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Thought Jot: Negativity

Once upon a time, I blithely lit up my little corner of cyberland with negative book reviews. My perspective was that of a reader and a consumer. As someone who spent an unspeakable percentage of my income on books, I poured over reviews and wanted to know which ones lacked editing, or featured insipid characters, or were flat out boring. As a reviewer, I figured other people would want to know, too. I owed it to my fellow readers to clear the path to "good" books.

Then I was mostly reviewing bestsellers, major names, and classic titles I was forced to read for lit class. Would my acerbic commentary make that much difference in Jude Deveraux's sales numbers? I figured, no. And does anyone really care what I have to say about Moll Flanders? Odds are, you'll hate Moll Flanders as much as I did, but you'll read it anyway because your professor makes you.

So what did it matter, right?

It wasn't until I started reviewing more indie titles and debut novels that I considered it a real possibility that an author might actually read what I had to say about their book. I had been sitting on a first-time author's book that I had received in exchange for a review. The sad truth was, I didn't care for it at all. I could barely even read it, and I resented the obligation I had to not only read the damn thing, but to also write something intelligent about it. It was Moll all over again.

When it came time to write a review, I choked. It was one thing to criticize from the safety of an anonymous website. But this was going on my very own blog. And chances were extremely high that the author would read it. No way in hell was I going to say what I really thought about the book. But then, could I endorse a book that I fervently did not enjoy?

Thank goodness for all the years in college I spent analyzing literature I wouldn't have touched if not for a grade (cough::Virginia Woolf::cough). I knew how to talk about the themes and style of the author's writing while completely ignoring the fact that it was a terrible story. I never said I liked it. I never said I didn't. I wrote about about the elements of the book and realized that readers could decide for themselves if they were interested or not.

It felt like a cop-out, honestly. And it didn't seem like the kind of post that would gain me any new followers. But I was over the hurdle. And I decided I wouldn't write any more ranting, ridiculing book reviews. Oh, I offer fair criticism when appropriate -- I'm far from a saint. But I have no interest in pissing all over someone's hard efforts just to make myself seem witty.

But... am I slowly turning into the Pollyanna of book reviews? Will I lose credibility if I only blog about the books I like?

You see, I'm once again sitting on a book that I would never recommend to anyone. I initially planned to omit it from my blog. I read it, I decided, I moved on. A successful dodge. Yet now I feel like I cheated, in a way. Is it right to censor negativity out of my own words? And am I not skilled enough, mature enough, ballsy enough to proclaim a true opinion without slipping into derision? I'd like to think I am.

And maybe, if I'm appropriately thoughtful with my words, those authors whose work I don't recommend can still benefit from honest yet palatable feedback. Maybe I owe it to them to say what I really think.

Or is that misplaced arrogance on my part?

I think I need to go on a tour of blogs. Do other reviewers take the bull by the poorly edited horns? Or have others been dodging, too? Is an unenthusiastic review better than no review at all?

Just some thoughts.

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