Tuesday, December 17, 2013

When All Your Opinions are Public

I just finished my first book by an author friend, and I'm in a quandary.

I bought her book partially because she publicly praised one of mine. I thought that since she so obviously had good taste (;^) ), I might find her work enjoyable. I actually don't *buy* erotic romance all that often. Much of what I read comes as review copies or comp copies from authors. However, give the fact that this author apparently did shell out the cash for my book, I wanted to return the favor.

Alas, I was not very impressed her novel. It wasn't a bad book, but overall I found it weak. As appropriate for a romance, my friend lavished her attention on the two protagonists and their relationship. That aspect worked well. The characters were vivid and I especially liked her use of physical actions to convey emotion. (At one point one of the characters punches another in the face!)

However, other aspects of the story seemed to get short shrift. Although set in a fictional future world, the language, technology and belief systems seemed indistinguishable from 21st century America. The plot felt confused and inconsistent. The villain's motivation struck me as implausible and overdone. One of my mentors taught me that villains should not be 100% evil or they lose their interest. This guy was almost a caricature.

I had intended to write a review of this book. But now, I don't think I can, because I really don't want to hurt this author who has been so supportive of my own work. I thought, "Well, I'll just rate it as a 3 on Goodreads." I'm starting to feel that I shouldn't even do that, however. In our modern world, when all our opinions are public, every judgment risks offense or worse. Our opinions have perhaps inappropriate power, because they can do real damage. I don't want to negatively impact her sales. I'm sure that many readers would love this book.

Which begs the question, if we can't share our honest opinions, what are they worth?

I don't have an answer.


Annabeth Leong said...

Hmm, my previous comment seems to have been eaten by Google. Apologies if this winds up as a double post. Basically, you're hitting all my pet subjects this week, and thanks for doing so. I am concerned about offending or harming authors as you outline above, and also of revealing which sick and super-twisted books I really love. I've backed off using Goodreads because I can't answer this question either (though one thing that has somewhat mitigated the problem is to mark things as read without using numbers and write my impressions with words if I want to share something. The numbers seem particularly blunt and difficult). Please let me know if you solve this one!

Unknown said...

What I try to do is just highlight the good points of the book, as you've done in this article. If you have to give stars, well, give four and do it because she's a good person. I've heard authors refuse to review friends' books for this very reason. Good luck!

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hi, Annabeth,

Although I don't spend much time on Goodreads, it's the only social network I know of that makes any sense to me, because it is designed for people who love to read. I have no idea how to use it for marketing - I just like posting reviews and reading reviews by others.

I don't care if people see what twisted books I really love. (I'd like to see your list LOL.)

Is it possible to review something on GR without rating it? I didn't realize that. This could be the solution to my dilemma.

Or I could just keep my mouth shut...

Lisabet Sarai said...

I can't honestly give it four stars, Naomi. But maybe I can review it without rating it.

Annabeth Leong said...

Completely agree on Goodreads as a sensible social network. I also like posting reviews and reading reviews by others. As a reader, I think it's amazing. It also seems to me that it's best for authors to stay away and let readers have the space, and then I get confused about what to do, since I'm both. But, yes, you can simply write your review and not click on the star rating system, and I get a little rebellious thrill every time I do that. For many reasons, I think there are problems with handing out stars (lack of consistency, for one—I've noticed that my mood really affects what I give, and also whether I was reading critically or for fun). I personally would feel better about writing a review that mentioned both issues with the book and positive feelings than I would about giving a number that wasn't completely honest. It sounds as if the 3 you're talking about above might be more honestly a 2 or something. Then there's always the "mark as read" option, with no review or rating at all (and then you've done the person a favor by taking the time to read the book and then add it—plenty of people do that without writing reviews).

As far as twisted books, I enjoy much of the Pink Flamingo catalog, JG Leathers' Chained Convict for Life being a particular favorite. I went on Goodreads after I finished it and got a healthy blast of shame when I saw that all the reviews said things like, "I literally threw up when I read this disgusting book." I, on the other hand, had read the book slowly over a period of a couple months and couldn't shut up at home over how perfectly it hit all my most extreme fetishes and how brilliantly, creatively horrible its sadism was (because I can get into some very extreme sadism). I still haven't gotten the courage to give it a review there or rate it the 5 it deserves for what it's trying to be.

And I think I've written you another essay (though I was holding back in my initial comment). Sigh ;)

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