Thursday, September 15, 2016

Thursentary: How Much Should We Emphasize Our Opinions?

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Flickr Credit: Dragan
Let me guess, you’ve probably said something along these lines in one of your reviews before:

“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.

What do you think? Do you think it’s important to recognize the subjectivity of your opinions?

8 comments :

  1. I actually do think it's super important to acknowledge books are subjective. Because, for me, it's a huge deal! I mean, I might be like "this book was horribly written" and someone else is "this is the best writing ever"...so who's right? NO ONE. Books are going to speak to people differently. I always feel a little disturbed when a review will go on the stance of this book IS badly written or this character IS horrible, when it's so subjective. I do put subjectivity disclaimers in my reviews and I'll always do that! :) I think it makes negative reviews nicer to read.

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    1. That is true, there is not really a right/wrong area in terms of what is good writing around here. Although, at the same time, I do think there's a very clear "range of right," and we do have certain standards for certain kinds of characters or plotlines. And so yeah, I can get that it is nice, but then, I'm also like, "Cait, you're really well-read and smart—why shouldn't you be right?"

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  2. Personally, I love to read reviews. if I'm going to be buried alive by my TBR pile, then why not add a few more? :)

    But I do think that sometimes we over-justify ourselves and our opinions. For example, (you will HATE me after this), I do not like Twilight. I am not a romanticist. I found Edward unlikable. And the only character I actually really liked was Alice.

    But I know others like Twilight. I also know a lot of others do NOT like Twilight. And that is okay, because we are all entitled to an opinion and I don't think we should water-down our opinions because we fear the wrath of angry fangirls.

    *mic drop* *Sunset is buried in a pile of angry, shouty fangirls)

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    1. XD I don't actually read them that often but I do like to see what people I know think of books I've read!

      No, I get that. I mean, I know very, very well that so many people are justified in disliking Twilight, and I don't think you need to justify that to me (although I must say Alice is pretty awesome). You should totally be able to say what you think without having your ideas challenged!

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  3. I put subjectivity claims into my reviews fairly frequently. I typically reserve disclaimers for times I know I'm particularly biased. (For example, if I say that I thought the love element was too strong, I always make a note that this statement was particular to me, because I just strongly dislike most love stories. The majority of people would disagree with me and I want to give readers a somewhat objective review of the book).

    I have used disclaimers on my positive biases as well. These are typically reserved for books that are of particular sentimental value to me, where I recognize that my past history with the book plays into why I enjoy it. Therefore, I want to give readers a heads-up that my flailing may not quite be warranted.

    In general, I guess my use of disclaimers is to alert readers that they are less likely to agree with a particular opinion expressed in my review then they normally might be.

    I think you have a valid point that we use personal disclaimers too frequently. I may have to revisit how often I use them. Good post!

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    1. *nods* Knowing your own peculiarities CAN make a big difference when sharing your opinion on the Internet. That is a good point.

      Also recognizing the nostalgia present in a book matters, too. I definitely know that there are some people who could do with applying those more often to books like Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia, haha.

      Still, you make a lot of fair points, so thanks for sharing how you use them. :)

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  4. Hm, this is something I should give more thought to. I shouldn't try to repel people away from books (but if they have a bad message, then heck yeah I will).

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    1. *shrugs* It's really subjective. And it's just something to think about, I guess.

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