I love reviewing books. I remember the first time I ever reviewed a book, and I was thrilled and happy beyond measure. Because when you review books, publishers send you review copies! And for someone like me, free books are almost always an unqualified GOOD.
I will allow as how it is sometimes fun to skewer a book, to make like the movie critics at the New Yorker magazine and just slam bad writing and sloppy thinking. That can definitely be a bit of guilty fun, but it’s like chewing bubblegum, whereas reading and reviewing really good books are like eating an excellent meal.
Sometimes, though, for various boring reasons, it ends up that you pretty much have to review a book that you didn’t think was great. And then here is how that goes:
At this point you sometimes don’t review the book. But if a book has been particularly important in a given segment of culture, or if you have already made an agreement that this book SHALL be reviewed, it has to happen:
At this point you might feel awkward, but also hopeful because perhaps by filing your minority report about the book that’s already so popular and such a hot topic, you will spark a whole new conversation about a side of things no one has brought up before!
But then, this:
Well, that last cell is a bit of hyperbole. I certainly have (and have had) many perfectly lovely and thoughtful conversations online. But for some reason, it’s exceptionally difficult to offer a critical perspective on books (or articles, or blog posts)–even in careful, guarded language–without being branded bitter, jealous, mean, angry, harsh, or, even worse, unChristian.
The less-than-sensational truth is that many people, me included, just like to think and write about books (and other things) and critique is just part of the deal. It certainly does not imply any sort of animus.
I suspect that it is harder for women than for men–we are accused of being ‘shrill,’ or called the word that should refer exclusively to female dogs, wolves, foxes, or otters (yes, foxes and otters too!), but, not being a man, I’m not certain on that it is in fact harder for us, though since I read about the fact that female movie critics hardly exist (sad, because splitting my time between reviewing books and movies would pretty much be my dream job) I’ve been wondering if it’s just harder for women to voice critique without getting slapped down with spiritual platitudes or accusations of bad motives.
What has your experience been like?