We're All Mean Girls Now

Please forgive me for beginning this otherwise sane post with an OT minirant:

One of the blog to which I subscribe has signed up for the “Mean Girl Cleanse”. To see what this is all about, click here and watch the video, but only if you don’t mind being irritated out of your freaking mind. The basic idea of the Mean Girl Cleanse is not, alas, furtively pouring laxative in the nonfat latte of your favorite nemesis, but rather, getting rid of your inner mean girl, that little voice that tells you bad things about yourself which, as we all know, are just not true.

Yes, sisters. It is you who are oppressing yourselves. Forget what we know about interlocking historic systems of oppression. Forget, also, what we know about all of the psychological biases which make it far more likely that your self-image is more positive than it has any right to be. Forget, finally, that the long held conventional wisdom on the importance of self-esteem and its contribution to happiness or productivity has been largely debunked. Forget worrying about your neighbors, your community, or your planet. Forget getting out of yourself and actually lifting a finger to help someone in need. All of these are just fodder for the real good, your own positive self-image. With a few cute cartoon icons and a bevy of smiling, Botoxed, veneered and curiously uncredentialed “experts”, you, too, can “feel SO much better… about YOU!”.

Oops!  You thought I was going to talk about Romanceland “mean girls”? Actually, I am. When I clicked on the above-described post, I thought the topic was the romance community. “Gosh”, I thought, “I haven’t seen the term ‘mean girls’ in ages!”*

[*I wrote that line a week ago, i.e. before today. When I did see it. *sigh*. ]

After thinking about it for a while, I’ve come to the conclusion while there once may have been a division between review blogs that posted snarky reviews (I am thinking of Mrs. Giggles and Smart Bitches) and those that didn’t, I no longer see that division (if it ever existed). And here’s some evidence:

At All About Romance, here’s some snark in Rike’s F review of My Unfair Lady

At around page 250, obviously because the publisher demanded another 100 pages of text, Summer develops Issues and both she and Byron prove they took Psychology 101 at college by analyzing themselves, each other and their relationship in a way that would make Sigmund Freud proud.

Or this one of Beauty’s Cruse at AAR by reviewer Jean:

But the book didn’t actually fail until the halfway point, which is when the accumulated writing travesties began to take their toll. The head-hopping. The clumsy syntax. The misnomers. And dear God, the vocabulary. It should be mandated in Medieval 101 that you can’t get instant Medieval just by inserting “nay” and “for certes” ad nauseum amongst the 21st century nouns and verbs – it doesn’t work that way. It especially doesn’t work that way when, at one point, your heroine snorts and says, “Woot, woot.”

Or this one, of Moonlight Protector:

To be blunt, Moonlight Protector reads like the creative writing effort of an earnest thirteen year old.

From The Romance Review, a review of The Taming of Lord Astor

When Tilly and Lord Astor are barely acquainted, she asks, “Have you ever hit a woman?” His response so pleases her, she continues on the walk whistling and almost skipping. Lord Astor thinks she’s intriguing. The poor guy must be suffering from delusion.

If I hadn’t been reading The Taming of Lord Astor in order to review it, I would have abandoned it by page 25. It could be an object lesson in when good romance traditions go bad.

At TGTBTU the end of this D- Anita Blake review there’s this killer comment by Liviana:

But I kind of want to thank LKH for having Anita rape a sixteen year old. I can finally give this series up.

And Liviana is mad again (and who can blame her?) about how rape is depicted in this DNF review of a book called Soul Catcher:

Yeah Livia. It was your own damn fault you got raped. … Because, you know, not being able to defend yourself against rape means you wanted to get raped. It means you deserved it.

Book. Wall. (Followed soon after by the trash can, is my recommendation.)

Also at TGTBTU, here’s a very funny snarky review from author Lynne Connelly of The Innocent’s Dark Seduction:

We have a magic vajayjay in this book and I haven’t come across one of those in a while. One experience with Lia and all Roarke’s other women melt away as if they never existed. He can’t do without it. He craves it. He just wishes the woman didn’t go with it. And however badly he treats her, she can’t do without his purple-headed mushroom of passion, or his kisses, which are dynamite. She falls madly for him and the worse he behaves, the more besotted she gets. We don’t have enough of those women in romance. Once there were oodles of them, but not now. If you miss them, this is the book for you.

Snark at Dear Author in a Shuzluva review of Shayla Black’s Delicious:

It took me quite a while to get through this book, not because there were big words or complicated plot twists, but because I had to keep collecting my jaw from the ground and re-reading to make sure I’d read what I thought I had. I laughed…I cried…I nearly barfed. I can’t say it was better than CATS, but that’s probably because none of the characters were weres.

Dear Author’s Jane on The Gingerbread Tryst:

What is there to say other than there are things seen that cannot be unseen and this story is one of those things that is burned into my brain, destroying my fond memories of gingerbread cookies, red hots and cinnamon sticks. It’s an F for romance and sexiness but probably an A in destroying my childhood innocence. Bravo.

From the Book Binge — here’s a guest review of Carnal Ecstasy

I very much wanted to like this novella, and there were some good parts, but it left me feeling kind of dirty. Like a pool cue touched by who knows how many people and not washed before it’s inserted into a body cavity dirty. Maybe it’s just me, but that seems unsanitary.

And here’s a December 2007 review by Holly of a terrifying book called Office Slave:

In less than 12 months, she paid back her debt in full [via sex acts], which is quite an accomplishment, considering she got $100 for each blowjob and $250 for every screw. Do the math and on that and tell me you aren’t scared.

Smart Bitches doesn’t do many reviews these days, but Sarah does have a mildly snarky comment in her recent D+ review of Jane Porter’s She’s gone Country.

It was like going on a trip and being told, “This flight is headed to Houston. This flight is going to Houston. You’re aboard a flight that is going to Houston!” and then at the last minute, 5 minutes before landing, you hear, “Wait, never mind. We’re going to Minnesota!”

Mrs. Giggles, on the other hand, is definitely still at it. When she doesn’t like a book, it comes out funny. Here’s a review of Suzanne Brockmann’s Infamous:

Of course, the author also takes advantage of the opportunity to tell me that gay men need TLC too, war is bad (rather ironic considering that the selling point of her books are men who specialize in boom-boom-bang), alcoholism is a genetic disease, mental illness is best combated with a healthy dose of love and understanding, and respect the kitchen sink in the universe of everything.

As you can imagine, something has got to give in a story this busy, and that something has to be the romance between Alison and AJ. Let me put this way: these two are still having the same conversation they had back in page 34 one hundred pages later.

AnimeJune of GossamerObsessions in unique in all of blogland in that she manages to write snarky reviews even of books she mostly likes. Here’ s a B- review of Galen Foley’s Lord of Fire:

I mean, she thinks, “Oh, this poor tortured soul – he likes poetry and long walks in the forest” and yet never, not once, thinks, “Um, seriously dude, what’s up with those orgies? I mean, a couple of Pier 1 throwrugs and a vase or two could really class up that private cave of yours.” By the end of her stay at Lucien’s estate, she starts referring to his parties as if they’re mild annoyances that involve drinking too much beer with a bunch of football buddies, instead of pretending to be the avatar of a sex god while hundreds of people knock boots at the same time.

Which reminds me – who’s responsible for cleaning that cave? Ick!

The Book Smugglers on What a Pirate Desires:

Before they can be together for reals though there is more stupidity coming from Samantha and the return of the Plantation Villain and his rapists ways. He too, has been looking for Samantha for 5 years to exact revenge and get into her tight hole one more time. *rolls eyes* What is up with these villains and their obsession with tiny tight holes anyway?

[Someone should write a paper on the proportional relationship of  snark to rapes in romance reviews.]

Finally, here’s Katibabs of Babbling About Books on Elizabeth Jennings’ (aka Lisa Marie Rice’s) Shadows at Midnight:

This TSTL move occurs when Daniel is returning Claire back to her bed and breakfast after dinner. Now, if this was a LMR, Daniel would have taken Clare to his home and given Claire too many orgasms to count. But since this is an Elizabeth Jennings’ novel, the bouncing on the sheets must wait.

I could keep going, but I think you get the idea.

I have written some snarky reviews — Passion by Lisa Valdez, Beyond the Highland Mist by Karen Marie Moning and Savage Lust by Gabriella Bradley to name three. I consider writing a snarky review — making myself, and hopefully others, laugh at a book I thought was flawed, gives me those couple of hours of enjoyment which the book failed to do. It’s also honest (when I write a snarky review it is because there is no other way I could communicate my true feelings about a book) and a way to let go of negative energy I accumulated when I read something I really, really didn’t like. But it takes a lot of time: snarky reviews are just as careful — maybe more so — as nonsnarky ones.

When I first started this blog, I wrote a post on the moral status of snarky reviews, which I now pretty much totally repudiate (I may even refudiate it!!), in part because in that post, I thought of reviewing in terms of my relationship with the author, rather than my relationship with my blog readers, or, even more to the point, my relationship with the book. My approach back then was wrong headed, but I guess it was a casualty not just of my youth and inexperience (heh) but of the way many book blogs seem to occupy a gray area between gushing fan sites and real (useful, honest) review sites.

One of the things that always mystified me was the claim that as long as book blogs write snarky reviews they aren’t “professional”. The people who make that claim have clearly never read a professional book review in their lives, because I can hardly think of better snark hunting grounds than The New Yorker, the NYTRB or LRB, The Guardian, or heck, even the Journal of Philosophy. Either that, or they are using the word “professional” to mean something like “nice”, i.e. something that unfairly attempts to settle the argument by definitional fiat.

As a reader of other review blogs, I like to think I can tell when a snarky review is just a way for the reviewer to try to get some attention (those snarky negative reviews do tend to garner their share), the same way I believe I can often tell when a reviewer is writing an exaggeratedly positive review of a book by her Twitter BFF or critique partner. Sometimes (but not always), the review quality suffers from those ulterior motives. But snarky reviews, I now think, are like any other reviews: good when they are informative, careful, and honest, bad when they aren’t.

But if you are reading this post and you write reviews, the chances are good that you know all this, because nowadays, if you’re one of the gals, you are, at least occasionally, one of the “mean gals”, too.

44 responses

  1. You know, I was thinking what a hideously bad idea it was to review books in the genre I ending up publishing in, because obviously it turned so many of my peers against me. But then I look at Lynne Connolly snarking away, and think about the pair of raging twats who vented all over a publishing loop I was on about how much they hated Giggles and co for their vicious reviews – but who got most indignant when I posted a link for a particularly vicious, snarky and nasty review…from the review site they ran. (And I could have pulled up a dozen of the same kind of thing. These authors delight in telling everyone how much they don’t pay attention to negative reviews, while castigating negative reviewers in every second comment or post.)

    So what I’m left with is what Robin of DA was saying on Twitter this morning, and what she’s said elsewhere – no one whines about how ‘mean’ a review site/blog is, or how snarky the reviewers are, if their books or favourite authors get good reviews. They only bitch if they don’t get the praise they believe (rightly or wrongly) is due them. So it’s nothing to do with snark or meanness or professionalism – it’s about thin skins, author egos, and insufferable self-importance.

    Snarky reviews are for readers, and for me, it’s a way of showing my intense emotional response to a disappointing book. A ‘meh’ book won’t be snarked, at least not by me. Snark is for the truly, jaw-droppingly bad or stupid books. And dear reader, if you don’t feel the same way about a book as I do, that doesn’t make either of us wrong. It just means ‘diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks’. Some people won’t say ‘fuck’ in public either. Doesn’t make them nicer or better than anyone else.

    This whole topic of mean reviewers is like being in a washing machine – we’ll go round and round and round and I don’t suppose a single mind will be changed. Oh well.

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  2. @Ann Somerville: Ann, I appreciate your comments, but they make me realize I failed to follow my own editing advice (one point per post). My point in the post is really not to defend snark but that everyone (or nearly everyone) snarks sometimes. Period. If it is true that only one or two review sites wrote snarky reviews 10 years ago, then I believe this represents a change in our little subculture, a change I find kind of interesting. That’s all.

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  3. My first truly snarky review was for Connie Bailey’s Miles to Go and while I was being castigated for being a mean girl, someone said (apparently somewhere else, not in actual comments) that I sounded angry. And, as I said there, I was. I was angry I wasted my time reading book and I was angry that such a good idea was so maliciously tortured and murdered. And I expressed that anger, like you said, in snark — although I would still argue, in constructive snark — in order to get some entertainment out of it.

    Thanks for this post, Jessica. Brilliantly done.

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  4. Yes!! You have repudiated your earlier stance! *does a happy dance*

    At RomCon this summer, I was dismayed to hear people referring disparagingly to “those blogs” where people seemed to actually enjoy writing and reading snarky, negative reviews. As opposed to the “higher road” of not reviewing a book if you didn’t like it, or (to quote someone over at the DA thread) being “reverent” about the books you review. Like, you know, Harriet Klausner.

    Snarky reviews can be fun to read, and I agree that being snarky helps you feel better about having spent time on a book you didn’t enjoy. And if a book makes you say “WTF???,” I fail to see why that isn’t a legitimate reader response. Which is what most blog book reviews are, right?

    Welcome to the Mean Gurlz — we have cookies. And there are more of us (to get back to Jessica’s original idea here). Rare is the blog where no one ever snarks about a book to which they had a strong negative reaction. Some people may still prefer “nice,” but it certainly doesn’t dominate the discussion like it used to. I, for one, enjoy that change.

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  5. @Jessica:
    “My point in the post is really not to defend snark but that everyone (or nearly everyone) snarks sometimes.”

    Yes, they do, and they always have, and apart from Mrs Giggles, I don’t know of any review site who snarks all the time, and always does. Even Karen Scott used to pause for breath from time to time. Snark is hard work, and if you only ever snark, then you either read lots of crap, or you’re a rabid attention-seeker.

    Snark is not the sign of a ‘mean girl’ blogger. Being a hypocrite about snark, is.

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  6. I’m naturally snarky. I’m snarky in real life. I’m also irreverant and have a perverse sense of humor. That means, in short, that sometimes I mock things I love, because I recognize that they are absurd and part of my pleasure in them is the recognition of that absurdity, yet that the absurdity is part of the greatness of the thing. Things that are mediocre don’t bring out the snark as much as things that have created some visceral reaction in me, for good or bad.

    What I want to know is this: what’s so wrong about about being snarky/angry/critical? Because I feel like there’s absolutely a place for those emotions and as a reader I have those emotions. Why shouldn’t I express them as a reviewer? Especially, if the thing that I’m upset about reflects a larger issue within the genre? When reviewers get called “mean” are they really being called out for being snarky? Or is it the equivalent of calling someone a slut? A way of belittling their opinion, undermining and attacking them without having to address the actual criticism.

    That said, I’m still getting angry comments on my review of Lindsey’s That Perfect Someone. Upon reflection, perhaps I was meaner than I should have been. And perhaps I did veer into an ad hominem attack (although I don’t believe I actually made one). It was my first review. I brought out the big guns. But the hostility of the comments–comments I still on occasion get–is, wow, angry. Really, really angry. It’s as if somehow my dislike of the book, my mocking of it is taken as a personal affront. As if I had physically assaulted someone. I keep being surprised by it.

    Just some random thoughts. Thanks for the post, Jessica.

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  7. Oh, you kept me for last. Does that mean I’m the meanest in all the blogging review land?

    I really don’t think any reviewer for a blog, newspaper or magazine honestly sits there and thinks they enjoying ripping apart a book and try to be as snarky or mean as they can be. (I maybe very naive, but then again, I do try to look for the good in people)

    I just read a review in Entertainment Weekly for a movie coming out where they gave it no stars and basically said it was a piece of crap. Should we write letters into the editors because of the tone of the review?

    When I was a senior in high school, I had an English teacher who was a very harsh critic to the point a few students would break down in tears from not only her grades she gave out but her comments. Because of her I worked harder and paid attention to what she noted in her comments, and I guess in a way, her reviewing of my work. And because of that I wanted to excel and show not only to myself and her that I improved.

    I survived high school and that teacher. Authors will very likely survive a review they may find snarky or mean. The best they can do and move on, write the best possible work and be proud of themselves for accomplishing it.

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  8. Do wish you’d posted some quotes from scathing reviews of books from different genres for the sake of comparison.
    Also… I heart Liv :D

    And yes – nobody is perfect. Aside from there being mean/snarky reviews across the board, I often think of the flip side as well. [Uh oh. Lines being drawn, generalizations will be made...] Why is it ok for authors to shred reviewers who are “mean and nasty” – when said reviewer is “mean and nasty” for being not as polite as possible?
    Or not even authors – I’ve been told by another reader (on an author blog) I must be a mean nasty person, unhappy with my own life because I’ve criticized a book :D
    This has been whirling around in my head so long I can’t even remember if I’ve written my own post about it – but my point is, I think what you said?

    Mean exists across the board. We’re all guilty of it, and going to be annoyed or hurt about it. Does that make it ok? Not particularly, but…
    Well I’ve got nothing. It’s 12:31 AM, I’m not that smart, and am being forced to watch “Role Models.”

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  9. I think you put your finger on what makes AnimeJune’s reviews so awesome. (Or at least part of it.) The pinpoint mockery of a book she actually loves is delightful. And of course, she is always right. :-)

    I’ve been kind of rethinking snark in the opposite direction lately, mainly because I came across a snarky review of a book that I had just read that was simply wrong. The reviewer accused the book of all sorts of flaws that were not a matter of opinion and were just not true. I found it disturbing and it made me wonder how much snark is simply for the sake of snark.

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  10. I agree with Angela/Lazarapaste, the label ‘mean girls’ is a put down that is about denigrating the criticism/opinion and always feels to me like a call to homogeny; to not standing out of the crowd in terms of likes/dislikes. It reads as if having a strong opinion in and of itself is bad. I’ve been thinking a lot about the notion of ‘judgement’ in the sense of of ‘discernment’ and how that is a professionbal skill I rely upon to do my job. In many ways though this discernment, however it is expressed, seems to be a fearful thing to some. Leaving me to wonder what they are afraid we will see?

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  11. I think ‘mean girls’ is both a genuine phenomenon and a way to denigrate women’s opinions and thus is worth some examination rather than brushing it off as a style clash over snark. I too have used ‘mean girls’ in a sarcastic way to denote confidence in being not mean but only snarky. However, sometimes it’s worth stopping to consider whether one is also mean, and perhaps in ways that don’t exactly map to the grey area that is snark.

    BTW, I’m not talking about anyone specific. I’m trying to say that just as crying ‘Mean girls!’ is often a means to denigrate criticism without taking it seriously, denigrating the crier as simply being that ‘type’ (who hates snark) rather than possibly having a point has the potential to miss the point equally badly.

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  12. I snarked on some Black Dagger Brotherhood snarktasticness once with Katiebabs and another blogger named Tracy. It was great. We got our completely useless H’s ON, buddy. So much fun. Definitely a good release because man did that series let me down eventually.

    But it made some dude so mad. We were MEANIES. I’d do it again.

    *raises goblet of Mean Girl Mead* Cheers, fellow Mean Girls.

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  13. Kmont, that was a fun time.

    I guess when me, Smexybooks Mandi and Fiction Vixen did our little picture skit about the BDB books, that was the ultimate in a mean girl review.

    We dared to use Barbie and the Twilight dolls in a way no other reviewer has done before.

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  14. I think snark has its place. That being said, do I want to be on the receiving end of it? No ma’am. I do not.

    But I do think that reviewers sometimes go too far with the snark. I mean, if a book pisses you off, it pisses you off. Happens to all of us. And if you want to blog about it, more power to you. But sometimes, I think reviewers can get really vicious while trying to be funny. It takes a deft hand to write truly good snark. I respect those who can. I avoid it on my blog because in general, I don’t think I’m very good at it. So I tend to lay out why a book didn’t work for me without being snarky about it.

    But I envy those who give good snark.

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  15. I wasn’t gonna, but I ended up watching that video you linked at the very beginning of your post, Jessica. Now I’m just gonna see what I can do to get my eyes back to their normal, non-bugging state.

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  16. I don’t think snarky reviews are limited to negative reactions to books; I’ve read plenty of reviews by people other than AnimeJune which are snarky about books that they’ve rated highly. Done well, snark enhances the review. Done badly, it’s cringe-inducing. There is at least one reviewer I refuse to read because I cannot stand the sound of her voice.

    My least favorite reviews are the ones which seem to be about the reviewer (and her way with a witticism) more than about the book, especially if I went in expecting a review. I don’t want to have to wade through 12 paragraphs of stuff that’s only tangentially about the book to figure out the reviewer’s take on it. They have to be done really really well for me to get to the end. Unless you’re Pauline Kael, the entertainment-to-usefulness ratio is likely to be on the low side. But I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority on this i.e., many readers welcome a high snark-to-review ratio. And the last time I looked, no one has ever forced me to go to a particular blog or review site.

    Criticisms of snark remind me of the old criticism “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.” It is too what I said or you wouldn’t have piled on about the way I said it.

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  17. Re your comment

    One of the things that always mystified me was the claim that as long as book blogs write snarky reviews they aren’t “professional”.

    I think reviewers of all stripes and colors have been snarking since reviews have been published, in whatever medium — Twain and Poe, for example, could dole out the snark quite effectively.

    I also agree with

    snarky reviews, I now think, are like any other reviews: good when they are informative, careful, and honest, bad when they aren’t.

    I’d also like to think I can distinguish the difference between a genuine reaction to the text and someone’s attack on the author or the author’s political views, etc., that have no bearing on the text itself. That can very much turn me off a reviewer.

    Also want to thank you for the link to the article on self-esteem. I’ve wondered about that, and it was validating to read.

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  18. When I review, I’m doing it for the readers, not for the authors. I’m a voracious reader, I can get through a book a day when I get the chance. I pay for a lot of them, and my money is as good as anyone else’s.
    That book infuriated me and I didn’t want to write an angry review. I try to be specific about what I did and didn’t like, because other people might like books festooned with babies and angry, dominant, abusive men.
    I don’t like unfairness. When a reviewer is doing it for their own aggrandisement, or when they have a bone to pick with the publisher, or the genre, and the author is just the unfortunate person in the middle. So when I review, I won’t review a book by a personal friend, or put out by a publisher that I’m with. Or rather, if I do, I say so at the top of the review. It keeps me honest.
    And I also feel strongly about “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” No, definitely no. It’s like having an all-white cat in an all-white room. You just can’t trust it. There has to be shadow, if the reader is to trust the reviewer and the site.
    And yes, as an author, when I receive a bad review, I’ve been known to cry. It hurts a lot and for a long time, but that has nothing to do with the reviewer, or with the reader. I strongly believe that no reviewer should hold back.

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  19. Pingback: Opinions: I Has Them, You Has Them | Lurv a la Mode

  20. Where or where to begin??? Mean gurlz or snarks? Your post is hilarious – the guilty pleasure of reading snarky reviews about anything is the hilarity factor. As an author, do I want to be on the receiving end of snark? Oh hell no! But I try not to write a book that will be snarked upon, or at least not snarked upon in a DNF barf-tacular throw-the-book-against-the-wall kind of way. I’ve read a few of those books myself and I have to resist…must fight the urge…must zip the lips…writing a truly insulting review either on my site or on Amazon. As my mother taught me – if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

    But very often I learn more about a book by reading a nasty review – because sometimes the good reviews are nothing more than fluff. I’ll segue here into the restaurant world since I used to be part of it and restaurant reviews are received in the same light as book reviews – some chefs and their restaurants are untouchable, like they are made of solid gold, like they are gods.
    Even when served crap on a stick, many, if not most reviewers will down it and praise that crap to the high heavens. Once upon a time I wrote a scathing review of a top chef’s restaurant because my dinner partner and I were pretty much literally served inedible crap – and guess what happened? Not only was I nearly run out of town on a rail, tarred and feathered and castigated royally by every loyal supporter of that chef, a big time reviewer was flown in from a far off place to write a counter review to mine. OMFG! Am I not allowed to have an opinion? If you serve someone crap, don’t be surprised when they open their mouth and spew it back at you! Books are no different.

    I’m not a mean girl, but I guess if you are a reviewer, sometimes you have to point out that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. I suppose snark is as good a way as any – the only other option is, like my mom says, say nothing at all…

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  21. @Angela/Lazaraspaste: You said:

    But the hostility of the comments–comments I still on occasion get–is, wow, angry. Really, really angry. It’s as if somehow my dislike of the book, my mocking of it is taken as a personal affront. As if I had physically assaulted someone. I keep being surprised by it.

    One of my friends expressed recently her displeasure with a Kinsale book I particularly love. It surprised me how personal her dislike felt. I was crushed and even angry, yes. Me, the person whose use of blunt-force opinion (in my youth) had alienated more than one author.

    I guess I don’t know what point I want to make here. Sorry. Just realized I’d had this tab open for over an hour, so I’m just going to hit submit button.

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  22. I agree with Lynne. No reviewer should hold back. When a writer puts her work out for public consumption, the public is free to express its opinion, for better or worse. The writer has to develop a thick skin, which sometimes takes a while. I’m still developing mine. I had a review from Mrs. Giggles that made me want to hide under the bed for a while, and it wasn’t even that negative of a review–but stinging sarcasm directed at your work can make even the steeliest writer flinch.

    So I do feel a certain sympathy for writers who make the mistake of posting impulsively and petulantly in response. Even harsh criticism that isn’t meant to be personal can feel personal, when it is directed at a story you’ve lived with on an intimate basis in your head and heart for days and weeks on end. Putting that story out for strangers to read is exhilarating but can leave you feeling intensely vulnerable too. When those snarky whipcords come down on your work, it cuts deep. :)

    But I can see this from a reader’s point of view, too. I’ve been entertained and enlightened by snarky reviews and I think readers who review have every right and even obligation to be scathingly honest in expressing their opinion of a work.

    I think the backlash that women are especially mean in being scathingly honest is just a fallback tactic that some vocal petulant writers and indignant readers use to try to shut down reviewers with whom they disagree (and you know these same people are chuckling over snarky reviews of books they didn’t like.)

    I’ve never really gotten the feeling that it’s a bigger, societal women-should-always-be-nice thing going on; but maybe I’m just too naive and sheltered in that regard and I’m missing a bigger picture.

    As for snarky reviewing, itself, mean girls and guys have been doing it forever. I remember reading some book reviews written by Mark Twain and, I think, F. Scott Fitzgerald which were stinging enough to make authors cry. George Templeton Strong wrote some deliciously snarky book reviews in his diary in the 1830’s.

    There will always be authors who flinch and react, often very inappropriately. And I have seen reviewers who respond maybe a little too emotionally to an author’s angry reaction. I’ve seen reviewers verbalize their despair online and I wonder if there’s not a bit of irony in the situation. If a writer needs to learn that expressing anger over a negative review is hurting no one but her, some reviewers need to stop short and remember that their brilliantly snarky review is crushing at least one heart out there, and the kindest thing to do when a writer lashes out is avoid getting into an argument with him over it.

    Any writer worth her salt will believe in freedom of expression and respect your right to review her work in any fashion you see fit. If she makes the terrible mistake of letting her emotions get the better of her, I’d hope the reviewer, instead of slamming her right back as I’ve seen some reviewers do, will just let it go. After all, the reviewer can’t do worse to her than she’s already doing to herself.

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  23. I see I wrote a polite-ish comment to your old post along the general lines that snark is fine but there’s a fine line blah blah. My view has polarised since then. More and more I just think that it’s a reader’s right to say whatever they want, using mockery and snark if that is what they feel inclined to do. Reading a book is an intensely personal and intimate thing – of course readers don’t react to the reading experience with some Mr Spock-like logic.

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  24. I tend to notice snarky reviewing more in genres which are often belittled (romance, yes; TV, movies, pop music). I think when you love something that’s looked down on, you may feel the need to defend it even against itself–that is, against the bad examples that confirm people’s prejudices against the genre. So I’d agree with Sarah F. that a lot of snark seems partly driven by anger (despair, annoyance). I’d rather see genuine emotion than the bland “this didn’t work for me.” Plus, I think there are some absolute standards of quality and some things (bad grammar? racist stereotypes? giant plot holes?) shouldn’t “work” for anyone or be treated with respect.

    If Romancelandia has gotten snarkier as it has matured (by which I just mean being around longer), maybe it’s because the very existence of an on-line community has made people more confident in proclaiming and defending their love.

    What’s often missing in the huffy comment threads on “mean girl” reviews is that reviewers ARE writers, and they write for an audience (even if only imagined). If they decide they want to entertain that audience with snark, they can. And just like any piece of writing, a snarky review can succeed or fail in its aims.

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  25. The hypocrisy I mentioned in my comments is alive and well here, I see. “Snark is okay when I do it, but it hurts my feelings when it’s directed at me.” That’s the crux of it, isn’t it?

    Lynne Connolly says “When a reviewer is doing it for their own aggrandisement, or when they have a bone to pick with the publisher, or the genre, and the author is just the unfortunate person in the middle.” But that’s an easy accusation to make, isn’t it? I reviewed a book published by a press that had been acquired by Samhain – a press I’d had nothing to do with whatsoever, and little interest in – and hated it. Really, really hated it, and said so. Yes, I was snarky, but I was profoundly disappointed that something that should have been good, was so dreadful. Lo and behold, I was instantly and widely accused of running a vendetta against this press (owned by the company I was and am still published with.) No evidence, just the accusation – which stuck.

    I’ve seen the same nonsense levelled at DA for giving bad reviews to Ravenous Romance books, when they were actually dared to review the books (because the publisher was so sure they would prove how marvellous the output was.) The authors and publisher didn’t like the result, so they spun it as a vendetta against RR, when the evidence was that the books actually just stank. They wouldn’t have stunk any less if DA had been effetely polite in its reviews. As it happened, the snarky reviews were a damn sight more entertaining than the books could ever be, and if there’s no such thing as bad publicity, then RR got a shitload of free PR out of them.

    Even Our Beloved Blog Host, Jessica, is a snarkmaster, but declines to state if she approves of the technique. That annoys me (though I love you dearly, Jessica.) If you engage in it, you have no right to deny the privilege of engaging in it to others, nor do you have the right to say, “well my snark is virtuous, but yours is mean”. Snark is mean, at least to someone. But it’s an expression of opinion as valid as any other. As Liz says, sometimes it works better than at other times, and some people are cleverer than others. But the actual use of snark should not be criticised as invalid. You can’t laud Twain, Parker and Kael, and tell someone like Shuzluva you hope she pukes her guts up because she used a phrase that was too pungent for you.

    This is just another manifestation of the ‘nice girls’ syndrome, where it’s perfectly okay to be as vicious and nasty as you like, so long as you’re only attacked those you see as ‘mean’.

    “After all, the reviewer can’t do worse to her than she’s already doing to herself.”

    Mara, that’s a fine sentiment, and an admirable and kind ambition (and I know you well enough to know you would so as you say.) Unfortunately, as you and I have seen, some authors aren’t content to simply make idiots of themselves over a review in the blog themselves, but won’t rest until they destroy the reviewer’s reputation completely – even if they’re ‘snarky reviewers’ themselves. Sarah F’s been the victim of this too.

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  26. @SonomaLass:

    May I have a cookie even if I am not a Mean Gurlz?

    As you may recall, I opened the infamous panel where there was an open discussion about reviews. Some thought this and some thought that. I came away from the panel with a better understanding of why blogger review books and a greater appreciation of those who have a passion for romance.

    But those with a passion for romance sit on both sides of the fence – I do not understand why some readers cannot accept that not everyone feels it necessary to write a snarky review? I don’t recall anyone telling the Mean Gurlz not to write their snark. In fact, the world would be very boring if everyone wrote a sunny review. But the reverse is the same – it would be boring if everyone wrote a snarky review. Variety is the spice of life.

    I was not familiar with Harriet Klaussner before the panel and read several articles about her after the panel. Clearly, she has long been outed so I don’t know why we spent any time rehashing the improbability of her writing X number of sunny reviews per day (unless se is a vampire in an alternate world).

    Further, I don’t have a problem with the snarky, scathing, and possibly honest reviews. It’s the comments that follow when some readers attack others who disagree. I don’t expect us to sing Kumbaya My Lord together. But it is too much to ask that we have an intelligent interchange where we can agree to disagree? Several blogs seek respect for romance within the publishing business. How can you expect respect when the interchanges are disrespectful, insulting, and border on hate? I can only point to recent news on how free speech can spiral into hateful actions.

    Summing up my position – say what you want to say and I’ll consider it. But allow me to say what I want to say without criticizing me for my opinion that is based on my life experience which you may not share.

    And one more cookie for the road?

    Like

  27. @Ann Somerville: I don’t do hypocrisy, or I try very hard not to. My point was that I try to be honest and to the point, ie be specific about what I don’t like. I was also honest when I said that I’ve had reviews that made me cry. Well, I went away and cried in private, then I went back, reread the review and said, yeah, okay. Actually, one of Giggles’ helped me when I came to rewrite the book. In among the snark she made some really good points.
    And the reviewers’ aggrandisement comment? It wasn’t really romance I was thinking about. It was literary journals and some highbrow newspaper reviews. “Look how clever I am.” There was one by Martin Amis a few years back, and while I can remember that he did the review, I can’t remember the book he was trashing. It didn’t really matter, after all, what was important was Amis feeding his own ego. David Starkey does it, too. His scathing comments on The Tudors and his memorable comment that it was “armpit TV” just as he had a book coming out. I happen to agree with him, but he timed his comments to cast the spotlight on his book, not on the TV series.
    And just in case you noticed – I do have a new book out today, but, while I’d love you to go and look it up, that’s not my reason for coming here. You’ll just have to take my word for that, I’m afraid. Or not.
    Cookies – I am so there! And I’ll have the raisin ones that nobody else wants.

    Like

  28. It wasn’t really romance I was thinking about.

    Then it was confusing, especially as those kinds of accusations *are* routinely flung about in Romancelandia – with far less justification, as I attempted to demonstrate.

    Bad reviews sting, no doubt about it, and I’ve wept a few tears in private over a couple. But I haven’t thrown a shit fit on a review blog about them, and that’s the principle difference between me, and people like Susan Grant and the host of authors making tits of themselves in public. They’re the ones who practice double standards and it gets right up my nose.

    just in case you noticed – I do have a new book out today

    I hadn’t noticed (And to be honest, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to connect the two), but congratulations! I won’t be reading it, but only because I don’t read het (or paranormals), not because of anything you’ve said here or elsewhere. Hope Emotion in Motion does well!

    Like

  29. @Ann Somerville:

    Even Our Beloved Blog Host, Jessica, is a snarkmaster, but declines to state if she approves of the technique.

    Boy, you’re not treating me as a “beloved” with that comment (and the next few sentences), Ann. I think my post was pretty clear that I do approve of it. Repudiating my earlier post would be one clue. Another would be my comment that writing snark

    gives me those couple of hours of enjoyment which the book failed to do

    A third would be my rejection of the argument that snark is not “professional”.

    And finally, the clincher:

    But snarky reviews, I now think, are like any other reviews: good when they are informative, careful, and honest, bad when they aren’t.

    As to that last point, I reserve the right to say some reviews are bad ones, and that includes the kind of cases I mentioned in the post, and which @Lynne Connolly also mentioned in her comments.

    You are right that is is difficult to tell whether someone is writing a snarky review as some kind of vendetta. And that we should be careful. But the difficulty of figuring out which reviews are fakes (either fake positives or fake negatives) has no bearing on my point that a dishonest, careless, and ill motivated review — whether snarky or not — is a bad review.

    And you (and Robin) are also right that there is hypocrisy around this issue. That is typical, unremarkable, human behavior. I don’t know that there is anything interesting to be said about it.

    But perhaps we have a different understanding of hypocrisy:

    The hypocrisy I mentioned in my comments is alive and well here, I see. “Snark is okay when I do it, but it hurts my feelings when it’s directed at me.” That’s the crux of it, isn’t it?

    I see nothing hypocritical in that. Harsh criticism, of any kind, does feel bad. So what? Nothing follows from that admission.

    @Tumperkin: I agree that reading is very personal. I can’t really explain why, with some bad books, I start thinking of snarky comments as I read, and others just bore or deflate me.

    Yes! I also think writing reviews is a kind of writing and that is very personal as well…

    @Liz:

    What’s often missing in the huffy comment threads on “mean girl” reviews is that reviewers ARE writers, and they write for an audience (even if only imagined). If they decide they want to entertain that audience with snark, they can. And just like any piece of writing, a snarky review can succeed or fail in its aims.

    Thanks for that. I totally agree.

    @Kim in Hawaii: thanks for your comments, Kim. My point in the post is that a certain mode of writing reviews has become accepted in our subculture. Snark is now one among other tools in the reviewers’ toolbox, not an illicit weapon.

    But not writing snarky reviews is also perfectly fine and I hope I didn’t leave the impression I felt otherwise.

    @katiebabs:

    When I was a senior in high school, I had an English teacher who was a very harsh critic to the point a few students would break down in tears from not only her grades she gave out but her comments. Because of her I worked harder and paid attention to what she noted in her comments, and I guess in a way, her reviewing of my work. And because of that I wanted to excel and show not only to myself and her that I improved.

    Lynne made a similar point in one of her comments, and I just have to state for the record that I have absolutely no illusion, hope, or desire, that my reviews will make someone a better writer. To me, that is not only the height of hubris in a reviewer, but a wrongheaded way to think about the review: I write for other readers, not the author.

    @Julia Rachel Barrett:

    If you serve someone crap, don’t be surprised when they open their mouth and spew it back at you! Books are no different.

    That is a very memorable way to put it.

    @Ludmilla:

    I think reviewers of all stripes and colors have been snarking since reviews have been published, in whatever medium — Twain and Poe, for example, could dole out the snark quite effectively.

    Thank you for reminding me of this!

    @RfP:

    denigrating the crier as simply being that ‘type’ (who hates snark) rather than possibly having a point has the potential to miss the point equally badly.

    Agreed.

    @Sarah Frantz:

    And I expressed that anger, like you said, in snark — although I would still argue, in constructive snark — in order to get some entertainment out of it.

    Yes, I call it making lemons out of lemonade. ;)

    @Kati: @Sunita: @willaful:
    You each make the point that some snark is badly done — not for the reason I mentioned in the post (ulterior motives, etc.) but just as a case of bad writing.

    This is making me think someone should do a post on good snark versus bad snark — not as “nice versus mean” thing — but as an exercise in literary criticism.

    Thanks a bunch!

    Like

  30. It is just the way of the Internetz. When reviewers snark, they are MEAN GIRLZ; when authors snark back, they are AUTHORS BEHAVING BADLY (caps, sometimes with !!! for the accompanying hysteria). I think those two terms exist like salt and pepper, giving flavor to all the words being stir-fried around.

    Like

  31. Wouldn’t an author want their book to be reviewed whether it was given a snarky review or not? The worst possible thing is not having a book discussed or having a reviewer read it and not want to review it because they were bored to tears by what they read.

    Authors want to evoke an emotional response from a reader and if someone can take the time to write a “snarky” review or even a glowing one, that means the author has done their job.

    And yes, reviews are for readers not authors.

    Like

  32. Reading critical reviews of my work has helped me become a better writer. I try to take reviews constructively, not personally. Snark, IMO, is just a natural part of the reviewer’s voice, independent of quality or professionalism.

    Being a blogger and reviewer myself, I have a hard time with the us vs. them (author vs. reviewer) mentality. I don’t agree that authors should never comment on a negative review, or that reviews are for readers only. There is a way to respond respectfully, isn’t there? If a reviewer said my book was racist or something seriously whack, should I bite my tongue? I’m not sure.

    Anyway, I always think about the author when I review and hope my criticism is helpful. If not, fine. The author’s reaction isn’t my main consideration. And yes, I snark. :)

    Like

  33. @Jessica:

    Thanks for your comment back. After rereading the post and comments, I realized that the conversation focused on reviewers who use a little snark are then referred to as mean girls. I wholeheartedly agree that we all, at one time or another, engage in snark and sarcasm.

    When I see the words Mean Girls, I think of the self proclaimed mean girls who comment on some of the popular romance blog. They admit to being mean just to be mean. They advocate “do as I say, not as I do.” When I have tried to engage in an adult conversation with them, my words are twisted and I am ridiculed. I don’t understand it. It pains me because I live with constant reminders of those who sacrificed to preserve free speech. I am saddend that some choose to use free speech to hurt others.

    But I live in a vacuum as a military spouse. I read these blogs so I can expand my world and prepare myself for when my husband retires. We can’t hide on a military installation forever.

    @Jill Sorenson:
    Ditto to the points you raise in your comments.

    Like

  34. Snarky reviews are fantabulous in my opinion. I’ve enjoyed them when they’re about books I’ve read (even when I enjoyed them despite their cheese-tastic badness). I’ve enjoyed them when they’re about books I’ve never read and sometimes they even make we want to read the book (The SBTB review of “Pregnesia” for example ALMOST got me to buy it.) I’ve even enjoyed them when they slam books that I personally enjoyed the heck out of. To each their own. I don’t know if I ever managed to get a book published and it received a snark-filled critique what I might do; I just hope I wouldn’t react with an embarrassing public display of arguing with the internet (*ouch!*)

    @ limecello: if you (or anyone else) would like to check out snarktastic reviews of all kinds of books check out: http://www.booksidoneread.blogspot.com/
    She writes some great reviews of all kinds of lit.

    Like

  35. I think my post was pretty clear that I do approve of it.

    That’s what I thought, but then you said

    My point in the post is really not to defend snark but that everyone (or nearly everyone) snarks sometimes.

    So I thought you were backtracking. I apologise for misreading, and sorry to have offended you. I really do love you :(

    Like

  36. @Kim in Hawaii:

    But I live in a vacuum as a military spouse. I read these blogs so I can expand my world and prepare myself for when my husband retires. We can’t hide on a military installation forever.

    Wow. There is a place where there are no mean people? I can’t see why you would look forward to leaving, LOL.

    @Ann Somerville: No no, you didn’t offend me, and I can see how that looked like backtracking. In that comment, I just meant that defending snark wasn’t the purpose in writing the post, or my point in writing it. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

    @willaful: Er. *gulp*

    @Pamelia: I love that blog! thanks for the rec.

    Like

  37. It just occurred to me that I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone complain about cover snark. Are cover designers not human? If we cut them with our razor wit, do they not bleed? Why are their friends and relations not turning out to denounce the Mean Grrl Haterz?

    I think you’ve already summed up good vs. bad snark:

    But snarky reviews, I now think, are like any other reviews: good when they are informative, careful, and honest, bad when they aren’t.

    Like

  38. @Jessica: Oh, I’m sure I could dig up a few mean girls if I turned over a few rocks. But my experience in the military (first as an officer, then as a spouse) has reinforced that we respect each other. We listen, learn, and grow from each other. The mission require us, at the very least, to work together.

    Military life is stressful for both the service member and family members. Suicide, divorce, and abuse are on the rise. The DOD takes great care to educate us that it is more empowering to listen to each other rather than degrade each other (something that the mean girl commenters do with great pride). Again, I live in a vacuum with rose color glasses. Those glasses come off when my husband retires.

    I recognize that blogosphere is not the military. I am trying to understand its parameters so I can successfully contribute to it. I will try to grow some thick skin because I may need it.

    Like

  39. Pingback: Guest Post: Snark Attack « Limecello

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