I have no problems with negative reviews. I’m interested in people’s opinions and if someone didn’t like something, it’s interesting to hear why. There are a few people whose positive reviews are enough to make me buy books, and there are some people whose negative reviews have convinced me likewise.
Coming from the low art side of the spectrum (contemporary sculpture if I want it to sound grand, designer toys if I don’t), I expected the genre community to really push the boundaries of criticism, and whilst there are a number of really great reviewers out there I find those at what genre considers the top end of the scale, to be frankly appalling.
What I cannot understand is why people would even consider approaching a review without respect for the subject matter? Respect doesn’t mean you have to like something, or hate something, it means you establish what it was trying to do and see whether it lives up to its goals.
Any attempt at art, to some greater or lesser degree, is a work of passion. Anyone who has attempted NaNoWriMo knows that writing a book is hard. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t say something is bad when it is, but I think it should always be a point of sadness. We’re not reviewing kitchen sink here, this is something someone has sunk months, if not years of their life into.
I’ve occasionally seen reviewers in the wider spectrum who look to attack things, who think that with a savage review comes credit from their peers. But all too often it just comes across as bullying. “Look at me, this thing is bad and I’m saying nasty things about it. Let’s kick it. Oh! I’m so cutting edge.” And these bullying (as opposed to ‘bad’) reviews are never over artists the outlet thinks will ever be a success. These ‘reviews’ inevitably say more about the insecurity of the reviewer than the actual piece of art. And when that happens, it stops being a review and is just a piece of vitriol.
There should always be regret when something is bad. Not an apology, no hand wringing but genuine sadness. If I see someone try hard and fail, I don’t stand there, point a finger, say “what an idiot” and laugh. If I did (and we’re all human), I’d be an arsehole. I just shake my head and say it’s a shame.
And that’s what I feel when I see some of these terribly constructed reviews. The reviewer obviously has a passion for books and has strong opinions that would benefit the whole community, that *could* be a point of discussion. They, more often than not, can obviously write and could be of real benefit to the genre community. But instead the debate ends up about the review instead of the book and I mentally blacklist the reviewer and the relevant publication.
Maybe a bad book did stop a good one being published, maybe it missed an opportunity to be something better, maybe the prose IS terrible or maybe, just maybe, other people will disagree. The best reviews create debate about the thing they are reviewing, the worst create debate about the review.
I don’t know what happened to make some of these reviewers so bitter. Jealousy of the author’s success, a misguided thought that this will make a name for themselves? I wouldn’t accept racism, homophobia or anti-Semitism in a review, so why should I accept bullying? Surely, in the 21st century, we’re better than that? It genuinely shocks me that the genre community believes that type of behaviour is acceptable in this day and age.
Seriously, people, it’s not hard to write an honest review!