We’re all being far too polite now

[F]or the first time, authors have been sitting in on the entire Canada Reads process, and I don’t think it’s done the program any good. … authors got so in on the action, that their personalities became inseparable from the books in question. Relationships through social media developed so that it was impossible for many to read these books without a conflict of interest. The books themselves ceased to be the point at all.

What’s more ridiculous though is that no one having this conversation. I’ve refrained from saying anything until now, because I don’t like to talk shit about books, but we’re all being far too polite now, and I fear that authors attending our book club is most of the reason why. It’s why book bloggers are celebrating these books without question, not a word of criticism, though there is plenty to criticize, but how can we  criticize when the author is our friend on Facebook, and our favourite Twitter pal?

Kerry Clare

This. I’ve mentioned I feel like a weirdo on Goodreads because I give ratings other than 4 and 5. At the same time, I’m not immune to what I’ll call the six degrees of politeness. If you like a writer, personally, even if you only know them via social media or reading their blog, it’s really, really hard to say that their book disappointed you or even that you just didn’t like it as much as you thought you would based on how much you like their thoughtful blog posts or hilarious tweets.

On Goodreads, if I realize I’m hedging, I find it helps to ignore the numbers and rate based on the descriptions: “didn’t like it”; “it was ok”; “liked it”; “really liked it”; “it was amazing.” At first, they sounded a little facile, but you know what? You can pretty much stick any book into one of those categories without hesitation. It works, I think, because it makes it subjective. You’re not making any great objective pronouncements about the quality of the book. One-star says: “I didn’t like this book.” Not “this book sucks” or “you will hate this book” but “I didn’t like it, ymmv.”

This, btw, is the same problem I came up against with my master’s thesis. The urge to be kind rather than critical is strong even when you’re “just” a reader, even when you’re doing your best to stand at arm’s length and not develop a conflict of interest. You get to know people through their writing, and if you like them, the urge to protect them is strong. What’s funny, though, even just sticking to reading, I developed favorites (as one does) and I worried that would show through. Obviously, I didn’t want that because the thesis wasn’t about who had I had the most in common with or who had the best friendship potential. Anyhow, I guess I needn’t have worried, because no one picked up on that at all.

(It still surprises me that it was read as a “negative review” so to speak, when my goal was a more positive reading of personal blogs than I’d come across in traditional media and academic writing. In fact, my big concern was providing a positive viewpoint without being uncritical about the aspects I did find problematic. In the reading, though, all the focus seemed to be on the criticisms. Then again, maybe the negative perception isn’t so surprising. We writers do have a tendency to glaze over compliments, regardless of how large, and obsess over criticisms, regardless of how minor.)