|Flickr Credit: Dragan|
“This is just my opinion, so you should totally give it a chance anyway!”
“I have a thing about love triangles, so I personally hated the romance.”
“Usually coming of age stories bore me but that’s just me.”
Sound familiar? I know because I’ve read them in book reviews, and I’ve put them in some of my own reviews, too. (Of course, y’all know how often I review things.)
I may sound completely clueless, but I guess I want to know why we so often feel the need to negate our negative opinions, especially in book reviews.
On the one hand, I get it. When you want to make an argument, one of the best things you can do is address a possible criticism before anyone actually brings it up. That’s actually the purpose of this paragraph. Someone in the comments would make a valid point in saying, “Sure, everyone knows that book reviews are just opinions, but if I don’t acknowledge the subjectivity of my review, then someone can call me out on that, or even be discouraged from trying the book out itself.” And fair enough. It’s important to cover all your bases. I even agree that it’s fair for people to occasionally call you out on your opinion.
Maybe you were actually really insensitive to an issue present in the book. As books featuring diverse representation and diverse authors gain more attention, there’s a lot of room for unkindness, ignorance, apathy, and prejudice to show through in reviews. Even if those sentiments are technically “an opinion,” don’t be surprised if it don’t fly in the book blogging community.
Maybe your opinion is wrong. It is one thing to say “my favorite color is yellow,” and it is another to say, “My favorite part of the Harry Potter series is when Ron is turned into an elephant and stampedes the Great Hall, killing two students and a house elf.” That didn’t happen. It is okay if people show up in your life to say, “Yo, that didn’t happen, but I’d read that fanfic.”
And, maybe your opinion is too aggressive. Whether it’s in your review or (by some ill-possessed conviction) commented upon someone else’s review, there are some thoughts you’re better off keeping you yourself. For example: “THIS IS THE BEST BOOK OF ALL TIME I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU DON’T WANT TO SACRIFICE YOURSELF TO THE HERO WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU I HOPE THAT SATAN COMES AND RIPS YOUR SPINE OUT OF YOUR BACK.” Like, really. It’s a book. Chill out.
I get all of these things. I know why these things are good. And yet I have two lingering thoughts.
But why do we only negate negative opinions? It’s commonplace to say “You might like the story even though I found the pace boring.” You’d probably never see someone say, “I just loved the character development in this book—it made this one of my favorites. Although you might not like it since you don’t like good character development.” (My head says I should replace “since” with an “if” but my heart says let the passive aggressiveness roll). Negative remarks can be damaging, they can make us sound horrible… but for some reason, they seem to have a heavier weight than good opinions. What if we recognized good and bad opinions as equals? Would that change anything?
Also, I don’t think professional reviewers do this. Granted, we are not professionals because most of the time, we aren’t paid, but still. If a reviewer from the New Yorker published something like, “I thought it was bad, but what do I know? It’s possible my thoughts are irrelevant and my boss is paying me for nothing. Give it a chance, anyway!” then that person would probably not be invited to write many more reviews. Yes, you have an opinion, and what’s more, if you’ve read the book and you’ve written a fair review, then I think you have a certain authority behind that opinion. You don’t have to know everything, only that you were bored or offended or unexcited or confused during the story—that’s your experience! It’s okay to share it that way, without everyone assuming that you’re representing how everyone will experience the book.
Bottom line, I guess I feel like in expressing our opinions, we may emphasize the fact that they’re opinions too much.