Jumping on the bandwagon: snark and the author/reader relationship

Published July 17, 2012 by Shannon

I wasn’t going to write about this anymore, but the Stop the Goodreads bully scandal has finally hit Dear Author, and I have wasted a day that I should have been spending finishing my reread of Outlander reading the comments. this whole kerfuffle has put a lot of different sorts of thoughts in my head, and I’ve been struggling for days to articulate them in the way I want to. I’m not sure I’ll succeed, but I’m going to try.

First of all, it’s not right for anyone, ever, to post another person’s personal information out there on the Internet. What the Stop the Goodreads Bullies people are doing is wrong. Full stop. Nothing justifies that kind of invasion of privacy. Particularly not putting an author’s books on an “authors to avoid” shelf or using snarky language in a review. As I said the other day, it’s a little like launching a nuclear missile at someone because they wouldn’t let little Johnny play with their toys.

Of course there are reviewers who are out of line. And they even post reviews on goodreads. However, being an adult capable of making my own mind up about any given issue, I can discard their opinions and come to my own decision. For example, a goodreads reviewer downgraded a book I finished recently and loved because the hero cried and she thought that made him less manly. I had the opposite reaction to that scene. I thought it was in character for him, and I didn’t think it made him weak. I have also added books to my “to read” shelf based on what I call the “douchebag reviews”. If someone hated a book for what seems like an asinine reason, like that the heroine had purple hair, I’ll often give it a chance, because that reviewer told me way more about herself than she did about the book. I can’t be the only one who is capable of doing this. If readers are all lemmings capable of being swayed by one or two people’s negative reactions, that doesn’t speak well to our intelligence or capacity for critical thinking, and if that’s the case, why would an author want a bunch of easily swayed lemmings reading her masterpiece of literature?

Here’s another example. A few weeks back I came across another example of an unhelpful review . This dissection is incredibly long-winded, it brings up many valid points, and is very snarky. It is also the least helpful thing I’ve read on the Internet. I couldn’t even finish it. It was pretty clear what the authors’ agendas were in writing it. I don’t even disagree with them. I do object strongly to someone taking the time to read something that’s going to fill them with so much rage, unless they’re hoping for crack and giggles, which these people weren’t. I think that post is out of line. Do they have the right to post it? Of course they do. I can also ignore it and keep on with the life I was planning to lead anyway, which remains free of that awful book. But I came to that decision all by myself, before I’d read that analysis, because, again, I’m capable of critical thinking.

That said, there are things I want to put out there as a reviewer. I am a pretty snarky person online, at least on twitter. I like to think I can even be funny, though your mileage, as ever, may vary and that’s fine. I also have posted and will keep posting negative reviews online, because if a book moved me to react, I have the right to have that reaction. I try very hard not to be malicious, to keep my opinions about the books I read and not the authors who write them, and I think I succeed. Mine isn’t and won’t be the snarkiest voice on the Internet, and it doesn’t need to be. And yet, someone somewhere will find my reviews distasteful. I remember a few years back an author I loved commenting that she liked my review of her book even though I “trashed” it. I think I gave it a B+. Obviously somewhere in my discourse I said something that offended her enough to use that word even though I enjoyed the book. I also have a gushing fangirly review going up soon with links to random youtube clips that are vaguely inappropriate but which amused me. I worry that the author, who doesn’t know me and my goofy sense of humor, is going to take offense, but I don’t worry enough to take the review down. After all, if I’m going to offend authors anyway no matter what I do, at some point or other, I might as well do it being me. And, as many others have said throughout these intensely long Internet brouhahas, reviews are for readers anyway, not for authors.

To summarize, opinions are like, well, well-worn cliches. Readers should keep doing what they’re doing, and authors should trust readers to not have marshmallows in our heads where our brains should be. Also, arguments about tone and niceness are tiresome and pointless since one person’s troublesome discourse is another’s perfectly acceptable, and no one is ever going to please anyone else. And because it can’t be said again, there is no excuse for cyberbullying and online stalking.

2 comments on “Jumping on the bandwagon: snark and the author/reader relationship

  • Yes to all of this! I am bothered when anyone tries to dictate “tone” to other people, or to draw some universal line between what’s appropriate and inappropriate in communication. Don’t like it? Don’t read it. If you don’t like the content of a blog, for whatever reason, vote with your little internet feet and don’t go there. If you find the tone of a Goodreads review offensive, click away. And if you’re the author of the book being snarked, STFU, because the reviewer’s not talking to you.

    And even if I’m mean, and say something like “only an anti-feminist dumbass could have written this book and called it a romance,” that’s STILL no excuse to stalk me on the internet and publish my personal information.

    • Yes. I have the option not to read things that bother me. the fact that I do occasionally feel the need to be an online masochist is no excuse for anyone to sensor their behavior… Or for me to sensor mine in the reverse case.

      And if the text supports an assertion that an author is writing antifeminist crap and calling it romance, well, if there’s proof, then it’s not a vicious unprovoked attack.

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