Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It's okay .... to agree to disagree

   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.


Roof Beam Reader said...

Great post - and I'm going to visit the referenced blog as well. I worry about this all the time - how will authors/agents/publishers who send me material, specifically, react to my reviews - which is why I NEVER accept gifts (other than the book) and why I put in my guidelines for reviewing that, if they ask me to review a book, they must accept my honest review. I, too, use a personalized review system, which I created, that allows me to be as fair as possible - even pointing out the positives in books I didn't enjoy. Still, I worry about things getting out of control - so I moderate all comments on all my posts; if I find any inflammatory, I will not approve the comment (sometimes I will even e-mail/tweet the commenter directly to explain why I would not approve it and to welcome him/her to dialogue with me, but not engage in heated arguments on my blog. It's tedious, especially when I sometimes get upwards of 50-70+ comments on one post. Still, it helps. I hate to censor comments, as I have a huge issue with censorship in general, but some people honestly just don't "get" my original intent and, even if they do, still respond/react personally affronted by my opinion of a book, which is never good when we disagree. Open dialogue, sure. Factual debate, okay. But "I hate you because you totally bashed this book that I love and I am going to hunt you down and MAKE YOU LIKE IT" - not so good, and not worth the trouble.

Book Blogs have an obligation to remain honest - there is a 50/50 respect/fear sentiment out there from publishers and agents about Book Blogs. Half the time, publishers/agents love us because we are great at networking, marketing, and spreading the word on behalf of great books; but, half the time they live in fear of us because we do tend to be honest and to share what we truly feel, and not what the big publishers or book sellers want us to share. When they go all-out on marketing the next "big hit" for the literary world, but bloggers respond negatively to advance copies - it is a scary thing because it has an impact.

I guess this is a long-winded reply. What I really just meant to say was - continue to be honest. Your blog, your opinions. As long as you are not getting paid to write positive reviews, then share your thoughts, welcome discussion, but shut down the inflammatory comments and ignorant, emotion-driven arguments. They're worthless.

Anonymous said...

I'll keep it short .. Here, here! I agree that nobody should be personally attacked for their opinions on any subject. Very interesting post ... But that's just my opinion ...

Unknown said...

WOW! That's just shocking. Well, not really I guess. I think that we should be allowed to like or to not like a book - or a post. I even have no problem with people disagreeing - I just don't want them to visit my 'house' to tell me that I'm wrong. You do not need to listen or read my viewpoints if you don't want to but there is not a good reason that anyone should have reamed her out because she expresses her viewpoints in her own 'home'... we are still in the US, right?

La Coccinelle said...

I think that, a lot of the time, people see what they want to see. They've got their blinders on, so they're not really reading and understanding the reviewer's point. In many cases, they're looking for something that they can pick at and start a fight with. And then it snowballs.

I had a drive-by snark the other day. Someone posted that they didn't think I liked any books, because I'd given a book a bad review. Never mind that in that review I'd posted a link to a book that I'd recommend instead. Never mind that there are a number of 4- and 5-star reviews on my site. (What bothered me most was that the snarker chose to remain anonymous. If you're going to criticize my blog, at least have the decency to own up to it!)

The Internet is full of people looking for a fight. When everybody starts to throw themselves into the ring for a rumble, then it's probably time to turn off the comments. Some people just aren't responsible or mature enough to be out in cyberspace without a babysitter, unfortunately.

Beth F said...

Well put. These things happen. It's often best to rise above the fray and let others fight it out among themselves.

Anonymous said...

Yikes, the internet sure has the ability to bring out the worst in us, doesn't it? especially with the ability to post anonymously.

this is one of those times that I'm kinda glad hardly anyone reads my blog.

Ashleigh Peanutpepper said...

Hi Jo!
Thanks for commenting at my book blog. :)

I love your header & your theme, and frankly, your writing. You're obviously intelligent, and I envy you of your career path.

Regarding this post - some people's children... (heh) It's perfectly awesome to disagree. And if I don't like something, I try to tactfully and kindly state that I didn't like it. See, this is the part where those of us who _write_ put ourselves out there for the world to critique or criticize, must grow a thick enough skin to accept and appreciate the criticism.

I'm envious of the whole debate debacle, too. It would be awesome if someone read my stuff and argued with me on either of my blogs. *wink*

Also, it would be super cool if I had the opportunity, when leaving this comment, to post a link back to my book review blog... which I can't with the options you've given your commenters.

That aside, I love your blog, and I'm absolutely subscribing.
*nice to meet you!*

Jen said...

Thank you, everyone, for your comments!! :)

And Miss Ash -- I'll work on the comment format. :)

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