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Daring to Speak Out June 6, 2011

Posted by thejinx in books.
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I didn’t used to read a lot.  Far from it to say I didn’t enjoy reading or was interested in it, it’s just that scifi and fantasy are chock full of huge, epic series, often not well marked, and knowing where to start can be a daunting task for someone just trying to get into those genres.  Add in a decidedly limited budget, few friends who shared such interest who could offer suggestions, and libraries with very poor selections of fantasy/scifi, and it took a long time for me to delve into mainstream genre novels.  For a while, I mostly read amateur fiction online, some of which I still count as some of the best works I’ve ever read, or classic literature that one can download for free.

Finally, due in large part to a promotion by fantasy/scifi publisher Tor which allowed me to download many free ebooks, I began to get into the genre.  I still wouldn’t consider myself well-read – I’ve read an average of about 21 books per year since I first got into said promotion – but now I recognize many or most of the names on bookstore shelves, and I feel like my reading experience is more or less representative of the genre, rather than a few random selections encountered by chance.

After reading this many books, I have become a somewhat more discerning reader.  I still struggle with abandoning a book which I have already invested time in, but I will give up on a book I am thoroughly not enjoying.  I have read enough very good fantasy/scifi that I am a little pickier about things I didn’t enjoy in a book than I used to be.

I first started posting reviews of books I read online just to share and spread the word about books I enjoyed, though I continued with my reviews because it seemed a convenient way to keep track of what books I’d read for my own benefit.  This has resulted, of course, in some less than favourable reviews.  I don’t really like to post unkind reviews, and I try not to fault the author and be specific about what it was I didn’t like – as, being an author myself, I know how an unsavoury review can hurt – but I am simply being honest in what I thought about the book.

This is an even more bitter pill to swallow with independent authors.  I am honest to a fault; I cannot say I enjoyed something if I didn’t.  And I don’t want to skip reviewing a book just because I don’t want to give it a bad review.  Yet, because I support independent authors – and, again, am one myself – a part of me feels uncomfortable with publicly posting an unfavourable review for an independent novel.

Another dilemma comes from the fact that my tastes seem to differ from many others.  I’ve looked up a number of books I’ve read on Amazon.com to find nothing but glowing reviews when I personally didn’t enjoy the book very much. (This isn’t exclusive to books, and it’s not a recent phenomenon; I’ve had to develop a thicker skin for the things I enjoy, and don’t, or otherwise not mention it at all.)

Part of me thinks that if I’m going to post these reviews publicly to my journal, that I should share them elsewhere, such as on Amazon.com.  Perhaps other people feel the same way that I do, different from the norm, and the added exposure might help garner more interest in my own works.  And besides, I never claimed to be an expert.  I have always stated that this is just my opinion of the books I read, and I fully allow others to disagree with me.

Another part of me, however, is worried about what negative comments might come of me posting, honestly, a number of unfavourable reviews, even to books that have received nothing but five-star ratings otherwise.  Will I come off as mean, elitist, or know-it-all?  Or, worse, will this open me up to harsh reviews of my own work, those reading my honest reviews feeling that I can withstand or even deserve such critical words on my writing?  I want honest opinions of my own work, true, but I have in the past received some nasty retribution for leaving critical comments on others’ work, even though I always try to put a positive spin on it, knowing what I appreciate in critique.

I hesitated to post my latest book review publicly on my personal journal, simply because it was less favourable, and particularly to an independent author.  Is this just the price of making my opinions known and must I accept possible repercussions or hurt feelings as a result of sharing them?  Or should I just quietly keep my thoughts to myself and only publicly laud those books I thoroughly enjoyed?

I am not an outgoing person, I don’t like to make people uncomfortable, and I really don’t have a thick skin.  Sharing unfavourable reviews may involve a bit of a personality shift.

It’s not an easy decision to make.

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