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I’m a member of a science fiction group on Facebook, in which a vast array of books in, and around the edges of, the genre are discussed every day. I have found it to be a useful source for book recommendations and news about authors well known and otherwise. As is true of any other gathering in the social media, it is also a veritable font of varied opinions and manners of expression. This has made it an interesting study in reader habits and attitudes.

Especially of the attitudes. For example…

In the years that I’ve “hung out” with this group, I’ve routinely seen books reviewed by readers in no uncertain terms. Those who thoroughly enjoy a book often shower it with hyperbolic praise. Those who dislike a book try to bury it with hyperbolic scorn. It’s not at all uncommon to see the same book receive both treatments from different participants in a given discussion. Start a discussion by telling people this is the best book ever by a particular author, and you can be assured that a response will soon be posted (you rarely need to wait long) saying that the same book is nothing but garbage. It isn’t always expressed that politely.

In either extreme, the opinion is expressed as an absolute. The lover of said book has essentially declared it a literary masterpiece, while the detractor considers it a literary disaster of the worst sort. Whichever side is expressed, rarely will you see phrases such as “In my opinion,” or “I found it to be,” or any other acknowledgment that this is an opinion, not an objective measure of quality. It is what the reader declared it to be, period.

For those who were enchanted by a particular work of fiction (or any other sort of book, really) the tendency to gush at least a little is understandable. Equally understandable is the desire to express an honest opinion regarding a work that did not please the reader. Unfortunately, it’s apparently not usually enough to say that the book fell short in some manner. The book is often described harshly and, again, these terms are expressed as absolute measures, and not just one reader’s personal opinion. The concept of “your mileage may vary” is not often applied. You’re told the book is worthless, in terms that make it clear you should just accept this as the fact of the matter.

It’s especially interesting to see such an assertive thumbs-down applied to a book that is enjoying considerable popularity, and receiving glowing praise from readers. The negative opinions are then expressed all the more harshly and in an almost defensive way, as if the good reviews are seen as some sort of rebuke. And I’ve seen some positive reviews that were exactly that, efforts to put negative reviewers in their place, with the review of the beloved book becoming a secondary concern. In an unmoderated discussion (fortunately, the group of which I speak is moderated, and angry exchanges aren’t allowed to go too far), such reviews become exchanges of insults, more about the reviewers and their perceived beliefs than the book in question. I’ve seen book discussions of this sort (elsewhere) go so far off the rails that a latecomer might not even guess that the subject of the dispute was ever a book in the first place.

We all react to what we read, and for many of us, finding some way to express that reaction is inevitable; it’s just how we roll. What isn’t inevitable, of course, is confusing your opinion, based on how you reacted to the book, with some sort of unalterable law of nature. You say you loved the book, and I say I found it unenjoyable, but neither of us is really telling the world (or each other) that the book is good or bad. And while there are some truly amateurish works out there among those independently published (using the word amateur in the popular pejorative sense), I’ve read books that I would characterize as amateurish, and yet are enjoyed by many other readers.

If a book is rife with typographical errors, formatting problems, continuity errors, and the like, that’s an altogether different matter. These are technical problems that could have been corrected, if not avoided. Such things can be evaluated objectively; you can count them. But quality of character development and world building? Plot and pacing? Such things very often seem poorly done to one reader, but are satisfying to another. While it’s possible to botch such things so badly that almost everyone can agree on it, such books don’t often come up for discussion. If they’re indie in origin, they simply aren’t visible enough (due to such failings) to draw much, if any, attention. And if they’re from the traditional side of publishing – well, they probably wouldn’t have been published that way in the first place. Such works really don’t enter into a discussion of this sort. Books that do merit strong opinions – indie and traditional – have usually been put out there with some degree of professional attention.

For such books, all you can really say is whether or not you enjoyed them, and why. And you should do so, whether in a review at Goodreads or LibraryThing, elsewhere in the social media, or wherever you purchased the book. Let the world know what you thought. But if you do, consider paying a little more attention to doing so politely, in full recognition of the fact that this is, after all, just your opinion.

Posted January 25, 2023 by underdesertstars in Uncategorized

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