Thursday, March 4, 2010

regarding poor reviews of unknown authors, and whether such reviews should be written

A long while back I wrote a review on this blog about a linked-short-story collection published by an author I've had classes with and done a reading with. My review basically stated that reading the book exacerbated feelings of ennui I often suffer from, that the book was so boring it made me feel like the effort of writing might not even be worth it, especially since certain other reviews called the book 'ground-breaking.' My feelings about the book are pretty much the same now as they were then. Even so, I now regret publishing the post because I did a Google search for the author a few days ago, and my review came up as the third search result. I don't like the idea that people searching for information on this relatively unknown author will have such a discouraging view as one of their first search results. Trashing a big-name millionaire like Dave Eggers is one thing, but hampering a young unknown's chances is another. So I tried to edit the old post in a way that removed any identifying details about the author. Unfortunately, even though I changed the post's title, the author's name and book title still showed up in the address bar when the link was clicked on. In the end I deleted it. My post still comes up as one of the first Google hits for now, and you can still read it in Google's cache, but I imagine it will disappear before too long.

For me, this whole process has made me think about the act of publicly reviewing your peers' work. On the one hand, I do believe that in the end any review is a good thing because it can help raise awareness of the work. And I also think it's pretty ridiculous to feel bad about not liking something, or to apologize for having an opinion. On the other hand, trashing someone's writing, or giving it a poor review, can hurt people's feelings, and I don't like hurting people's feelings.

Writers in particular seem susceptible to hurt feelings, and they often closely associate criticism of their work with criticism of themselves. When I think of the late Norman Mailer, for example, what comes to mind more than his works are his continual attacks on all those who dared give his books poor reviews. Even a somewhat objective approach to something relating to an author can inflame that author's ego. A personal experience I had with this came at the start of this blog, in which I published a tongue-in-cheek post referring to my stumbling across an author I'd found online who had a lengthy publications list full of pieces featured in places I'd never heard of, most of them online. I quickly found out that several of the editors of the sites publishing this author's work had in turn been published by the author on his own literary website, or had their personal blogs linked to by the author, and I delivered that information on my blog in the form of a facetious conspiracy theory. The author took it seriously, or at least seemed to be upset that I'd post a viewpoint relating his publications to anything other than actual merit, and he responded by lampooning me on his own website. I also got a series of comments from friends of his, defending him. Then I myself got touchy about it and responded with another snarky post of my own. It was all pretty passive aggressive and childish, and the ironic thing is that I never meant the first post as a personal statement relating to the author or his ability as a writer in the first place. I mentioned him as a 'key' to my unlocking of this 'conspiracy,' and the 'conspiracy' was the primary subject.

In any case, I'm not sure if the fellow whose book I mentioned at the start of this post even ever saw my review. I have noticed that in the times when I've been in the same room with him since I posted the review, he's avoided eye-contact with me, and hasn't spoken to me. Maybe he just doesn't remember who I am, or maybe he's harboring negative feelings for me. In either case, I meant him personally no ill will, even if I didn't like his book.

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