Don’t Be Honest? Don’t Criticize? Be Careful. Be Afraid.

The most hated I’ve ever been over a Huffington Post piece was after I wrote an op-ed blog entry for the HuffPo last summer.  My essay was called “Reading Great Writer’s Worst Books,” and people hated me for it.  I got emails, a few comments, and a lot of negativity.  The general idea was, “Who are you to criticize?  What have you done?”

And I hate that mentality for so many reasons.  Yes, any book is an accomplishment.  Writing, revising, selling, editing, and printing a book is a lot of work, and therefore all authors should be commended.  But…

Not all books are equal.  And not all books by a single author are equal.  Does each author not have a worst book?  If I write thirty books in my career, one of them has to be the worst.  And if I write thirty books, won’t one of them be pretty bad.  Considering chaos theory and statistical probability, isn’t it likely that one of my books will be an amalgam of all my writing weaknesses?

Also, I want readers to criticize.  I want them to question, critique, praise, revere, and revile my books.  I want them to react.  I want my books to evoke emotion.  Good or bad.  I don’t want a reading crowd full of fearful 1938-in-Germany propaganda readers.  I want human reactions to a human endeavor.

To see a better piece written on this topic, check out Ben Leroy’s (Tyrus Books Publisher’s) blog entry for Hey Dead Guy:

“Ramblings from Surly Old Bastard – The Early Holidays Edition.”


4 thoughts on “Don’t Be Honest? Don’t Criticize? Be Careful. Be Afraid.

  1. I am always amazed at the argument that a person can’t criticize the work of someone else, unless the critical party has surpassed their target in terms of accomplishments or resume. A lesser known or even unpublished author can’t criticize a classic book? Really? That seems very strange to me. Even if you don’t criticize the book as an “author” you should be able to evaluate it as a “consumer”. I don’t need to be a published author to say I didn’t think Lord of the Rings was a great book (or movie). I’m not saying I’m a better writer than J.R.R. Just that I don’t appreciate that piece of his work.

    Do we really want to live in a world where only writers better than J.R.R. can criticize his work? “Paging C.S. Lewis, Homer, Dante and Mark Twain. We need you to render an opinion on Tolkien’s latest work. None of the rest of us are permitted.” Ugh!

    I had a business dinner a few nights ago at this very nice steakhouse in San Francisco. At the end of an incredible meal, they brought out my molten chocolate cake dessert. Except, the chef had forgotten the molten part. I guess, since I am not as good as a chef as the one that prepared my meal, I cannot criticize my non-molten molten cake. OK. Got it. Thanks.


    • So many good points. Exactly. Also, many of the best book reviewers aren’t authors, never wrote any books, yet the New York Times feels that reading carefully, making brilliant comparisons, understanding context, and analyzing critically are the keys to insightful reviews. Should we not allow good readers to emulate these reviewers? But if I had to draw a line, I’d say I strongly dislike the Amazon reviews that say things like, “I read the first few pages and this book is not worth it.” That’s just laziness.


  2. I read the linked HuffPo article and comments and, honestly, it didn’t look like you got hit that badly. I only counted two real snipes: the predictable “what have YOU done?” shot and then the nitwit who was hyperventilating because you misspelled Toni Morrison. Your reply was way too polite–you should have fun with people like that. I would have said, “Well, however she spells her name she’ll never hold a candle to her brother Jim,” or something like that.

    As a Fred Exely fan–we consider the clunkiness of his post-Fans Notes books a testament to its greatness–this mentality really boggles, and I’ve seen it up close. A while back I wrote an unfavorable essay on García Márquez’ La Mala Hora, a book I’m guessing many of his fans don’t even know exists. Well, never mind that the author himself reportedly wishes the book would disappear, a writing acquaintance got so tweaked by my opinions that he hasn’t spoken to me since. All because I had the nerve to suggest that GM is capable of turning water into something less than wine.

    So, yeah, these people are out there. I wouldn’t bother worrying about them; be happy you give them a hobby.


    • You’re probably right. Or maybe I need to be more thug-life: “Kid, you don’t know me. Don’t try to play me like that. See what happens, son.”


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