10.23.2014

BOOK THOUGHTS ON THURSDAY | REMEMBERING WHY I LOVE THE BOOKISH INTERWEBS


The world of books is never boring. There are movies being made based on our favourite stories, raging debates over the relative merit of books and series, book-related events and a never-ending plethora of bookish topics I just like thinking (and talking) about.

While I absolutely adore my regular link-ups and have no intention of giving them up, I do feel like this blog could use a bit of shaking up - and a bit more in-depth discussion. To that end, I'm adding a new weekly feature - Book Thoughts on Thursday.

Starting now, every week I'll discuss a different topic related to books, often inspired by or in response to what's going on in the online book community (or something I've seen another blogger talk about - I'm looking at you, Karen!). Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, or even write your own post on the topic and share the link with me! 

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Everywhere I look this week I'm seeing talk of the author who took an online altercation with a book blogger offline*. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, you can find an account here, the blogger's Goodreads comments here, and the original article here [this link isn't direct - it will allow you to read the article without generating any page hits for it].)

Though I have plenty of opinions, I'm actually not here to share them. Everything I'd say on the topic has already been said (and said better than I could - see links at the end of this post), and I think the best thing at this point is to let the issue die down and give everyone some space to regain their cool. But I think there are some important underlying issues to consider in the meantime.

I know the situation has many book bloggers re-considering their online presence - some are removing personal information or making accounts private, others are now nervous about expressing a less than favourable opinion about a book (something I've never been very comfortable with, but am now even more nervous to do), and there are even some who are giving up book blogging altogether.

As for me, I worry that this will change dynamics - between bloggers and authors, between bloggers and publishers, and even between bloggers and the books they read. We've been lucky to enjoy a relatively pleasant online community. I say this knowing there have been issues - but for the most part, book bloggers are friendly folk. We'll chat with anyone on Twitter, reply to comments on our blogs, tag one another in fun posts and generally share a childish enthusiasm about everything to do with the world of books.

This sense of instant belonging that book bloggers have fostered never ceases to amaze me.

And there are plenty of authors who have joined in on the fun - many have a significant Twitter presence, will respond to their fans and even take the time to accommodate interviews and participate in blogger events. This ability to reach out to the people who created our beloved fictional worlds is one of the biggest benefits of the internet. When I was a kid, I never dreamed of a time when I would be able to Tweet an author like Matthew Quick or Rita Leganski or Maggie Stiefvater and get a response. It's a heady feeling, to talk to someone you hold in as high regard as we hold a favourite author.

So from my point of view, this little corner of the internet is pretty magical.

Which is why I (along with many other bloggers and authors) am feeling so personally affected by recent events. This is, quite literally, my happy place. And while this situation has prompted me to ask myself some pretty important questions about online security and re-assess some of the information I share and who I share it with, I am more concerned about losing the feeling of trust and belonging I have found through book blogging.

All my thinking keeps leading me back to one central question: How do we get back to the happy, welcoming online family we previously enjoyed?

I don't think there's one simple answer, but I have found my own starting point: Stopping once in a while to make sure I'm not saying anything online that I wouldn't say in person, and that I'm being respectful. It's all too easy (as I know from personal experience) to lose sight of the fact that the disembodied words on the computer screen are actually coming from a real, live person. Not only that, but because online interaction is devoid of the subtleties of tone, facial expression and body language, and because we don't actually know many of the people we interact with, it's so very easy to misconstrue someone's meaning or take something personally that isn't meant that way.

It's also easy to forget that, for all the celebrity status we assign to authors we revere (and I'm far more star-struck by Neil Gaiman and Rainbow Rowell than any Hollywood celeb), they're just people too. Incredibly talented, eloquent and brilliant people, but people nonetheless.
 
Given some time, I know that we'll be able to bounce back and regain the sense of trust and openness that I've come to associate with the online book community. For my part, while I'll be much more careful about what information I share online, I'm not going to let this incident keep me from the amazing community I've found here. Safety is important, but so is finding a group of people, whether online or in person, to share my bookish enthusiasm with!

To finish, I'd like to ask you all - what has your reaction been to this fiasco? Do you feel less safe online? Will this change how you interact online or make you think twice about sharing negative feedback on books or requesting review copies of books? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!

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Further reading:
*Please note that I've removed the names of both the author and blogger from my post. This is because I don't want to get drawn into the nastiness if at all possible and because this post wasn't really about them.

4 comments :

  1. I've been following this scandal as well, and have been really reflecting about the purpose of book reviews. Kathleen Hale wrote [paraphrasing here] that writing is one industry where aspirants can critique the pros. But that's not at all what book reviews are here for, at least in most cases. I'm not an author (though I am by profession an editor); my reviews are purely from a consumer's standpoint. I write my opinions, and I'm clear about that. At the same time, I try to always be honest and, as you rightly pointed out, NEVER say something I wouldn't say in person. I'm very aware that although authors are not my intended audience, they are often my readers just the same and I want to be sensitive to their feelings. This whole scenario was a case of poor digital citizenship on both sides—the blogger's, but especially the author's.

    Really enjoyed reading your reflection! Great post!

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    Replies
    1. I think reviewing books is important because there are so many out there. Even if we're lucky enough to have readers in our lives to talk about them with, the chance that we'll not only have the same taste in books as our friends, but that we’ll be reading the same books in close enough proximity to properly discuss them, is miniscule. Sharing our thoughts on books - both the positive and (if done respectfully) the negative - on sites like Goodreads and our own blogs is how we engage in conversation and figure out what to read next. It's invaluable - because there's no way I'm going to be able to read all the books out there, and reading others' perspectives can get me jazzed about books I otherwise never would have even heard of! Some of my all-time faves I had recommended to me on Twitter or saw my Goodreads friends reading.

      I think Veronica Roth's post (linked above) really summed it up beautifully. She pointed out that when we review a new Apple product, we're not reviewing or attacking Jonathan Ive, because the designer and the product are not the same thing. Of course books are arguably more personal, so I tend to feel they deserve a bit more delicacy and consideration than a new phone. But the point still stands.

      Like I said in the post, I really have no way of knowing the details, but from what I know, I think this situation was unfortunate and likely involved some bad decisions and misunderstandings on both sides. The silver lining is that I think we’ll all be more thoughtful and careful from now on, and I assume publishers/publicists will take more care in helping their authors navigate a very complex online dynamic.

      Thanks for stopping by and for taking the time to comment! :)

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  2. I think you hit the nail on the head with the word "respect". If all parties involved just respect each other and the other's work, we will be fine.

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