The Author Blog of Ethan E. Harris
I read a review today about one of my books, “The Gospel According to Joseph Smith: A Christian Response to Mormon Teaching.” First, I didn’t give it the title. I would have used “LDS” instead of “Mormon,” but that’s not focus of this post.
Authors do read their reviews. And I personally write a lot of reviews about products I use and on books that I read. I try to keep that in mind as I write my reviews. They are not always glamorous, but I really, truly, seriously try to inform other people about the item. Pros. Cons. Suggestions. Praises. Criticisms. And I know the people responsible for the item will read my review. It’s customer feedback and when called for, encouragement for a job well-done while trying to avoid being discouraging. Heck, they probably sweated and toiled. It’s not very nice to hit and run without giving them a review. It reflects on my integrity as a consumer.
I figure I should write to benefit that person or people, not to deflate them and their efforts. I should be telling them to keep up the good work. A negative review is what I disliked and where I think there might be room for improvement. At least that’s what I try to keep in my head as I write.
Since my book was published, I have been hammered by a few reviewers. In most instances, the argument goes like this: “I know a guy who’s a Mormon. So your book is dumb.” Not one of those negative reviews include a single argument against the propositions in my book. That’s the part that’s insulting. It’s shallow. It’s not intellectually honest.
I don’t mind being wrong. I just care if I stay wrong after it’s pointed out.
I’m not naive either. When it comes to disagreeing with someone’s religion, book reviews on that work tend to be strongly in support, dismissive or even simply extremely reactionary. There’s not normally a middle ground. For or against. The really negative ones are fun because they are never detailed enough to demonstrate the person even read the book.
One reviewer said my book was full of “lousy or juvenile arguments” in my presentation of Mormonism. It would have been helpful for me to have been provided examples of my poor argumentation. But they didn’t, so why even take the time? Is a review online like some sort of bully pulpit? Get upset, rant, post, repeat.
And yes, there are better writers than me. I apologize that my writing skills sometimes do not meet expectations. I really do. I read all sorts of books all the time and not all of them are gems. But if it’s compelling or informative, whether challenging my convictions or just carrying me along for a good ride, them I’m all in. I know what it’s like to make something for someone only to have them go, “meh.” Ouch. After all, I can lay the blame at the feet of the editors and publishers and just enjoy the book. (just kidding)
About ten years ago, I read a book review about something a friend of mine had published on a controversial religious topic. It was brutal. Not the book. The review. It attacked him for hating those he disagreed with. Ouch. Straw men are easy to burn. It’s tough to know how to respond to literary retaliation.
Proclamation: I henceforth agree that I should only write a review after sleeping at least eight hours after reading the book or using the product. I also agree that I won’t post a review simply out of disagreement. I promise to avoid writing reviews to “get back” at the maker of a product. I also promise to write a review with the focus of improving the item, if for some reason I didn’t care for it.
And perhaps it will pay forward. (Whew. I feel better now)