April 25, 2012

Rants & Raves: Embrace Your Inner Expert!

This is a feature that appears sporadically on the blog, whenever I have a bookish issue I need to rant or rave about. Feel free to comment with your thoughts!

We've all seen how a negative review can sometimes spark an outraged reaction on the part of the author, who retaliates publicly on the blog, catalyzing a whirlwind of response in the comments thread and a good deal of drama.

The author may have a legitimate concern, but all too often it seems that he or she thinks that they know best when it comes to their book. "How could you claim it was scary/boring/unevenly paced/demeaning to women?" they might ask. "That's not the book I wrote!"

It's understandable if the reviewer is cowed by this reaction. Authors' comments can be surprisingly inflammatory and defensive when it comes to their own writing, and the blogger might start thinking, "Did I get this wrong? Am I the only one who thought this? After all, So-and-So did write the book...I guess she should know..."

Why yes, that WAS a Twilight reference! Nicely spotted.
WRONG. Yes, she wrote the book. And yes, if we're talking about factual accuracies here, then the author may well be in the right. It's kind of hard to dispute that a character has bronze-coloured hair or smouldering golden eyes when it says so multiple times in the story.

But when we're talking about what this book made you think and feel, then the author has absolutely no right to criticize your viewpoint. "That's not the book I wrote!" he claims, incensed. Perhaps not, but it is the book YOU read —and that's perfectly fine.

We are all experts somewhere in the process of creating a reading experience. Writers are the experts when it comes to the words they pen. Editors are the experts at manipulating those words. Publishers are the experts at packaging up those words and selling them.

And readers? We're the experts at reading those words.

^^ this is you.

No one knows better what the reading experience was like for you than you do. No one else knows what parts made you laugh, what scenes had you tensed up, what you wish had been written differently, what you couldn't understand at all. No one else knows the characters you loathed and the ones you loved. YOU are the expert on that.

So don't ever let anyone — an author, a blogger, the bookstore clerk, or even yourself — make you feel like less of an expert than you really are. Without readers, after all, there'd be no point to writing a book.
A perfectly legitimate question that this reader has every right to ask.


  1. This is very true; one thing I've learned over the past few years is that books aren't really complete until they've been read. The reader really finishes the novel, bringing their own perspective and thoughts to the book. That's why 2 people can read the exact same book and have polar reactions. We're all biased and we read things in different ways, but that doesn't mean it's not valid. Like you said, just because the author things their book is something doesn't mean that's what it actually is to the reader.

  2. I am always surprised when I read a book and see so many different reactions. I sometimes think, maybe I missed something? I agree that in the end the review is about what I like and whether someone else would like it too.

  3. This is something all bloggers need to remember. I think as long as you're nice about a negative review (not like this was the worst book ever I hated it don't buy it!) then it's okay to share your honest opinion. I try to remember that someone worked really hard on the book and I have to keep their feelings in mind while still giving my opinion on why I disliked the book. Great post!

  4. Ranganathan's third law of library science: Every book its reader.


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