Guest posts

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Becoming a reviewer...and hostile reviewers

I've always thought of myself as someone who writes, not someone who reviews. However, lately I've been more and more interested in the craft of reviewing so I'm taking some training in that area and hope to start reviewing books by the end of this summer.

I know I'm inexperienced in this area and now I see that I am also naive - because I had never thought of reviews as something likely to foment much controversy except when authors disagree with a negative review. However, the other day I stumbled on an article about a noted reviewer who was being publicly lambasted for challenging the trend in YA toward the negative and the dark. That would be the dystopian worlds, the dead/living, the novels about cutting and other forms of self injurious behaviours. The reviewer was concerned that these are becoming the standard in YA books and she felt that while they have a place, they are taking over too much of the reading audience. She saw this as a trend in adult literature as well but was more concerned about the lack of other forms of stories being published for the YA audience and the impressionist stage of teens who may be harmed by the influence these stories create.

Those who disagreed with her were attacking, hostile, and angry - this surprised me since this was all between professional reviewers - I had expected more room for discussion and alternative viewpoints. I know I come at this from the perspective of a mom and a psychotherapist - both roles make me concerned with the pressures on teens today and what they incorporate into their own lives from the stories they read and the movies they watch and both roles have trained me to focus on conflict resolution and allowing for the opinions of others (except, of course, when they disagree with me!). Okay, so I don't live up to this myself all the time, but I try.

I don't have a well thought out perspective on this literary conflict but I will be thinking of it as I begin reviewing books. How has this trend impacted you as a writer or reviewer?


  1. When the article came out last month, a lot of blogs covered it, and I found those blogs had more thought-out discussion. A lot of times it seems the immediate comments linked to any article are the instant reactions, often hostile.

    I think what seemed to bother people most is that the WSJ article was supposedly Opinion, but had some pretty harsh statements written about YA that didn't seem supported by anything. Yes, it's opinion, but I think when someone writes an opinion accusing someone or an entire industry of failing in some respect, it's probably likely the author will get some pushback.

    I think there's never an excuse to lose sight of manners though.

  2. Thank you for expanding the topic for me. I'm so new to the world of reviewing I have a steep learning curve ahead of me. I agree, there's never an excuse for bad manners - that just shuts people off and ends reasonable and learned discussion.

  3. I admire you for taking on the challenge of reviewing, Brenda. I read Sherman Alexie's article in the WSJ about dark teen fiction, and I have to say I sided mainly with his perspective--for many, many (sadly many, as you know as a psychotherapist) teens, their world is dark, and fiction provides both respite and understanding. I'm sure there's a place for the Sweet Valley High tales of my youth, and I hope they're still to be found, but I know that even as a not particularly troubled teen I loved the darker fiction. Still, the point you make is true--reviewers should interact professionally and reasonably even when emotions are stirred. Good luck!

  4. I haven't read the WSJ article or read any blog posts about it or the subsequent conflicts but it often amazes me how difficult a discussion can be. That's one of the reasons I don't read message boards and forums - seems like as soon as a subject of personal preferences comes up more often than not comments quickly because barely shy of vicious and then profanity starts and it's all downhill from there. Good luck with your reviewing, hope there will be as little unpleasantness as possible!