Recently I've come across several posts written by authors in which they expressed their frustration and disappointment over negative reviews of their books written by bloggers. In these negative reviews, the reviewers essentially mocked, bashed, and personally attacked the author, his/her writing, and his/her book. This is not the first time something like this has come up, nor will it be the last.
Now, this is not a debate in which I will take one side or the other. We have all formulated our own opinions about this tricky overlapping spot in the world of writing, publishing, blogging, reviewing, and befriending people. I think it's safe to say that everyone needs to have thick, porous skin: the thickness to let the ridiculous bounce off, and the porous to let in alternate ways of thinking that you might not have considered before.
Here's what I think:
I think it's absolutely essential that we all be honest, straightfoward, and open-minded. Do you realize how many conflicts that escalate into something much, much worse could be avoided if the opposing parties just had an open and civil dialogue about it? So if a book really didn't work for a reviewer, it is that reviewer's right (and I would say responsibility, but I'm not saying that you need to go shout from the rooftops, "THIS BOOK SUCKS. DON'T EVER READ IT" aka the "anti-recommendation") to express his or her opinion about it, and why that book didn't work for him or her. If the book comes up in discussion with a group of people, I think the reader/reviewer has the right to quietly and politely express that the book didn't work for him/her, and to let that influence the reading decisions of the other people in whatever way it may.
It does NOT, however, give the reviewer the right to mock or attack the story's elements or the author's decisions when it comes to plot, characterization, etc.
Sure, we're pretty confused when we find, say, yet another dependent, breathless, helpless, luuurv-me-or-I-have-no-reason-to-live protagonist in YA paranormal romance. But we don't have the right to write something in our review along the lines of, "I have NO idea why the author would EVER create such a brainless, spineless character. Also, I don't agree with said character's [decision 1], [decision 2], [decision 3]!"
Readers and reviewers, it's not our place to question the decisions that the author makes for his or her book. Those decisions were made a long time before the book reached our hands. To question those things would be like us whining about why a book character has green eyes instead of brown, or why an actor's costume contains a lot of blues and not purples, or why the MC has a soft spot for bad boys instead of nice guys. Those are set in stone: they are not for us to criticize.
I think there's a difference between a character making stupid decisions, and a character making stupid decisions that feel artificial to us. It can actually be a good thing when we get emotionally invested in a story and want to yell at the character, "What are you doing??? Why did you just say/do/think that??? Auuughhh!" But if a character does something that just makes us roll our eyes, or blink and mutter, "What?", or--worse--not care at all, I think that's, for lack of a better word, critique-able. If the character does something that's supposed to make us want to yell at them but instead causes us to react differently (e.g. roll our eyes or, God forbid, laugh), that disjuncture between intent and effect is something I think can, and maybe even should, be noted in a critical review. It's a tricky distinction, the one between author's intent and actually manifested reaction from the audience, but I think it's the crucial one.
The authors who wrote the blog posts also mentioned that the reviewers who had written the negative reviews were aspiring authors themselves, and they warned that this sort of unprofessional behavior will reflect on them badly when it comes time for these aspiring authors to query and make connections within the publishing world. I'm not disagreeing with them: professionalism is all the more important now that the Internet makes things so informal and accessible, and things that get on the Internet typically stay there forever. So you do have to watch how you present yourself online. I have watched both authors and bloggers get slammed for poor online conduct.
However, I'm not discouraging you from writing critical reviews, as long as it's done professionally, and all personal attacks remain out of the discussion. I think that it's natural for aspiring authors to examine books from a writer's point of view. I'm an aspiring author myself, and I always try to look for logical consistency within a book: Are the characters' behaviors believable? If fantastical elements are involved, do they follow the "grammar" of their world and not violate their own rules? Does the writing effectively portray what the author intends it to do? These are what I write about when I have to write a critical review. In no way do I wish to make a personal attack on the author. Would it really be that hard to take an extra 10 seconds before posting and put yourself in another's shoes, think about how you'd feel if someone said those things about your writing? Yeah, not so great, I'd imagine. So there's no need to make disparaging comments such as "I have no idea how [book name]/[author] got published." What if someone were to say that about your book in the future?
Sometimes, an author's writing just won't do it for you. And sometimes, authors, a blogger's reviewing style won't do it for you. So then you just quietly stay out of one another's way. Know what works for you and what doesn't, and immerse yourself in as little negative stimuli as possible. Neither party has the right to spread around your opinion as The Gospel. Trying to force upon others your opinion that "This blogger sucks, avoid his/her reviews" or "This author sucks, don't ever read his/her books" is the most obnoxious invasion of the private/public sphere disjuncture that can be done. It's okay if you didn't connect with someone's writing, and it's okay to express that politely, as long as you make it clear that it's YOUR opinion. It is NOT okay to try to push your opinions at others, or to think that anyone who doesn't share your opinion is idiotic and not worthy of being heard.
That is all.