Monday, July 12, 2010

Honesty Is Still the Best Policy

I've had an account over at Goodreads for a while now.  I started it as a way to keep track of what I've read and what I want to read.  At first, I wasn't doing much with writing reviews of books.  Slowly I've started including reviews, particularly if the book is good or bad or useful in my Writing Path to Publication.

After reading Violet Haberdasher's "Knightley Academy" I had to think about writing a review.  The book has a blurb on the cover that labels it as a Steampunk book, but the book isn't, really.  Not only that, but I felt it was a poorly executed Harry Potter rip-off.  I finished it, but I felt I'd been misled by the blurb and wanted the time back that I'd spent reading it.

If I'm trying to get published with a Steampunkish book of my own, I wondered, am I potentially playing with dynamite if I write a negative review of a book in my genre?

After about a minute of that sort of questioning I realized I was trying to inject unnecessary politics into the situation.  I would much rather be honest with my reviews than be fearful of offending some anonymous person Out There.  Besides, my reviews are MY reviews.  They are how I felt about the book, they are not Grand Pronouncements Unto the World that This Is the Final Take on This Book.  I am not feeding the book nor the author to the lions, I'm simply saying "This book didn't work for me."

Granted, sometimes I manage to say that in slightly stronger language (*, †, ∆)  but these are still only my opinions.

On Friday, YA Highway had a great guest post by Phoebe North titled "In Praise of Harsh Words."  North's point was, essentially, that as writers it's okay to express negative comments about our colleagues' work.  In fact, it's even healthy in that constructive criticism can help a writer become an even better writer.

It seems like such an obvious point, but North acknowledged her nervousness about putting herself out there as a potential lightning rod of controversy.  Apparently telling the truth isn't always appreciated.

(Really, it's a great article and I highly recommend reading it)

So, here's my guarantee to you: I will give you my honest opinion about the books I read, the web sites I visit, the people I meet and whatever I happen to be writing about.  I won't be all snark all the time (although some of that will, undoubtedly creep out from time to time) but you will never need to wonder if I really feel what I'm writing or if I'm just trying to be nice.



-- Tom

And since my first question when reading that kind of line would be, "Yeah, I'll bet.  Why not post some of them if you're being so honest?" here are three of the Most Slightly Stronger Languaged reviews I have posted to Goodreads:

"there is only so much self-aggrandized navel-gazing self-pitying i can manage to read without throwing up my hands and saying, "next!"" [link]

† "when it came time to actually do something with that world he decided to cop out and fill it with cliché after cliché (borrowing heavily from Rowling's Harry Potter series) and making an absolute mess of the story." [link]

∆ "this is one of those books that deserve Minus Stars. giving it one star seems, to me, to indicate some sort of approval. don't let it fool you"  [link]


  1. Ha! Tom, this is great, and I thank you for the reaction. Time to find you on GoodReads, I think . . .

    (Oh, and for the record, the verification here is "debutway"!)

  2. I applaud this attitude. I shy away from doing book reviews at all, ever, because I don't think I could graciously be honest and feel okay about saying something negative in a public forum about somebody's book. That being said, I want to hear the truth (as the reviewer sees it) when I read reviews. So, I'm glad that you are taking a higher road than me.


  3. Here's the flipside of this: when I write a review saying I absolutely loved a book, you'll know that I'm not just saying that, either.

    Today, for instance, on the way in to work I read "Because of Winn-Dixie" by Kate Dicamillo. I was completely blown away by the story, Dicamillo's exquisite prose told in Opal's very distinct voice and the wonderful way she wove the characters' stories together to form a tale larger than just Opal's. One minute I was reading the book, the next minute my 45 minute bus ride was over and I had to finish the last pages while walking down the street on the way to my office.

    For me, the only way I feel I can convey how much I loved a book is to be equally clear on how much I dislike other books and/or how "meh" I feel about others.

    Heather: I don't see this as "a higher road," it's just the road I'm on.

    Phoebe: Maybe we can start a movement. : )