Reading Journal (July 8): The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Blogging

First, the good and the bad: I was very excited this weekend when I saw I got a comment from the author (Linda Monk, author of the nonfiction constitution book I just finished). It was very exciting, until I accidentally deleted it. Ooops.  Because it had gone to spam initially I have no record I ever received it. It’s gone.

Have you ever received a comment from an author? I got a comment from the author on another nonfiction book I reviewed last year. Have you ever accidentally deleted a comment? I think this was my first.

And then for some thoughts on the ugly: I occasionally dislike a book I review, but I wrote a couple of posts last year that were pretty strong in my antagonism. I’ll call these my “mean posts.” Because of the wonderful aspect of blogging called comments, two certain “mean posts” I’ve written keep appearing in my life. One “mean post” even required me to close the comments because the comments became so vicious against me and my blog. Have you written “mean” posts? Have you ever had to close comments?

I’ve been noticing lately that since I began blogging last May, my reviewing tone has changed to be less “mean.”

This week, I again got a comment on one of the “mean posts.” It wasn’t really a mean comment (as some were), and it had valid points. But this got me to thinking: if I’d read that particular book and written a review this summer, I think I’d have said different things. I still don’t think I would have enjoyed the book, but I wouldn’t have been quite so mean in my review of it. My thoughts and criticism have mellowed a bit.

Now I want to delete or rewrite my “mean” posts to indicate my changing opinions; then I wouldn’t have to deal with “mean” comments any more. But maybe that’s a cheating, easy way out.  Would you ever go back and edit old posts?

Maybe I’m making better reading choices, so I don’t read as many books I strongly dislike. But I don’t think that’s it. I’m just realizing that having a public blog means having public emotions and reactions toward books, and I don’t want to start an argument. My blog is not a place to air my opinions so much as a place to discuss my thoughts and opinions, allowing room for others to do so as well. If I start a “mean” discussion, I should expect “mean” comments in return. And I really don’t want that.

The result of a year of public blogging is that my review posts have become more kind; even disliking a book doesn’t signify a scathing review. I think that’s good in the big picture. Readers should give a book the benefit of the doubt, because every reader will approach it differently.

Since you’ve began blogging, have you found your reviewing style changing?

Are you more honest (i.e., possibly “mean”) or more kind (i.e., willing to give a book the benefit of the doubt) in your reviews?

Finished Reading

I read two very short things this week, and I finished two longer items that I’d begun in June. I did enjoy the modern fiction novel I read, mostly, so I’ll keep giving modern fiction the benefit of the doubt this month.

Finished or Abandoned Since Last Wednesday

  • The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution by Linda R. Monk (263 pages; nonfiction) FINISHED! Began in June. (reviewed here)
  • The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (audiobook, 9 discs, about 10.5 hours total; fiction) FINISHEDBegan in June.
  • The Forsyte Saga, Series 1 and Series 2 (4 episodes watched of 10, on 5 DVDs; 2002 fiction movie). ABANDONED. The movie wasn’t bad by itself; I was bored and didn’t want to watch any more. I guess 900 pages of Forsytes was enough for me.
  • Wit by Margaret Edson (85 pages; drama) FINISHED!  A reread for the Summer Lovin’ Challenge. (reviewed here)
  • The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean (230 pages; fiction). FINISHED!

Currently Reading

not pictured: Winnie-the-Pooh; John Cheever Audio Collection; Guns, Germs, and Steel (audiobook)

I’d like to finish The Arabian Nights this week. The companion has become more a commentary on the stories, so I want to finish the stories themselves before I read too much more of the companion. It is not actually helping me in my reading of the stories, but I’m still finding it interesting.

I will probably get to the Chicago architecture books this week as well; I am looking forward to them, I just haven’t had time even to skim through them. Since my book club is discussing the Lincoln biography this coming week, I’ll also reread that, or at least skim it.

I also will probably get most of the memoir read and maybe start one of the novels. I have to admit that I’m horribly afraid I’ll hate the Georgette Heyer book because I have never read modern “romance.” Tell me: is it like Jane Austen at all, like the back cover claims? Can anyone recommend a light modern “romance” for a person hesitant to read modern literature as I am?

My Books

  • Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne (115 read of 160 pages; children’s fiction) I’m making steady progress with my son.
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (290 read of 750 pages; children’s fiction) no progress

Library Loot, Old

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

  • The Arabian Nights: A Companion by Robert Irwin (139 read of 292 pages; nonfiction).
  • The Arabian Nights translated by Husain Haddawy (345 read of 425 pages; fiction).
  • Lost Chicago by David Lowe (20 read of 270 pages; nonfiction/coffee table book). no progress
  • The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893: A Photographic Record by Stanley Appelbaum (108 pages; nonfiction) not begun
  • Chicago’s Classical Architecture: The Legacy of the White City (Images of America series) by David Stone (128 pages; nonfiction) not begun
  • Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman (150 pages; children’s nonfiction).
  • The John Cheever Audio Collection (audiobook, on 1 of 6 discs, about 6 ½ hours; fiction/short stories).  My in-the-house audiobook
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond (audiobook, on 1 of 13 discs, about 16 ½ hours; nonfiction). My in-the-car audiobook

Library Loot, New

  • A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg (70 read of 310 pages; nonfiction/memoir). The first of my “foodie” books; so far this memoir is delightful!
  • The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King (350 pages; fiction). My “mystery” selection for my library summer reading program. Not yet begun.
  • Friday’s Child by Georgette Heyer (425 pages; fiction). My “romance” selection for my library summer reading program. Not yet begun.

Fabulous Finds

I haven’t been commenting as much as I’d like, but I have found some interesting posts. I’m going to try to track some of the posts that catch my eye and the books that I’ve added to my TBR for your reference too. This week’s is rather long because it includes some TBR additions from the past few weeks. I think I’ll do this every week instead.

Links

Nonfiction

  • America’s Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines by Gail Collins. This book was mentioned by Eva at A Striped Armchair via a comment on one of my posts.
  • Twenty Years at Hull-House by Jane Addams. The subject of Jane Addams was mentioned by Eva at A Striped Armchair via a comment on one of my posts. Since I’m from Chicago, I should know something about this lady.
  • Great Catherine: The Life of Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia by Carolly Erickson. Helen from Hawaii mentioned Catherine the Great in a comment to me. This particular book was recommended by LibraryThing.
  • The Muslim Discovery of Europe by Bernard Lewis. I discovered this book via notes to The Clash of Civilization and the Remaking of World Order by Samuel P. Huntington. It sounds like a fascinating look at Muslim history and cultural as compared to European culture.

Fiction

  • The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon. I read excerpts from this book for a graduate course on essays, but Jenny’s review at Shelf Love got me wanting to read the whole thing. It sounds delightful, in a really old classic sort of way.
  • Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder. Eva at A Striped Armchair mentioned a different book by this author, but I still haven’t gotten to Sophie’s World. Someone mentioned Sophie’s World to me first a few months ago.
  • A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam. Eva at A Striped Armchair. This sounds really good.
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Eva at A Striped Armchair, plus a lot of other people. I can’t believe I still haven’t read anything by this author!
  • Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson.  3000 Books writes “nothing in Robinson’s world is mundane: she shows us that significant things don’t need to be violent to be absolute.” That sounds beautiful to me.
  • Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier . Stephanie shared thoughts on this. I’ve already read it, but her thoughts just make me want to reread it!
  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Nymeth’s review reminded me that I never read this in high school, as many people did.
  • The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. Matt’s thoughts remind me that I really want to experience Collin’s classic mysteries. Soon!

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  1. Just learning about blogs and while doing some searching, came across yours. I am a reader and always find it interesting to hear what others are reading and what they think of it. Got lots of good ideas from your lists! Thanks!

  2. I’ve never read Georgette Heyer myself, but my mum and Stephen Fry both adore her and think that she is drastically underrated. If that helps. 😛

  3. I’m one of those people who will give my opinion good or bad. I don’t consider my reviews professional, they are more like book babble (as Debi from Nothing of Importance was discussing on her blog the other day). I read from a very personal level much of the time, so the reviews will be that way as well. It would feel dishonest (for me) if I stripped the emotion and personal reaction out of a review. I understand other people are different – some like to be more objective, some more subjective – but for me, I would get bored really quick if I excised my feelings from my words. I wouldn’t want to blog about books anymore.

    I have never gone back to change a review; however, there have been times when I’ve gone back to change my rating. If it changes significantly, I will put a note at the bottom of the post that I edited the rating on such-and-such date and why. For example, The Time Traveler’s Wife has become more and more distasteful for me as time passes. Initially, I gave it 3 stars because I felt like I *should* like it, but within two months I’d lowered it to 1 star.

    I do try to be considerate to authors. Even if I don’t like a book, that doesn’t mean the book is bad. It just means it didn’t appeal to me. I try to make sure that comes across in my reviews, though I don’t know if I always succeed. I try to be especially careful when it comes to new books and new authors, because I know there’s a great possibility they’ll see the reviews. Indeed, I’ve gotten several comments both at The Zen Leaf and 5-Squared from authors about my reviews.

    Perhaps because I try to make clear in my reviews that the things I say are my opinions, only my opinions, and aren’t meant to say the book and/or author is bad, I’ve never had to deal with mean or negative comments. I’ve had people disagree with my opinions, and that’s perfectly fine, but they’ve always done it respectfully. Maybe I’ve just gotten lucky, I don’t know. But I’ve thankfully never had to delete a comment (except in the rare case of spam).

  4. I’m definitely in the “benefit of the doubt” camp as far as stating my thoughts on a book I’ve read. I try to keep first and foremost in my mind that one reader’s junk is another reader’s treasure. I am not a fan of reading “mean” reviews either. That being said, I think people need to blog in the style they are most comfortable. Individuality is what keeps the community interesting!

    Lezlie

  5. I’m the opposite; I think I’m getting meaner. I’m getting less and less patient with the books I do read, and I’m seriously considering abandoning books for the first time. I read one recently that I just couldn’t get into, and I should have just abandoned it because it was clear that I was rushing to finish it in order to start another book.

    I’ve only received two mean comments. I deleted one because it dealt with someone using a machete on me, and the other I left standing because it was some valid points. I don’t mind the later, and I am trying to be more aware of how I phrase something when writing reviews. It’s just difficult to separate my emotions occasionally.

    I haven’t had great luck with the two Heyer novels I’ve read, and it’s made me hesitant to read the third one I have. She’s not Jane Austen; I think that statement was made because her stories are based in the same time frame as Austens. That said, Friday’s Child is one of the higher rated books of hers. Maybe you’ll have better luck.

  6. Celia, I’m glad you liked the lists! I hope you enjoy what ever you decide to read next.

    All others, I should clarify: the comment I mentioned above that I deleted this week was deleted by accident. I’ve been getting tons of spam (like almost 100 a day) so it was easy to do on accident. I don’t think I’ve deleted many other comments unless they were spam, and I’ve always before intended to do so!!

    Jenny, I guess I’ll have to see for myself! I don’t know…

    Amanda, yeah, I don’t mind giving my opinions, and I still don’t. I guess what I’m doing differently is that I’m being more like you say “nothing personal, just not for me” rather than my original attitude of “stupid waste of time.” I think the “just not for me” attitude is more conducive to discussion. 🙂 I think my original attitude is what got me in to trouble with “mean” comments. “Mean” attitudes are conducive to “mean” comments. And I’ve learned a blog isn’t just a place to air opinions; it’s a place for discussion.

  7. Lezlie, I’m realizing the “junk is someone else’s treasure” thing. And I’m realizing sometimes I was just in the wrong mood for a book!

    Christina, I think it’s good to become more critical of what we read. Yeah, I”d delete a machete comment too. scary! I’m still second-guessing whether or not I’ll get in to Heyer, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to stand it. We’ll see.

  8. I don’t think I have become meaner per se, but I have become easier at expressing negative feelings about a book. In my posts, I do make a point of clarifying what I didn’t like and why I didn’t like it. I probably feel more comfortable with putting that into words now than when I started my bookblog. For me, giving arguments or reasons is very important, I will never ever just flat out state that “a book was crap”, but I will always try to explain why the book didn’t work for this one specific reader.

    By the way, you put the link to your review of The Words We Live By in the wrong place, it’s one down, next to The Good Earth.

  9. I have gotten a few comments from authors and thankfully, I’ve never deleted them. I probably would have cried. I don’t think I’ve written any mean posts. The only time I’ve closed comments is when I’ve had a giveaway that’s ended yet people keep trying to enter.

  10. I’m kind of on the “nicer” side. It’s because, like Lezlie, I always give the author the benefit of the doubt. Also, I don’t read books that do not keep me interested. I almost always abandon, so I never really get to blog about books I didn’t like. And I almost always know what type of books I like, so most of the ones I do pick up I most often end up loving.

    Having recently started accepting books for review has been more difficult. Again, I only accept books that I’m really interested in. But then, when I get something that I want to abandon, I can’t, so I have to plod through them. In the end they’re not really the worst books, I just don’t like them as other people would. I’ve only reviewed two of these books in a negative light (Joanna Scott’s Follow Me and Margaret Mascarenhas’s The Disappearance of Irene dos Santos), but then I always give the readers a positive thing, too, so they still come out nice.

    I don’t mind other reviewers being snarky. Each blogger has his/her own voice, and I think it’s best to stick with who we are. I review the way I do because it’s how I am.

    I haven’t read a mean post by you before. I think it’s because when I discovered you you were already “nice” then, LOL!

  11. Myrthe, I think you have a good point. I think I’ve become better at figuring out why I liked a book or not! (I’ve fixed the link….no worries, my review for The Good Earth is coming tomorrow morning if you were looking for it!)

    Kathy, I felt very sad. I went in pouting to my husband and tried to explain why this was a big deal to me. (I’m still not sure he grasped why it was so sad! He does’nt quite get the big deal with blogging….)

    claire, I too have no qualms about abandoning books! And your reasons are exactly why I don’t accept ARCs at this point. I don’t like someone expecting to read something. Another reason not to be in school!

    I too like some of the snarky bloggers. It’s fun to read. I just can’t write funny snarky posts, so they come off as mean if I try! And yes, I wrote my two meanest posts in July 2008 and October 2008, so it was probably before you saw them. I’m hoping to move beyond those and on to books I loved!

  12. I think I’m getting nicer as I go, and I am also able to decide who would like the books which I hated. Being able to compare one bad book with another is helpful to people who love both of those books. I am never going to like those slow books without a plot, but there are lots of people who do!

  13. I can get quite snarky when a book rubs me the wrong way. But it has to really irk me, not just be boring or implausible.

    I would never go back and edit a post. I said some things in my review of Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace that my sister wanted me to take out, but I refused. If I posted it, I only go back and change a grammatical error I catch or I might occasionally post an update at the bottom.

    However, in another sense I am constantly updating my posts because I go back and link to them. I give recommendations (if you like this, you might like these), and I’m always going back and linking to new reviews and adding more books to the list that I hear about.

  14. Hmm, if I’ve changed it’s been gradual. I do realize now that more people read my blog and it makes me self-conscious. Not that that’s bad!

  15. Have you ever received a comment from an author?

    Everytime I read a great book I contact the author via written letter. Much more personal than email. And I have gotten a personal reply from everyone of them! This includes from Barack Obama (before he became POTUS). Write to them…they really appreciate getting a well written letter on nice stationery. Who doesn’t?

    Yes I can become negatively critical in reviews but I back up my viewpoints with specific suggestions or information that the author may not be aware of. I dislike the neologism “snarky”. Painful to read or hear.

    When I blog with the NY Times I usually get 300-400 recommendations and good comments. Sometimes people want to lynch me, but that’s okay, because I made them think. It’s good to find people who disagree with you because then you can see their side of the story and learn!

    A NY Times columnist totally tore down Michael Jackson and his “fantasyland” of perpetual childhood and that he never was forced to grow up from a very abusive childhood. But the columnist presented it in such a way that you had to agree with him…and I really liked MJ, but he was right. We tend to forget that there is a real world out there with soldiers and citizens dying every day. 100’s killed in the north western province of China yet the newspapers and TV ar filled with MJ stories.

    I would encourage everyone to start reading non-fiction books by Thomas Friedman, Paul Krugman, Frank Rich and other modern writers. Yes, it is nice to curl up with a favorite book (one person commented that she had read one book 100 times???) but we live in a world where we have to begin learning about other cultures and countries. Time to grow up for all of us.

  16. I’m sure you were sad about accidentally deleting that comment! I don’t get enough comments on my blog to accidentally delete one from an author, LOL. So far all the spam blocked really has been spam (and no way as much spam as you get, Rebecca!). However, I’ve received personal e-mail (through the contact info on my site) from two different authors thanking me for reviewing his book.

  17. Yes, I really enjoy reading the snarky ones too. And I feel like they help me make my mind up more. I know in print reviewing it’s considered polite, fair and professional to give the author the benefit of the doubt. The same rules should apply to blogs, though I feel like personality can come out in blog reviews more, and that might include little frustrations or critical comments about a book. It also helps make the reviewer’s opinion seem more robust, and more human: if they like everything, then how can I tell if their taste is like mine? I can’t read everything, you know? Though I can try.

  18. Jackie, Good idea about recommending who would like the books! I like that idea.

    J.T., I love those lists on your posts! I had no idea you had to do that yourself, by going back. Have you ever tried a plugin, like “related posts”, to make your life easier? Mine that I use is Yet Another Related Posts Plugin. It might not be as accurate at predicting, though, but it might make your lists easier to make on each post!!

    Helen, wow, that impressive that you always send a letter! Amazing! My blog isn’t as “professional” or “thorough” as the NYTimes blog would be, so I guess I believe that gives me permission to be snarky if I like (and I have no problems with that term!) but I’m finding that like others have said, I’m becoming nicer in my giving a book the benefit of the doubt since others will probably like it!

    Karlo, thanks for the nice article. It got me thinking….

    estelle, I like some of the snarky reviews. I just know I can’t do it well so I shouldn’t try! Yeah, I like how blogs become a lot more personal and real. I don’t read many/any professional reviews.

  19. Rebecca, email the author again and she will send you her comment again. If we review, we always keep “sent messages.” She will be happy to send you the comment once more.
    (I still cannot stand neologisms such as “snarky” when the English language contains so many great adjectives…I can’t imagine Shakespeare using snarky in one of his beautiful sonnets, even though his sarcasm was “top-notch.”)

    1. Helen from Hawaii, I’m actually just fine as it. My mistake, and I’ll live with it. I’m not going to beg her to come back to my site! I’m sure she has many better things to do.

      To each his own adjectives 🙂 I’ll stand by snarky. It’s a nice one.

  20. On its surface, misogyny seems to be a major construct in “The Good Earth” but the women are clever, resourceful and fiercely proud. There is no doubt that the wife is primarily responsible for the survival of her family during times of famine, and for her husband’s accumulation of wealth and status.
    Men may seem to be dominating the novel, but they couldn’t survive without the women. In all of Buck’s writing, this theme comes striding through.
    Men is this novel come across as the men in “beer commercials” come across: shallow and two-dimensional. Ahh, but the women in this book are the most memorable.

  21. Helen, I agree. I kept thinking throughout that the woman were the only strong characters. I hated Wang Lung, even though he was the nicest man. I just really wanted there to be some redemption for O-Lan and it disappointed me. I think someday I’ll read it (this time it was an audiobook) and then I may be able to focus on all the issues. There were so many!

  22. This was a terrific post, Rebecca!

    I’ve gotten comments from authors from time to time and it always thrills me (although once I got a comment on a negative review from an author I usually love to read…and that bummed me out because he singled out the ONE bad review I’ve written of his work to post a comment on!).

    My review style has changed since I began blogging because I have gotten more comfortable with reviewing. I have a couple of “mean” reviews which I now regret just a bit (I still would have given the negative review, but maybe my tone would have been kinder). I wouldn’t go back and rewrite my reviews, though…it is how I felt at the time. I don’t usually get nasty comments…one or two…and I let them stand. I don’t close comments…but if I had a person being REALLY nasty, I might block them. Typically, however, I let the comments alone…people can disagree with me if they want to, and I like to read their responses. Most of the time they are respectful!

  23. Thanks Wendy.

    I haven’t read much modern fiction, so my only author comments have been for nonfiction….but I do worry about the modern fiction authors finding me….I’m not always the eagerest of fans.

    I think I’ve become more comfortable too, so that’s why I had those mean posts last year. I too would have been a lot more kind!

    I’ve only closed comments once and I wonder if I could open it again. But really, this guy was so out of control I’m now embarrassed I didn’t block him sooner — and the track of other people’s comments in response to his ridiculous ones is all there for the world to see if I reopen comments! I’m just hoping we can all move on to some other review these days…

  24. Rebecca…you could just delete all the comments from that post…and then it really will be closed. Sorry you have had to go through this.

Comments are closed.

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