The book blogosphere (particularly the children's literature and young adult corner, but truthfully, "all" book bloggers) received some attention from the Huffington Post in Sarah McCarry's provocatively titled post, Faking Nice in the Blogosphere: Women and Book Reviews.
Why respond? Because you and I know how much is inaccurate. But most of the readers of Huffington Post? Of that article? Don't know it. They will read it. And when you are at a family gathering, or a job interview, or some other circumstance, and say you are a book blogger, that person across from you will hide their smile as they think "ah, yes. I read about you. You write fake nice things online because you're a woman."
Let's move on.
Some basics, first.
Perhaps the most basic.
What is a "book blog"? A blog is an easy way for a person with limited or no coding or other technology skills to create a website. Posts are created by the blogger and published on the blog, with the most recent post at the top of the blog.
A "book blog" is a blog about books. "About books" can include anything that is about books -- discussions, reviews, critical responses, personal reactions, interviews, contests, press releases, publishing news, etc. Some blogs are not "exclusive"; a book blogger may also blog about family, recipes, crafts, movies, camping trips.
Yes, you know all this.
McCarry either does not know it or does not care. McCarry only wants to read critical approaches to books and, rather than looking for the journals, magazines, websites and blogs that do so, wants all blogs to write what she wants to read.
But it's not enough that a blogger doesn't take the approach she, McCarry, wants you to! If you don't take this approach you are not only doing it wrong -- you're being "fake." And we all know what fake is -- not real. Not authentic.
Just so you understand: GalleySmith not liking Incarceron? Keeping it real. My including Incarceron in my favorite books read in 2010? Fake nice.
McCarry talks about "apologism," when those who dare criticize a book are attacked for being mean to the author. This, like every other line in her essay, is unsupported by links to posts. No, really. When I first began reading Faking Nice in the Blogosphere I had this image of a book blogger Deep Throat, giving McCarry evidence of scores of bloggers who had admitted to saying they liked books they did not. Would it be Direct Messages? Forwarded emails? What was the proof?
There is no proof. Just McCarry throwing out that any review that likes a book is suspect.
So, the people who are attacked for a critical (or, some say, "negative") review. I'll be honest; I'm not going to link, either, but I've seen comments where people disagree with book reviewers. And sometimes it gets testy. How can you not like a book I loved! How can you not like the characters I loved! And yes, I've seen "think of the author."*
Now, here is the twisty logic of McCarry: a book author should be able to withstand any critique of their book, while book bloggers cannot. In point of fact, book bloggers so fear the "don't be mean to an author" comments that they avoid any negative or critical writing, thus becoming part of an inauthentic "cult of niceness**And the reason behind this "cult of niceness," that will bully a blogger into telling lies about the books they read and review? Women.
No, really. Women bloggers, writing about women authors, for women readers (because, apparently, young adult books are all about the women), all demand "niceness." This, of course, is because of misogyny, resulting in women holding other women to a lesser standard.
McCarry believes this "fake nice women bloggers" is true of "book blogging in general." Not some blogs; no, it's all book blogs, all of us.
The problem with McCarry's arguments (other than that they are unsupported by any facts and force all bloggers into the role of critic, whether it's a role they want or not) is that not "all" book blogs are part of this "cult of niceness." And, even if such a cult exists -- there are reasons for it beyond a person's gender. It can be personal preference. It can be professional -- there are many reasons why an author may be careful about what they blog or may be sensitive about how criticism is done. It can be because some bloggers see their role as "promotional" for books and authors, so keep their language promotional (aka "nice.") It can be that life's too short to blog bad books. Wow, I've already listed four reasons for such a "cult" that have nothing to do with my reproductive organs.
So why bring gender into this? Bad enough that McCarry uses both sweeping language and offers unsupported statements; she then has to bring gender politics into the equation. And not just any type of gender politics -- the type that attempts to shame women into a particular action. Here, to get women to say "wow, I owe it to my sex to write negative reviews."
In other words, McCarry accuses women of being mean girls bullying bloggers to only write nice by being a mean girl and bullying bloggers into the role of critic.
It would have been easy to ignore McCarry; to not give attention to something that says from it's title "LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME." But the bullying? Cannot be ignored.
So, bloggers. Book bloggers. Continue to be true to yourself. Continue to be authentic. How you write about books may change over time -- you may be influenced by how others blog or don't blog. You may start reading more critics and want to change your style. You may want to take a more informal, conversational approach. All good, as long as they are your choice, not something someone else tells you is the One True Way To Blog.
* There are two times a blogger should "think of the author" when reviewing books. First, write about the book, not the author. "The author sucks" is hardly the critical discourse McCarry hopes to achieve. Second, when you meet the author in person, it is never cool to say "your books suck." That is just manners.
**I'm not going to get into the ins and outs of discussion and disagreement, but we readers, whether as bloggers or in person, should be able to have intellegent and passionate discussion about books without getting personal. Disagree with another reviewer; but don't shut them down. And if someone disagrees with you? Not everyone will agree with everything you write. Don't write to have cheerleaders say "ZOMG I totally agree," whether your post is positive, negative, or critical.
Edited to Add: Get Back, Loretta has a terrific take on the Fake Nice article, especially about the role of bloggers.
Angela's take. Obviously, I disagree with what she says about women. But I agree with what she says about authors and reviews.
If there are other responses to add, let me know & I'll keep editing this and adding.
And: Faking Nice and the Allure of the Mean Friend at Wendy on the Web
And Robin McKinley defends Pollyanna reviewing. My comment: if you have actually read the book Pollyanna, you realize Pollyanna isn't a bad, naive, or ignorant state of mind. As a lover of the book, I find the term often misused. Anyway, I agree with McKinley that "For those of us who are just readers, who are not trying to be critics: let’s not give bad books the space for a trashing. Let’s not waste the space. There are lots and lots and lots of books out there—thousands upon thousands published new every year‡‡‡. This seems to me quite a powerful argument for niceness: I only want to spend time talking about books that I want to see survive." Agree or disagree with McKinley, but note that this is a valid argument for "niceness" in the blogosphere which says "nice" isnt' a four letter word and which offers a reason for it other than sisterhood. And the reason I am squeeing like a fangirl is not because McKinley, a woman, linked to me but because McKinley, an author I love, linked to me. And because much of my own philosophy of what I do on this blog, that has evolved over time and continues to change and grow, is what McKinley explains in her post.
Becky at Becky's Book Reviews also posts about the article and I love her "Bloggers Against Blanket Statements Club."
Melissa at Book Nut has a different take, about personal opinions and how to discuss things when we disagree. I've said before that law school taught me how to be a public speaker; I'll add it also taught me how to discuss and disagree and remain friends by not making it personal.
And more blogs post about this:
Mel's Books and Info. What is "too nice"
Sarah Darer Littman with an author's point of view
deCompose applies the post to Christian fiction and the the Christian book blogosphere and reviewers and discusses the assertion that "The lens of gender “taints” our writing, reading, and reviewing, and may even lead to subtle forms of discrimination".
librarified applies the post to the public library field
renay takes on the YA Cult of Nice. and eek, quotes my Twitter. It's kind of like hearing your own voice: that's how I sound? Renay agrees with much of the Huff Po post and links to reviews. Please note -- I believe the Internets is a diverse place with good, bad, and ugly. Having started online in fandom, I've also seen how the quasi-anonymous, not in person nature of an online group can bring out the nasty. And I firmly, one hundred percent believe we can disagree without being personal (ie "you like/don't like that book? well then you're stoopid and ugly cause it and its author sux/ is made of awesomesauce" or does nothing but make the person saying that comment feel good.) And, frankly, if any blogger only wants "ZOMG I totally agree" responses, it will be boring -- but it means that, absent true trolls, the blogger has to be as thick skinned as an author and put up with their own posts being critiqued/ reacted to negatively.
What I disagree with for the HuffPo post is her blanket assertions and concluding it's all because bloggers are women. I mean, has McCarry seen what goes on in other parts of the blogosphere? In my humble opinion, if there is going to be a discussion about what Renay talks about, it cannot begin and end with "...and you do it because you're a girl" because a, I don't agree, and b, it shuts down discussion because there isn't much I can do about being a girl other than thinking "now I have to be more like a man to do it right."
And for what it's worth, I use the term "rants" when I shouldn't always, including for my own posts. I'm slowly shifting away from it.
If I've missed a post, let me know & I'll link.
Well, that happened. Damned if you do, damned if you don't, damned whatever you do. See Friday Fakers.
and wait, there's more!
Fizzwhizzing Flushbunker. Yes, that is really a blog name! FF lists reasons other than gender for online blog culture, as well as looking at gender as it relates to blogging, just not doing it in a "girls do it wrong" type of way. Tho she's a former legislative advocate, so, like me, believes in discussion. As I do. Given how she writes, I'd add, even tho she doesn't say so, believes in passionately discussing things that one cares about without getting personal. Which I call having a great discussion, but, sadly, others call "being nice" as if nice were a four letter word. Oh well!
And Youth Services addresses the question of Gender In YA.
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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy