Monday, March 25, 2013
It's kind of, well, unkind. Kindof. Or kindof not.
This is a reaction to a piece on Jessewave's, where Rick R Reed spoke about kindness. He called for civilized discourse in all things. and I'm fully behind that. However, what is civilized can also be perceived as unkind, depending, and what an observer may just take as an opinion may be fighting words to someone who's much closer to it. I can only control what I say or write, I cannot control how others perceive it.
There are times when I can review kindly or I can review honestly. Honesty without snark is what I strive for, and at times I have asked experienced reviewers to read over posts to make sure I haven't stepped over the boundary. It may be that I've missed the mark at times. It may also be that the neutral statement of a negative opinion, as Anel Viz put it in the comments to Rick's thread, doesn't feel so neutral to someone. I am mindful that there is a person on the other end.
What Rick said except in one instance didn't set me off as badly as some of the commenters did, and much of this post is in response to them. What some folks are defining as kindness looks a lot more like protection from honest opinions. And is that actually kind? Because the truth is going to come out sometime. The truth can come out with civility, and that is the best one can ask.
Sometimes the most damning review is to summarize a couple of of plot points. Sometimes it's to quote a few lines of text. If the author's own words create the unkindness, then the reviewer is SOL. Walk on by isn't always an option. I have been approached for reviews outside of Wave's umbrella for whatever reason, and those folks get the option of not posting if I can't honestly rate at 3 or above, and they get that because it takes some courage to ask. Some people have taken me up on that. Others have said post. But at Wave's it's buffet rules--we touch it, we take it. I would have bailed on more than a few books had that been an option.
As did Val, I reacted to these words of Rick's: even if that output was utter garbage. It was still someone’s baby
No, this is not someone's baby. A brainchild unleashed on the world has to follow a social contract, which is: it provides something of value in exchange for the audience's limited resources of time and/or money. If it doesn't enlighten, entertain, educate, or provoke thought, it's already violated that social contract. And if it has, a signpost saying so isn't unreasonable. And it won't always be perceived as kind. I might spend as long writing a negative review as I spent reading the work, trying for something that sounds neutral and I HATE that. I have limited time on this planet, and someone's book just sucked up an irreplaceable part of it. Who has been unkind here?
And yeah, it would be a whole lot easier to just read established names and not review, lest I be perceived as unkind. There are days when this seems like a very, very good idea.
In a review, no one is entitled to more than basic civility. A review isn't meant to provide writing advice to the author, though if it does that's nice. Should a review contain at least one crumb of praise? What if the one praisable thing is "It was written in complete sentences"? The cries of "snark!" will ring out for that one, but there are books that are just that bad. The authors who write them and the publishers who offer them still want our $6.99.
A friend refers to the "include praise" bit as Suzuki reviewing, after the way she taught her kids to play violin. Seize on the one good thing and ask them to do it again, with a little tweak (to fix the total fail part.) That's fine, it's good teaching.
Reviews aren't teaching except by accident; they are an assessment of a finished product. And authors are not five year olds with miniature violins playing for mommy and teacher. Don't mistake a review for instruction, and don't mistake a reviewer for mommy who praises the smallest accomplishment. If it's being offered for sale, it has to meet that social contract and it's the reviewer's job to mention if it has or hasn't or to what degree. That can be done without snark, but kindness is often in the eye of the beholder. Best I can promise is honesty.