Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How I Read: Reviews

How I Read is a series of mine that is pretty much exactly what is says on the tin: post about my tastes/habits as a reader. Multiple people said they wanted more posts like this during my 300-GFC-follower celebration, so I will give my readers what they want.

The first post of this series was supposed to be about why I DNF books, but I found a few reviews today that pushed my buttons the wrong way and I decided this needed to go first.

True story: I started reading a Kindle freebie this morning before a class and had some issues with it I couldn't put my finger on. I turned on my Wi-Fi, started looking through reviews, and promptly got more pissed off than I already was--and let me tell you, I was some kind of angry this morning. It involves my roommates and too much off-topic stuff to bother talking about here.

Anyway, as you'll quickly see once you dive into my archives, I love negative reviews. I'm not afraid to write them ninety-nine percent of the time  and love reading ones written even for books I love.

What do I like to see in negative reviews in particular? What kind of offensive content there is, for one thing. I don't like slut-shaming, woman hate, general anti-woman themes, racism or race stereotypes, homophobia, general LGBT+ hatred, and all that kind of stuff. Some people call me overly politically correct. I call it being dedicated to not being an offensive ass.

Some more "vanilla" things I like to see? Details about how sensible/ludicrous the plot is, how flat/deep the personalities of all the important characters are (seriously, I don't want anymore books with asshole/abusive male leads), the quality of the worldbuilding, an examination of the internal logic, gender politics (how do characters of different genders interact? How do characters of the same gender treat each other?), and similar things. You may be able to come up with more examples based on what you want to know before you read a book.

As a progressive woman and a feminist, I despise slut-shaming and homophobia in particular. When I see either in a review? I get angry, to say the least. I don't even twitch if I see a negative review for something I loved. When I do twitch is when I see someone being a bigoted ass in their review. At that point, I get mad whether it's a book I loved or hated or even felt indifferent to.

Here are a few examples of said reviews. Names are blacked out/cut off for the reviewers' privacy. If someone who wrote one of these reviews contacts me asking me to remove it or this particular part of my post receives a large negative reaction, I will quickly remove then and post an apology.

 You can probably figure it out from context, but the first review is referring to the author being a lesbian.

I love that they wrote negative reviews of these books because such reviews helps me figure out what I want to read, what I can expect when I dive into a novel, and all sorts of stuff I find helpful. I don't have money to pick up every book that sounds fun and see if it's actually good. A lot of other people don't either and that's why reviews exist: to help people figure out whether or not they really want to read a book.

What I don't love about these reviews is that their homophobia and slut-shaming make their entire review unhelpful. When narrow-minded views like those make their way into reviews, I can't trust them to give me an accurate warning of what I might not like about a novel. I don't trust every single negative review I read because there are plenty of people out there with tastes that differ from mine, but I see a difference between differing tastes and flat-out asshattery.

Criticizing the way the main character bounces between three guys and makes out with Love Interest #2 next to Love Interest #1's dying body? Good. Tell me more, please. Calling the main character a slut or telling her to keep her legs closed? Not okay.

Criticizing a book because its romance (which happens to be between women) is weakly developed? Good. Criticizing it because it's about lesbians and "corrupts" a fairy tale? Not okay.

(Seriously, the reviews that say an LGBT storyline corrupts a fairy tale make me want to write a take on Beauty and the Beast where a MTF transsexual is the Beauty of the tale. The only reason I haven't done so yet is because I don't yet trust myself to write a transsexual character with the care and nuance I would need to do it well.)

We can make these criticisms without using offensive terminology. I promise, it's possible.