Should a writer post reviews of books by other writers?
I’ve probably only been reading five or six books a month on average recently. I seem to have less free time now for some reason but since I was reading these books anyway and since I often write short reviews of them for Amazon or Goodreads, I figured I may as well adapt these reviews for my blog as well.
I have only posted a few so far. You may have noticed them. Like so many things that turn out otherwise, this seemed like a good idea at the time. I’m still not sure it’s not but posting my last review here made me uncomfortable.
I feel fine praising the work of other writers, in fact I enjoy it. I love sharing information on books I’ve liked and pointing out what I especially found appealing about them. I feel it’s almost my duty to promote my favorite books (and music for that matter) so that others might share the enjoyment I get from them. I’m even okay, for the sake of fairness, with mentioning minor points that I thought might be shortcomings. But a few days ago I found myself reviewing a book I really did not enjoy. Actually, it went beyond that. I really disliked it. To me, it was like the literary equivalent of batter dipped, deep fried monkey brains – looks okay on the outside but pretty nasty inside.
So, I wrote a generous two-star review and posted it and then I felt guilty about posting it. What right did I have to be critical of another writer? Not that it matters to the underlying question but in this case it was a much more popular writer than I and the winner of several awards.
“Okay,” I told myself, ignoring the fact that talking to oneself is a sure sign of latent schizophrenia, “you’re not reviewing the writer; you’re reviewing a book and each book stands on its own.” (I write fiction. I have to be a bit, um, eccentric. It’s one of the minimum qualifications for the job.)
True. But who am I to judge another writers work?
Fair question. I have no credentials. All I can do, when you get right down to it, is say if I liked the book or not and try to explain why. I suppose that’s what all reviews actually come down to. There is no objective standard for what makes a book enjoyable. If there was, everyone would like the same books and they don’t. Someone with a MFA and 30 years of experience in the business would undoubtedly be better able to appreciate things in a book I might not even notice, but appreciating technique is far different than liking the book and ultimately that’s what it’s about. Different people are looking for different things when they read for enjoyment, and they have different tastes. So I figured I was as qualified as anyone to say if I liked a book.
But should I? Should one writer post reviews on the work of another?
If writing was a competitive vocation, the answer would clearly be “no.” It would be an unethical conflict. But writing isn’t a competitive vocation. At least I don’t think so. Each good book increases readers’ appetites for more good books and more writers are needed to try to satisfy them. A good book by author X increases interest in similar works by author Y.
But what if it’s not a good book? Or, more precisely, what if I didn’t like it and my honest review is less than glowing? Should I still write it? Should I still post it? I know I’d be less than pleased if another writer posted a negative comment about one of my books, not that that could possibly ever happen of course.
I Tweeted this question on Monday but got no comments so I’m asking the question again here. What do you think? Is one writer commenting on the work of another inappropriate? I’m entitled to my opinion but, as a writer, should I keep that opinion to myself in cases where it is not a positive one?