Taking Sides

Often I see advice to writers that we should review books in order to build our “platform”–what used to be called a reputation or image. I used to review poetry books and a couple of times here on the blog I’ve done what might be called reviews, loosely. While I was berating myself in my journal for not doing more, I finally stumbled upon  this: Reviews, honest ones, serve the reader and by extension the market place. Write a complementary review and all’s rosy: the writer is thrilled and the reader willing to invest time and money in the book, to place that writer’s name on the good list. The publisher is thrilled and opens her heart and her checkbook to subsequent work by said writer.

Write a bad review–whoa! That’s where I get stuck. I hate to say bad things about another writer. This week I read two novels by favorite authors, those whose work I know well and about whose books I might have a valid opinion. I began a timid list of what I liked and what led me to skim pages, just wanting to get to the end so I could put down the book. But I can’t do it. I cannot bring myself to dis these writers. Wimp? Maybe, but I’ve faced down angry people, foolish people, people with raging psychosis even. I don’t think I’m a coward. But I do think, most days, that I’m a writer.

If I love the work of another and  can extol it heartily and honestly, I’ll gladly speak up. But knowing what goes into the work, I don’t like to carp. Word of mouth will warn readers of a dud. Critics at large will sound the alarm. Agents and editors should see before the book even goes to press that a plot line is screwy, the motivation weak, the characters cardboard. That’s their job. If you ask for my opinion of your writing, one to one or in a workshop, I’ll be honest, and if you don’t I’ll just shut my mouth and worry about my own plot, characters, motivation, language, etc.

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