When I started blogging about books over eight years ago, I was a very different reader than I am today. I had a very limited set of books I enjoyed. I always finished books that I started, no matter how I felt about them while I read. I went for long periods of time not reading at all. I didn’t know the book blog world existed.
Out of that early beginning, I was a very different reviewer as well. My book blog was a group blog consisting mostly of parents with young children, and the goal was for each of us to read and review 25 books each year. I personally invited all the group members, who were mostly made up of cousins and close friends. We wrote for each other, familiar with each other’s senses of humor, and we never expected anyone outside the blog to read the things we wrote. This lead to a lot of snark, both in jest and in full vitriolic anger, from most of the blog members. We didn’t think about the authors or other readers of the book, because we were simply writing for each other. Imagine our collective surprise when we suddenly started getting comments from fellow bloggers and even authors.
Blogging publicly, and realizing the multitude of ways your words can affect others, can very quickly strip your voice down. There’s a hard balancing act that goes into saying what you mean and feel, and saying it in a way that won’t cause drama or pain. Sure, there are some bloggers who relish in drama, but I’m not one, and the sudden appearance of Outsiders made me consider my words a lot more closely. There have been times in my blog-years when my personal voice was completely muffled by this need to be polite-and-professional. But I’m not a polite-and-professional reviewer. I’m a passionate-and-personal reviewer, the sort of person fellow bloggers meet up with in real life and say, “You talk just like you sound on your blog!” In real life, I can be snarky and aggressive and strongly opinionated. In real life, people can hear me speak and know if my snark is in jest or otherwise. Online, unless you know me well, that’s harder to convey.
This is one of the main reasons why my blogging grew spotty from late 2010 to mid-2014. I spent a couple years cutting back, reviewing only some books, spending more time talking about other things. Then I read a book in spring 2012 that touched on a subject I’m very passionate about: fat stigma. The book in question literally described the evil villain in terms of her fat rolls and dimpled skin and multiple chins, and I grew searingly angry. I spent most of my review talking about this point. Within a couple days, something happened off-blog – a person who didn’t know me at all happened upon that post and summed me up as an angry, attention-seeking, drama-inducing human being, and reacted in a way that affected my future for months to come. (I won’t go into details, but picture the imaginary situation of a potential employer deciding not to hire you because of a single book review.) I took myself offline at once, and didn’t publicly review books for several years.
I’ve watched other bloggers handle this situation in different ways. Some review only some books. Others only review books they enjoyed. Still others pair negative reviews with giveaways and statements of “it didn’t work for me but might work for you.” And more. It’s a necessary reality in unpaid blog-based reviewing: you have to find a balance between private thought and public expression.
Eventually, I found my balance mostly in how I read books. I stopped reading books I’m not enjoying, and usually stop reading books that are “just okay” as well. This means that most of my reviews are positive. Maybe that’s less interesting to some readers, and maybe some people think this means I love all books (or pretend to love all books), but really, all it means is that I only want to spend time with the books I enjoy. And it doesn’t mean there’s never a book that goes bad, or that I finish even though there are pieces I dislike. I still discuss those pieces, though I’ve learned to present the negative portions as “what didn’t appeal to me” rather than “what was bad about the book” – a good lesson in general, I think, regardless of how one’s opinions are expressed (verbally, written, private, public…). Through this balance, I can still be myself on my blog, personal and passionate, while not letting the personal and passionate become a place of drama or contention. That works well for me.
ETA: I posted this long before I heard about the Orlando shooting this morning. If I had, I would have saved the above for a different time. I’m devastated on so many different levels about this senseless act of destruction. I can’t begin to put my words into fully coherent thoughts at this moment. My heart and thoughts are in Florida this morning.