What The World Needs Now Is A Little Less Kindness

August 4th, 2005 · No Comments
by Booksquare

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: anyone who thinks sisterhood means playing nice all the time, well, you don’t have sisters. In our (never humble) opinion playing nice in reviews does any genre a disservice. Many years ago, a consensus emerged among a group of romance reviewers, resulting in a policy that basically said “If I can’t say something nice, I won’t say anything at all. And trust me when I say I’m going to say something nice, regardless.” This lead to, as HelenKay Dimon notes:

. . .many review sites purport to be neutral but aren’t all that honest. Either that or the reviewers actually do love every single thing they read, which is hard to imagine.

Putting aside the idea that a bad review generates lots of interest (and a nasty review? Hello!), reviews are opinions. Some are, happily, more informed than others. Pretending that every book published is wonderful hurts readers and authors. If women’s fiction, including romance, is to be taken seriously, it must take itself seriously. Don’t worry about image; worry about writing better books. And critical reviews help in that process.

HelenKay and Wendy Duren started Paperback Reader to address the dearth of intelligent, critical reviews in the romance genre. They’re actually doing things like discussing plot and character. Not from the perspective of offering a quick synopsis and character sketch, but actually looking at plot and character from a critical perspective. Once you do this, many romance novels are going to be found wanting (heck, many novels of all types will be found wanting).

Yet, some still persist in insisting on playing nicey-nice, as HelenKay notes after the two, independently of one another, found a book that didn’t make the grade:

The more confusing idea was the theory that I somehow had an obligation as a fellow romance writer not to say anything bad about a romance book. Ever. To take this another step, that would mean as a writer I have to turn off my reader abilities or run the risk of hurting the genre. I could not disagree more.

Look at the number of books that come and go without a whimper. Look at the books that remain favorites, books of all genres, year after year. These are books that have strong characterization, strong plots (maybe fantastic plots, but even the “it can’t happen” is believable), strong setting, strong writing. These are books that aren’t forgotten before they hit the already-read pile.

File Under: Square Pegs