I wanted to let you know that I received your comment on this old book review; you wrote:
When stupid reviewers write crap reviews! Really–every comment elicits a face palm! Ever considered doing something else with your time?
Having received death threats for a negative review of a Cormac McCarthy novel as well as having the head of a publishing company drop the c-bomb on me for taking issue with its translation of some 17th-century Chinese porn, I appreciate the restraint you’ve shown in your trolling.
It would be easy to use this to launch into a lament about how online culture enables everyone with a grievance to express it rudely and consequence-free; that it’s part of a general decay in basic decency and civility; that no one ever feels they need to justify their opinions, or separate opinion and feeling from fact or argument, etc. I’ll leave that to others.
I’m more interested in why people get angry when others don’t like the books they like. (I’m assuming, even though you didn’t explicitly say so, that you loved Manazuru and believe I’ve done it a terrible injustice.) I’ve always thought this to be a strange thing to get worked up about; not only is taste in books entirely personal and subjective, it’s also not often (never?) that one can be convinced, especially via abuse!, to be convinced to like a book one does not like.
It can happen that, through civil and thoughtful conversation, one may come to respect a book one doesn’t like–but these are not the same things. “Lucy,” if you think I’ve been wrong about Manazuru, you might have tried to tell me why. Regardless, I’m glad you liked it, if I’m correct in thinking you did; I’m happy when anyone really enjoys a book because I think reading is really one of the best things in the whole damn world.
Which is why I’m coming to see a positive upside in all the bookish rage that continues to be directed at anyone who discusses books on any online medium: passion and culture. Books are a key part of every culture, and lots of people are still passionate about them! There’s really something in that. I don’t condone the sarcasm and the dismissiveness, but maybe this passion is better than indifference; it might become more measured or thoughtful and therefore more convincing.
I’ve become less reactionary and more thoughtful myself; in the past, I’ve been sarcastic and abusive about books (see Cormac McCarthy reference above; those death threats came in response to a very sarcastic take on CM’s writing style; death threats are never justified, but I’m not proud enough of that post to have left it up either). And in answer to your question, “Lucy,” yes, I have found things to do with my time other than write book reviews; I have not, in fact, written a review in at least a couple years.
Why have I left off writing book reviews? Well, not because I am not still as passionate about books as you are (I am; there is literally no space left for more books in my house), or because I felt cowed by beatdowns from those who don’t like the books I like or vice versa. My interest has simply moved in other directions
But were I to return to writing book reviews, I would not write reviews about books I disliked as much as I disliked Manazuru; in fact, I wouldn’t write reviews about books I disliked at all–because I no longer finish reading books I don’t like. As well, writing negative reviews is inherently unpleasant. Having re-read that old review, I can recall how bad it made me feel to write it. I’m glad I no longer think it’s either useful or desirable to publicly share that kind of dissatisfaction about art, whose beauty remains, forever and always, in the eye of the beholder. I’m trying to be civil in all my online conversations, although that’s certainly easier on some platforms than on others. I’m trying.
And when it comes down to it, life is short, perhaps very short. Depending on who you ask, I’m either alarmist or overly optimistic when I say I think there will be global nuclear war before the end of the current US “presidency.” If we can, “Lucy,” let’s try to become at least polite, if not friends, before that happens. Let’s not be bickering when “we become silhouettes.”