I don’t usually stray too much from my usual reviews and memes, but I’ve been reading something recently which has me really want to write this. One of the blogs I follow, Jawas Read Too, recently had something happen which I found pretty thought-provoking. Erika consistently posts what I feel are well-written reviews of books. Sometimes, I admit that after I read one of her reviews, I might feel that a book might not sound like an interesting read (for me, personally). This isn’t necessarily because she gives a bad review --- it’s usually because the book just doesn’t sound like my cup of tea. However, I consistently find that her reviews are fair and balanced (which is why I read her blog).
The other day, however, something happened on her blog. She had posted a review of a new book, The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith. In her post, she mentioned that “I made a list of words to describe how I felt when reading The Marbury Lens: uncomfortable, disturbed, ill, unsettled, offended. It was a difficult book to read and this has been a difficult review to write because I don’t think this book was necessarily bad. The jacket copy mentions a pair of glasses and a different world, an English girl, and war-torn Marbury. All of these are included, but there is so much that fills the spaces between that still haunt me now, days after finishing, and not in a good way.” She went on to describe how she really didn’t care for how one of the characters chose to express himself, and found that because of her dislike, the books just wasn’t that enjoyable of a read for her. Now this would seem like a pretty harmless thing to say, right? Well, one of the statements Erika made about this particular character, was that he used a lot of what seemed to be very homophobic phrases -- She didn’t say the character was homophobic, but that the phrases he used, and his attitude towards the phrases (which the character used jokingly), and thus, the way he chose to express himself, made her uncomfortable. She mentioned in her review that because she had read an ARC of this book and that she would refrain from including direct quotes from the book to support how she felt about this character. This isn’t unusual; many ARCs have a request for reviewers to not quote directly, as the ARC is not a finished product. But --please note here: she stated that it was this character, and this character’s behavior that she found repugnant. This will become more important in a moment.
She concluded her review with this statement: “There is no question that Smith has written a book that will stand out among its contemporaries. It was just not the best fit for me.” And then, things started to happen in the comments section..... Some people started to accuse Erika of writing a review that implied that the author of this book was homophobic. One person stated right out that Andrew Smith is pro-gay, and for Erika to get her facts straight. And then it got more heated. Another author started to post comments, challenging Erika’s assertions in her post, and saying that unless Erika had evidence that a writer is “gay-bashing,” that she should avoid the insinuation. To which, Erika responded that she went back and re-read what she had written, and while she understood that perhaps she had not worded things clearly, she saw “a person uncomfortable with a character, not the author.”
You would think this would stop the comments. But it didn’t. People started to snip at each other, snip at Erika, and really took everything in a nasty direction. It seemed like rather than read a post or comment, digest, and then comment, people were just reacting. I had posted my own comment initially about the fact that I had ordered this book for our library, and was crossing my fingers that readers would like the book. Someone else read my comment and reacted by saying that Erika’s review was making me question my choice in ordering the book --- which made me re-post another comment, clarifying my position that I did not regret ordering the book and rather, just hoped that people would check it out and enjoy it. I was a little concerned that my own comment had been misinterpreted --- so imagine how Erika has felt about her entire post.
What I wanted to write about was how in this instance, it seemed like people went quickly from discussion to just attacking each other. One person would accuse another of attacking, and then that person would react by stating that they were not attacking, but merely disagreeing. Does that really help?? Is this just a matter of semantics? Personally, I think it’s all in the tone. When we speak to each other face to face (or even on the phone), we react to tone, and body language. Communicating via written word only takes that out of the equation, making us rely on language alone --- and somehow, things can just get misunderstood. You’d think it would be easier, almost --- but words can convey feelings, whether it’s being angry, or being hurt (or anything else). In this particular situation, on this blog, the comments became somewhat ugly, and it seemed like the discussion veered completely off the topic of the book, and became more of an opportunity for people to needle each other. Which was disappointing.
I suppose what I’m getting at here, after all of this, is to say this: It’s okay to agree to disagree. We all have opinions, and I admit I am completely passionate about some of my opinions. However, this doesn’t mean that I don’t feel that it’s okay for other people to have their own opinions, which may not be along the lines of my own opinion. I’m no stranger to an argument (and enjoy an occasional friendly sparring)--- but what I try to remind myself (and sometimes, it can be difficult if I’m really at odds with what someone’s saying), is that it’s okay for us to disagree. I can disagree with how my friend feels about a book, or a movie, or even an elected official, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t like that friend anymore. I can be a big enough person to say, “You know what, it seems like we just don’t see eye to eye on this. Let’s agree to disagree, okay?” -- and then I try to change the subject. And I know what you’re thinking: this doesn’t always work. No, it doesn’t. There are some people that I disagree with on too many things, and I find I just avoid their company. However, I try to make the effort. I was reminded of this when I read the comments, and they just kept coming. It seemed like people couldn’t agree to disagree and just leave it at that. Erika did her best to respond to comments, clarifying what she had written, even to the point of going back into her original post and editing it to make her feelings very clear. Did it help? Not really -- because it seemed like people commenting were preferring to continue to spar with each other. Finally, she turned off the comments completely. Snuffed it.
Her post remains, along with the comments, if you’d like to read them. What I’d like anyone reading, is think about this: It’s okay to disagree with someone. It’s okay to say that you disagree. But it’s not really cool to disagree with someone’s opinion, and then get in their face about the fact that they have that opinion. I mean --- I post reviews on this blog. Sometimes, I’m not wild about a book. However, I know that for each book that doesn’t resonate with me, that there are other readers who feel that the book is amazing. And that’s okay. I’ll go so far as to say that it’s more than okay -- it’s a good thing. It’s what keeps books around, and what keeps people reading. And I don’t mind if someone says in a comment that they love a book that I didn’t really like. Hey, that’s cool --- maybe that person found something in the book I just didn’t find the first time around, and it might make me take a second look. What wouldn’t be cool is if that person commented that they loved the book, and I’m an idiot (or whatever -- pick your own term here) because I didn’t like it. Just because I don’t like zucchini doesn’t mean that I berate other people who like to eat it. Or try to eradicate it from everyone’s gardens. I just don’t eat it.
Just putting these thoughts out there. Maybe it's because it's almost Thanksgiving, and I'm just happy to be here -- and would love it if we could all just get along.