I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. Up until today I’ve posted my thoughts on the books I read and never asked for comments, although I did answer the few I would get. This however is not a post about a book; it is a post about ‘reviewing’ and what a blogger should and shouldn’t do when writing about books.
Two days ago I read a post about Bias when it comes to reviewing. In it the three participants come to the conclusion that in order to be credible, a reviewer should refrain from reviewing books written by people they are friends with. This idea pulled me up short. It is not a possible conflict of interest I’ve ever thought about, but now that it has been brought to my attention I’m left with a few questions I would dearly love an answer to. I posted my questions in a reply to the original post but don’t expect to find my answers there. After all, the post makes it perfectly clear where the author and his collaborators stand. I would like a wider perspective on this issue, which is why I am now turning to you; the people who read my thoughts on the books I read, the authors who know (of) me, and other reviewers.
I could try to summarize the original post here but am reluctant to do that. A summary would not necessarily be an honest representation of the post’s content and might easily be influenced by my personal feelings. I therefore hope you’ll have the time to read the original post before reading my questions and further thoughts below.
The original post can be found here: A Discussion on Bias.
Below is a copy of my reply:
“I read this post last night and started a long reply before deciding to sleep on it and wait to see what my thoughts and feelings would be in the morning.
Sometimes a good night’s sleep does not provide all the answers.
I’m conflicted about almost everything the three of you have said in the post. Part of me is in complete agreement while another part of me screams that things are not quite that simple.
Allow me to start with a few thoughts/questions that sprang to mind as soon as I read the post:
· Where do you draw the line? When does interacting with someone online turn into a friendship disqualifying you from reviewing their books?
· If you’re staying away from reviewing books by a certain author because you are friends with them should you then not go all the way and also shy away from cover reveals, interviews and competitions? Isn’t there a real risk that the followers of your blog would assume that you promoting a book or author also means you endorse that/their work?
· If you have reviewed and praised (a) book(s) by an author and become ‘friends’ with them at a later date, does that make those earlier reviews suspect?
· Peer reviews are as old as books are. And while authors in the past didn’t have social media to keep in touch with each other I have no doubt that a lot of them knew each other and communicated in a time appropriate way. Of course in those days the reader had no way of knowing whether or not the reviewing author personally knew the author (s)he was reviewing. Does that not mean things are more rather than less transparent these days? If someone is suspicious about any given review it’s very easy to check the relationship between reviewer and author.
· Should we not give the people who follow our blogs more credit? Provided we’re honest and consistent they’ll get to know our tastes soon enough and read the reviews accordingly.
On a personal note, I do have two blogs on which I write about books. I do this mostly on my own (I may have bullied the husband into writing a few for me). I don’t and never have referred to my posts as reviews. The headers on both blogs stipulate that I share ‘my thoughts on books’. I don’t claim to be objective, although I try to be. I write posts for every single book I read, regardless of whether or not I ‘know’ the author. I trust the people who read my posts to get this. I like to think my posts are about the book, the story, the way it is written and whether or not it worked for me and why that was the case. I never questioned what I was doing on those blogs and now I am. Should I write a lengthy disclaimer? Or should I take comfort from the fact that up till now no author or reader has complained about my posts?
Not only does a night’s sleep not bring any answers, neither does writing a way too lengthy reply.”
When I wrote those words I tried to keep in mind that I was replying to someone else’s post rather than writing my own and tried not make it any longer than I felt it needed to be. Now that restriction has been lifted I’d like to add one or two things.
Does the fact that I know and adore Celine Kiernan and hug her every time we meet mean I’m no longer able to be objective about her books? I don’t think so. However would you look at my posts of her wonderful books differently, now that you are aware that I personally know her?
Should I refrain from ever writing about a book by Andrew Nugent again just because he was kind enough to mention my blog in his chapter in ‘Down These GreenStreets’? I’ve never met or communicated with this author and as he says in his essay he knows nothing about me. Still, suspicious minds might distrust anything positive I might have to say about his books in the future.
I don’t like the idea that in order to be able to write about the books I read I should refrain from interacting with the authors who write them. Most if not all authors I interact with, I didn’t get in contact with until after I had read one or more of their books. In fact, chances are I sought them out because their stories impressed or touched me rather than read the books because I happened to ‘know’ them.
It would really help me to know how others feel about this issue. Are the participants in the original discussion right and have I been naive to have never thought about this in the past? Should I change my approach and refrain from posts about authors I personally know?
My blogs started out as a means of keeping track of what I read. I did that on paper long before I even had access to the internet. If the consensus is that my approach is wrong or, worse still, that I could potentially damage an author with my posts, I am tempted to change the settings on my blogs to private and go back to writing those thoughts just for myself again.