In the end ... by doozzle
In the end …, a photo by doozzle on Flickr.

Until recently I never wrote “serious” reviews for books. I would occasionally write a review, for my own benefit, on Goodreads to remind myself how I felt about a particular book (I have a terrible memory for details.) But I had never posted anything in-depth and certainly nothing on Amazon, actually trying to sell (or disuade people from buying) a product. My opinion, although valuable to me, is simply my emotional reaction. Some people like to believe that their opinion is the final word on any given subject. I actually felt that way when I was a teenager. I truly believed that I had the best taste in music (and believe me, I did not), that it was above reproach, and anyone who disagreed with me was simply wrong. But then I grew up and realized that opinions are how you feel about something. I can’t tell anybody else how they should feel about anything. I can simply state how it makes me feel.

When I decided to write my first book review (with great hesitation) I began thinking about what it would mean, to the author and to myself.

Whether I like a book or not, it is undeniable that a writer somewhere has put effort, time and their hopes into that book. My opinion and feelings about their work may not coincide with what they hoped people would think, but that does not diminish their effort and the fact that other people can love or appreciate their work. It is not my place to try and destroy what they have created.

At the same time, I feel the most comfortable with myself when I am absolutely honest. I have been told that I am sometimes honest to a fault. So, when I attempt to review a book, I cannot in good conscience hide my true feelings. And I wouldn’t want anyone to do that for me either. What someone has to say may hurt, but if they approach their critique from the respectful perspective I explained above, well, they cannot be faulted for the way they feel.

I try to find a balance between acknowledging the writer’s efforts and sharing how I truly feel about a book. Giving respect to myself and the author. My reviews aren’t amazing. Sometimes people find them helpful and I imagine sometimes people don’t. But I am honest and hopefully not destructive.

That first review I wrote was for a book written by somebody I know. For me, it was an ethically difficult predicament to be in. Fortunately, I liked the book and it was well written. But, what if I had not liked it? What if it had been terrible? In this world of self-promotion I’ve noticed a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” trend among writers and bloggers. Dishonesty can extend to everything in your life, even a feigned opinion. I don’t like the idea that writers would read books that they would not normally be interested in and then rate them highly simply with the hope of support and recognition from that author when their time comes. It reeks of cronyism.

It’s wonderful to be supportive of your friends, family, and other writers. It is even entirely possible that people truly do love the works of all of the other writers in their personal and professional networks. But how, as an outsider, can we judge the veracity of a review if the writer is raving about the work of the people in their network while not being so generous with writers outside their association? It makes a reviewer come across as partial and highly suspect.

Admittedly it is a lot of pressure. How do you tell someone you know that you don’t like their book? The secret? Don’t read it to begin with. (But, that’s not really a solution, is it?)

I believe in my writing enough that I don’t want to force it on anyone. That’s just not who I am and I hope to let my work speak for itself. As an aspiring novelist I fear the temptation to fall into the crony trap. So, I write this now as a challenge to myself. I will be the first person to call myself out as a hypocrite if my tune suddenly changes at the first sign of publication.

If you want me to read your work, be forewarned, I vow to myself that I will be honest. But, I promise to be respectful too.