Fair Warning: Unpopular Opinions Incoming!
I’ve been debating writing this post for quite some time now. I’ve titled it “Unpopular Opinions” for a reason. I’m fully expecting this to spark a bit of discussion and yes, disagreements, but given that we’re all civilized people with strong opinions that are all worthy of merit, I felt more and more compelled to share my thoughts.
I wanted to talk today about the state of Goodreads; in particular a disturbing trend I’ve been witnessing of people maliciously rating books before they’ve actually read them.
For the record, I also take issue with people rating upcoming books that they’re looking forward to 5 stars before the book has even been published, but that’s really not what I want to focus on here. Yes, that equally skews the ratings of any book, but I think it’s more pressing that we talk about the more negative trend.
In some ways, it was easier being a member of Goodreads before my reviews started getting somewhat popular there, because I didn’t notice this type of thing as much. When I had my intimate bubble of a couple dozen something friends, it was easy to miss that certain books were generating controversy within the community at large. Now that I have considerably more friends than a couple dozen and am quite active in the reading community it is impossible to miss.
It seems that every month or so there’s another new book that the community is hating on and maliciously demolishing its average score. In recent months I can remember these in particular taking a lot of heat:
- Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth
- All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater
- The Black Witch by Laurie Forest
- and by extension now, Zenith by Sasha Alsberg and Linsay Cummings.
While I could talk at length on all of them, it’s really the latter 2 on the list that I wanted to focus on here.
The Black Witch currently sits at a 2.08% on Goodreads, with 473 reviews and 1,123 ratings. If you look through the majority of those one-star reviews, you’ll see similar statements: (these are actual reviews I’m copy and pasting)
“I have no interest in reading this after whatI’ve read about it.”
“Look no I haven’t read it, but I am done with bullshit weirdly racist white savior books. Fantasy as a genre needs to fucking step up, and not use white as their go to race. Apparently the author made the MC refer to a group of people as “half-breeds”. I’m like really not ok w racially offensive language in fantasy books under the guise that it is a “made up race” and “the MC doesn’t know better”. If you want to write a racist MC make it blatant to the reader that they are a bad person, that they are a bad person even after they learn that their race isn’t “pure”. Fuck this book.”
And so on, and so forth. I think you get the idea.
This book first came under fire when Shauna @ Bookstore Babe and Cait, a very influential Goodreads reviewer with thousands of followers posted separate reviews about this book potentially promoting racism. I’ve linked to book of their reviews, (just click on their names) if you’ve not seen them and would like the opportunity to read them for yourselves.
I take no issue with their particular behavior because they’re just voicing opinions that are perfectly okay for them to have. They both allege to have read the entire book before rating, and if that’s how they felt after reading the book, then that’s totally fair. I take zero issue with their rating choices, nor do I take issue with their complaints as I have yet to read the book for myself.
Who knows? I may end up totally agreeing with them. But I won’t be rating the book before I read it in an attempt to bring the author down.
It is my opinion that these rating vendettas that seem to embroil the Goodreads community once a month or so are what is unfair.
We as a community of readers should be better than engaging in a hive-mind mentality that unfairly contributes to the destruction of people’s careers and livelihoods just because we heard that there might be ideas present in a book that we don’t care for.
If you check out the reviews for Zenith by Sasha Alsberg, you’ll see exactly what I mean. Zenith currently sits at a 2.83% on Goodreads, with 11 reviews and 42 ratings. This book publishes in August of this year, by the way.
People actually looked into the publishing company for The Black Witch (Harlequin Teen) as well as the editor of this book, and began witchhunting for other books that they were involved in! Here are some of the one-star reviews:
“So from the editor Lauren Smulski that brought us the Continent and the Blackwitch… *nervously grimaces*… Alright then. I’m suprised Harlequin Teen is not watching this editor like a hawk after all the racist books she’s helped publish.”
From Lauren Smulski – the same editor of that racist morass of irrationality that was The Black Witch and The Continent. Yeah, I think I’ll pass thanks.
It’s this kind of thing that I have a problem with. It’s irrational behavior, first of all. And secondly it is potentially harmful towards numerous people you don’t even know.
Ben Alderson, a huge Booktube reviewer, and future published author himself, originally gave The Black Witch a rating of 4 stars on Goodreads only to delete his rating entirely and admonish the publishing industry at large when he realized that people were hating on the book. He writes:
“I have removed my review… [Links to Shauna’s review] Having thought about this and read Shauna’s points… I can see that I have been completely wrong… The publishing system needs to change.”
You’re telling me that you are reneging on a book that you originally loved and promoted to your fans, and now you’re calling for the entire publishing industry to be changed for allowing this book to be published?
Lets be real here: Ben saw his brand image in danger here and made the conscious decision to throw this debut author and the entire publishing industry under the bus in order to save face. And it just feeds the flames of his followers to go do the same thing.
I’m not okay with any of that. If I rate a book a 1 star, it’s going to be because I took the time to read it and loathed it myself, not because someone else told me that it was potentially problematic.
This doesn’t even begin to cover the fact that I think both of these reviews fail to consider the fact that The Black Witch is set in a fantasy world and thus within another culture than our own. There’s a whole separate discussion about the censorship of ideas that I think we could delve into – perhaps within another post because I’ve already rattled on for long enough here. I’m just saying, no one goes around and calls George R.R. Martin a murderer because he kills off a handful of characters in every new book he puts out. It is unfair to label an author racist simply because they’ve written a fantasy novel revolving around the theme of overcoming racist beliefs.
So this brings me to a little story I wanted to end on.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic lately. It’s kind of been ruminating at the back of my mind. As a hobby-writer myself, I would hate to put a debut novel out there into the world and have an army of people on Goodreads slay it without even having read it. I felt very badly for Laurie Forest and these other targeted authors. It’s always been my intention to read these books and make up my own mind about them.
I took a day-trip an hour out of town today to buy a new pair of glasses (because the choices in my town just don’t cut it!) and on the way home I decided to stop at a large bookstore in the city. They often have books I can’t get unless I order them, so I wanted to check out their stock.
Long story short – Laurie Forest, the author of The Black Witch, happened to be there – at a bookstore I rarely visit but decided to today – signing copies of her book. I took it as a sign, waited, introduced myself to Laurie and bought an autographed copy.
I’ve worked it out with a friend on Goodreads who was just as eager to see what this book was all about for herself, and we will be buddy-reading it together later this month! I’m very excited to see what I make of it for myself.
Please note: If I offended you at all with this post, I am deeply sorry. It’s not my intention to shame any of my friends who may have rated this book one star. I hope you forgive me for my strong opinions. I think these sort of tough conversations are healthy for the community as a whole. We readers are thoughtful, intelligent people and I think we can handle frank discussions like this from time to time.
How do you feel about rating a book without having read it? Do you agree, or disagree? Lets chat about it below! I’m interested in hearing all manner of opinions.