOT start up your own public review process with the intent of starting a flame war and hating on other reviewers. This goes along with the "show respect" suggestion above.

5 - Keep reading what you want to read. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with a reviewer, it doesn't change who YOU are and what YOU like/dislike. Keep on reading. Keep on recommending books to your friends. If you want to go more public and start formally reviewing what you read, great. But no matter what you do...keep on reading.

Sheri said...

My apologies that I don't venture out to comment on your blog more often (though I do read and enjoy every post). This post hit a nerve and I had to comment. The idea that anyone would accuse you of "hating" is ridiculous. I think you write excellent reviews to include both pros and cons, as you should! You write really great constructive criticism. I think it is doing fellow readers a disservice to not include cons in reviews, or to only post reviews for books you loved. As you said, no book is perfect. I want to know what others loved and didn't love about the books they've read. I actually get annoyed at people who write nothing but glowing reviews. It's just not realistic, and it makes me suspicious. Keep doing what you're doing, because you truly rock at it!

On a side note: I only have a family blog and have thought seriously of starting a book review blog, but I'm intimidated by people like you who are so incredible at it. :o) Surely I could never keep it as interesting, but someday I may get brave and give it a go anyway!

Kathy H. said...

Love your reviews! Keep doing what you are doing.

Bella said...

I think that's quite ridiculous, especially considering that out of all the book reviews you've posted, only three can really be called *negative* ones. Don't let anybody like that get you down ... and don't ever consider changing anything about your blog, YOUR creative outlet, nobody else's, for any other reason than because you want to. There's people like that out there, who will latch onto certain things and refuse to look around and see the bigger picture ... if they have hang-ups, that's their problem not yours ... and if they stop following you, well, it's only one person, and you're better off without their negativity and spite anyway. I'm quite certain that there's loads more out there who DO appreciate your honesty and blogging integrity ... I certainly do. In the end, if you're proud of what you're doing here, that's honestly the only thing that matters ... there's always going to be haters, and what they say will always hurt a little, no matter how hard you may try to brush it off, but believe me, those people aren't the ones who matter! Just imagine if we were all posting nothing but positive reviews, my god, it would totally defeat the purpose of what we're doing. Like you said, we aren't here to market other people's books, or to suck up to publishers and authors ... we're here to give our own opinion on novels ... jeez ... it always gets my back up when I read posts where people get on their soap-box and harp on about how THEY never write negative reviews, and can't believe other people do. Seriously? To me, that's like a flashing neon sign stating *will lie for free books*. I know this is going to offend someone out there, tee hee, but when have I started to care less about that?

Hope your weekend gets better (",) xx

Lady Scribbles said...

Great post. I really don't understand why people think you hate every book you read. I like your reviews. They are always honest, and when I want know about a book I like people to be honest and give their opinion. I respect everyone's opinions, it's the whole point of going to book blog after book blog, to see reviews that differ in opinion. Or are the same. Whichever one. Also how can an author/authoress improve if no one criticizes their work? I'm sorry you've come up against some mean comments. I hope you don't change your blog even a little. :D

Stella (Ex Libris) said...

Oh Amelia, I am really sorry. Don't mind such nonsense, me personally I prefer reading critrical and not praising reviews because they give me a much more nuanced picture of the book and what I might expect. I don't trust blogs that have only praising reviews (if they haven't clearly stated that they only review their favourite books) I believe in negative reviews, there has to be some contrast or otherwise I wouldn't be able to rellay understand what a 5 star rating means from a reviewer who also posts 1 star reviews.

So please stay as you are, and just as Mark Daryc said in Bridget Jones: we like you just as you are! ;-)

Jamie said...

Don't sweat it girl! I like reading reviews that are honest whether or not that means a 2 star or a 5 star! Sometimes on Goodreads I've found a review from a trusted friend from the College Students group about a book that I was wondering if I should pick up or not. I like reading what they didn't like about a book to see if that is something that would bother me. Negative reviews help me to gauge whether or not something is worth picking up right now or in the future. There have been plenty of times when I saw a negative review from a friend and picked it up anyways! Positive and negative reviews are all part of sharing our reading experiences with others. Every book isn't going to be a positive experience for you..and you have the right to talk about why it didn't sit well with you!

Please don't stop posting reviews of all types! I mean, if we all posted 5 star reviews we would never be able to discern whether or not we should read books. 5 star books would lose their specialness.

Katie said...

Oh, this is all so silly! I just read a post on Today's Adventure about how people thought she was just "too positive." Come on, people...

We all got into book blogging b/c it's supposed to be FUN! Very, very few of us are getting paid and no one is forced to read anyone's reviews. Again... I think we all started doing this just for the pure pleasure of talking about books. Right?!

Don't allow the petty people to get you all worked up! If you're having fun, keep on doing what you're doing.

Katie said...

Sidenote: Just want to clarify - I'm not saying anything negative about IIF or Today's Adventure! Love both your blogs :) Just tired of the drama queens stirring up trouble!

Beverly said...

Just wanted to comment too - I seem to love almost every book I read - but not all. I am sure people think that I never say anything bad or critical and may wonder about the honesty of my reviews (when I write them) but the reality is this - if I truly dislike a book, I probably don't finish reading it. You at least give your opinion and give the author the courtesy of reading their whole story. I think - let them talk - perhaps they too wish they could be as objective!!!

Blueicegal ♥ said...

oh Amelia that sucks im seeing a lot of bitching going on lately with bloggers and its just sad, ignore them they are not worth it, one of the best things i love about your blog is your honesty, i write negative reviews so i know how hard it can be, its not easy, heck its much easier to write a fake positive review for every book, but we would farther be honest to our readers, those who right fake reviews its them we should feel sorry for, never change keep up the fantastic work, you have our support.

Cara said...

This is a fantastic post, but I'm still ticked that it had to be written at all. You write some bitchin' reviews and I really appreciate your honesty. No one should be bashing, especially if that's what they're saying that you're doing. Hypocrisy is never pretty.

Keep doing what you're doing! (:

ham1299 said...

I'm with you - honesty is the way to go! I think you write excellent reviews. Sorry for the haters! (They must be jealous!)

Natalie (Mindful Musings) said...

Negative reviews are never fun to write, and honestly, who really enjoys writing them? Personally, I think it's much more difficult to write a negative review than a positive one, and I ALWAYS think that you do a great job in pointing out what you disliked AND liked about a book. I've seen you give a book a low rating, yet your review points out parts that were good. THAT'S how reviews should be written. I'm sorry you felt the need to write this post, but I understand why you did. Imagination in Focus is one of my favorite blogs because of your honesty and because of your talent for pointing out the negative without resorting to simple bashing. I've read the majority of your reviews, and I've NEVER seen one that I would consider an attack. Keep up what you're doing, Amelia. I know it's hard and hateful to have people target you, but the ones who matter will continue to support you. :)

Katherine Langrish said...

For goodness sake! You go right ahead, Amelia. Your blog is fair-spoken. And in any case we need contrast. It's good to agree to disagree! We need to have opinions and not be afraid to hear those of others. You know what Ursula Le Guin wrote in 'A Wizard of Earthsea"?

Only in silence the word
only in dark the light,
only in dying life:
bright the hawk's flight
on the empty sky.

AtenRa said...

I too tried to write a semi positive review about a book I really didn't like that much.You know what?When I reread it before posting it, it seemed completely fake to me,plus I spend over an hour coming up with ways to make it sound positive even though I didn't believe what I was writing.So I deleted the whole thing and rewrote it,expressing my honest opinion about it.I rather prefer being honest,even if that means hated by some,than fake and untrue to myself.

Jan von Harz said...

I am with the majority here and say that first your reviews are honest and second negative reviews go with the territory unless you choose not to review anything you didn't like. I read books that I don't like and I encourage my students to abandon books if they do not interest them. If I do come across a book I wade through and am not happy with I also try to say that in my review.

Please continue writing honestly and do not let whoever make negative comments stop you from saying what you think. Books are a personal journey and blogging is a way to let others share in your journey.

Cozy Book Nook (Lesa) said...

Ditto on all the above comments! Your reviews always state the the positives and negatives in an honest tactful manner-- I don't read every review but I've read enough to know you enjoy most of the books you review. Clever reading of your blog should make that obvious-- so the false accusers are either obtuse or jerks. Hmm... I'm going with jerks.

Did you comment on the blogpost that falsely accused you? I'd really like to read the post in question-- Would you e-mail me a link? okietexslp@gmail.com If you'd rather not, I understand. I'm just very curious about who would post about a fellow blogger rather than discuss it directly with the person via email or the combox.

Did you read Jillan's post regarding the hatemail and twitter blogbullies? Really all this just boggles my mind-- such a tacky, immature and chickenshit thing to do. I keep thinking it must be kids-- which is part of my curiousity-- if it is adults... eeeyew!

Allie said...

Excellent post. I should be around here more often to comment, but I always read.

I have found that some in the blog community are too worried about they portray themselves and how they see other bloggers. They see blogging as a competition for free loot and books, and try to edge out other bloggers to gain praise with publishers. I have seen it within a few blogs I followed and once I caught on, I quit following them.

Personally, I haven't experienced this with what I am reviewing. Everyone hates the dead white guys anyway, so when I say something negative, it isn't as big a deal. But I always try to be fair and honest in everything I write and if I didn't like something, I am going to tell my readers why. I see the same quality in your writing. So don't stop being you.

I also think people forget that reading is subjective. We all of things that we love and hate in the books that we read. I mean, chances are we pick up things that we know we are going to like. Before I started my little challenge, I only bought books if I knew I would like something. I knew myself enough as a reader to make judgments like that. So to say that someone always writes positive reviews isn't necessarily a bad thing if that readers knows what they like and sticks with it.

So who cares if someone is lucky enough to love everything? It just means they are a confident reader who knows what they like. Everyone else can suck it.

:)

Ky said...

That is utterly ridiculous Amelia. I love your reviews BECAUSE they are brutally honest. Reviews are about OPINIONS if people can't get over that then fine, but they shouldn't be bad mouthing you. If everyone was to give praise to books they didn't enjoy then where would we be at? I always say my likes and dislikes of a book and I don't understand why anyone would be upset about criticism on a book. It's not YOUR book so what are you upset about? God. This situation is just utterly ridiculous.

Just wanted to let you know that you ROCK and I love your reviews. Don't change a thing! :)

StephTheBookworm said...

You go, Amelia! Well said!

Tracee said...

I actually run virtual book tours and even I don't give a book I am promoting a good review if I feel it doesn't deserve one. What I do in that case is either not post the review or try and find anything positive I can and play up that aspect. PLEASE to you and all other bloggers, keep it honest and real - what would be the point if everyone only posted reviews of books they loved? I for one would stop visiting the blogs I love.

Rachel said...

Firsly, I just want to say that I read all of your blog posts through my google reader, I am just a really slack commenter.

Secondly, nothing makes me madder than an author that can not take criticism. As far as I am concerned, if you can't accept criticism, you have no business writing a book.

Not everyone is going to like your book. Not everyone will like your style of writing nor your subject matter. So what? that's life. That is the job you are in. Get over it.

TO condemn a reviewer or blogger for a negative review is just immature, immoral and downright pathetic. Any author who would do so, is not an author whose books I would want to read.

I also can't stand book bloggers who condemn each other. That is just wrong. There is a difference between disagreeing with someone and being rude. If you don't agree with what someone has said thats fine, state why... but to be mean and nasty is just beyond wrong.

As far as I am concerned the whole point of book blogging is giving honest reviews based on YOUR opinion. Anyone who reads your blog knows that it is your opinion and your opinion only. Thats why we love to read each others blogs. I am not interested in blogs that give nothing but glowing reviews.

Ok.. I've said my piece... as long as that was! haha just made me mad that someone would accuse you of such a thing and behave in such an inappropriate manner!

Keep doing what you are doing! Thats why we keep coming back to read!

Michelle said...

That's rough Amelia - sorry it happened to you. Good on you for sticking to what you feel is right.... very brave. Unfortuntately, it does come with the territory if you dare criticise (regardless of how constructively).

We blog because we love books.... and others LOVE them too... therein lies the problem. LOVE is blind and can bring out the worst in people.

Unlike you, in your shiny metal suit of armour, I am not so tough and only write reviews on books I have liked. We all blog for many different reasons and my life needs peace & harmony, so I don't tempt the rath. I do, however, admire those like you, who are brave enough to do so.

Just remember, a negative comment can feel like an earthquake but it isn't really... we just make it so. It is just one or a few in the midst of MANY positive comments.

So pick up an old favourite or new book, read it, enjoy it and remember why we do what we do.

Christie (The Fiction Enthusiast) said...

I’m sorry to hear you were on the receiving end of some rude commenters. I love your blog and admire your honest and detailed reviews. Hoping the drama lovers move on and leave you alone. (((Hugs))

Rae (and Mc) said...

Wonderful post- I myself am at a loss to why anyone would even THINK of saying that about you, and am truly sorry that you were on the receiving end of such comments.

 
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