Dear “Lucy”

Dear “Lucy,”

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.”


Two of my cats getting along for a change; if they can, maybe we can, too

13 Comments Add yours

  1. Deborah says:

    Well done.

    I don’t blog or review books at all, but I do take the time to examine my reactions, positive and negative, to everything I read. I just do it all in a journal no one sees but me. It pushes me to examine my reactions, justify them, and make a good-faith effort to respond to anything I’ve taken the time and trouble to read.

    Right now, unfortunately, many many pages are taken up by expressions of rage and disbelief about the actions of our Twit-in-Chief. In vain have I turned to Wodehouse and Thurber … my wrath is unabated and my fears growing. Nice to know I am not alone.

    1. Colleen says:

      I too have turned to Wodehouse (and have bought, but not yet read, some Thurber) for comfort; I feel pretty good reading him but it doesn’t last. We live in really scary times. You’re definitely not alone.

  2. I know your pain. Reviewing politics and religion leads to about the same thing but with more understandable, but not more legitimate. If it’s a bad book I send a note to the author/publisher and explain what I see and offer that I may not be the best person for your book (especially that whole Amish/werewolf/vampire romance genre).
    Other than that I stick to poetry and live in as much peace as our current administration allows. I guess if you read poetry people just assume you know what you are talking about. Besides reading poetry when the blinding flash might just be the best way out💥

    1. Colleen says:

      Finding as much peace as possible right now is definitely the key to sanity, if there is one. I’m glad poetry does that for you. Your and Deborah’s comment make me think I should write something about comfort reading…

  3. Tony says:

    Still attracting anger years later? You must be doing something right 😉

    I enjoyed ‘Manazuru’ first time around, but on a reread it didn’t impress me as much. Strangely enough, I actually got a comment on my own post (from a different person!) a couple of days ago…

    1. Colleen says:

      And how did that other person feel about your post on Manazuru? What I find amazing, still, about people getting really angry about other people not liking their favourite books is how they could be directing that bile at things worthy of that energy!

  4. Sylvia says:

    A death threat – how terrible! Too many people use social media to anonymously vent their rage with no thought of the effect on the recipient. And they are safe because they are anonymous. I understand why you don’t do reviews any more, but really, I enjoyed your biting sarcasm and wit.

    1. Colleen says:

      *Multiple* death threats! It’s been a long time though, which is nice. Anyway, I don’t feel irritated enough to vent that kind of spleen lately–not about books, anyway. ;p But who knows what the future holds?

  5. Oh, those reactions are over-the-top. I’ll never understand why some people think that sort of behaviour is ok.

    But I must say I have never written a really bad review, for the simple reason I don’t read really bad books – at least books that I think are really bad. I think I have a pretty good antenna for what I like and I just don’t read those that aren’t up my alley. I certainly wouldn’t finish a book I thought was terrible because time is too short.

    The last time I started to read a book that I thought was really badly written, I didn’t finish it and didn’t write a review on my blog. However, I was honour-bound to write something on LibraryThing because that was the agreement when it was sent to me. I wrote something that explained why I was giving it up – I didn’t excoriate it, but I did point to a couple of things that made it poor in my eyes. And, I never applied for a LibraryThing review book again! The whole experience was too painful, and life is too short for that too.

    1. Colleen says:

      Agreed on all fronts: life is definitely too short. And there are so many good books to read….! There’s really no reason to wallow in the muck. 🙂

      1. Absolutely , Colleen, there isn’t.

  6. “Nevertheless, she persisted.” I have something approaching love for you despite our differences over C. McCarthy. 🙂

    1. Colleen says:

      The feelings are, and always have been, mutual–in spite of C. McCarthy.

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