The Welter of the Internet #2: Writing reviews
August 26, 2009

So, I am on Goodreads. I kind of love it. I go through phases in which I drink down books like water, and because I am a long-winded, opinionated sumbitch, I blather about them. And I'm not alone: You will find a lot of us there, us publishing people. Editors, writers, agents, marketing people—our first love was reading, and we do like to talk about what we read.But not everyone posts reviews. In fact, many of my publishing cohort don't even bother to give books ratings. They log on just to see what others are saying. Or, if they do rate the books they read, they choose a tack like that of the utterly brilliant Rebecca Stead, who explains in her profile, "Many of the books on my list are, in my opinion, amazing. Some I didn't like. But I give them all five stars, because stars make people—including me—happy. Confused? Me too."That's fair, right? I mean, which author or editor wants to go onto a site and see someone bagging on the novel you've spent years bringing into the world? That's no fun. And if you work in the business, the last thing you want to do is piss off the editor or author of such novel by crowing about how the emperor...well, he's naked as a jaybird. So I've taken to not rating books I loathe, not having them part of my update feed, not writing the reviews. Instead, I put my notes in the "Private Notes" section.But I hate doing that. Feels monstrously cowardly to me. Part of what Goodreads is about—the part of it that I love—is that it is a dialogue about books and how well they work (or, if they don't work very well, why they don't). It is not a bleacher full of cheerleaders. It's a giant book club, and my friends and I, we're there to discuss what we read. I may not love your novel, but who cares? I am just one person. (And have you met me? I'm a tin-eared crank, "nothing but a young curmudgeon" according to one old lady who shook her cane at me after the Rutger's One-on-One a few years back. Who cares if I like your published novel?) But politeness suggests I need to play nice with others and never say a word against anything by anyone who may later be a position to help one of my clients. So I censor myself.Is this an imaginary problem on my part? How do you feel about this? When someone complains about your work in one of these forums, do your hackles rise? ("Well, no, Michael—we're not dogs.") Does this feel like part of a healthy dialogue? Or just mean-spirited snarkiness?