Reviewing the book or the author?

A few weeks ago there was a great comment on Jessewave’s site from an “anonymous author” who claimed to be solely print published but found that reviews criticized authors more than the actual work they are reviewing. I remember reading the comment thinking that it was a great point and in typical fashion, something shiny flashed near me and I forgot about it.

I was reminded of the comment when reading the entire time wasting but OH SO fascinating debacle of the plagiarist Cassandra Clare (check it out here. It’s long but I couldn’t stop reading. Thank you sean kennedy by way of emmyjag). Anyway, somewhere along the way an author I respected posted on an review of CC’s printed work that the reviewer was blasting the author when it should be the book.

This reminded me that I thought this was a great point and so I bring it here to my five readers (I gained one!). How often when either reviewing or even casually talking about books do we equate the book with the author?

It’s an excellent point that I think we, as readers in general, before even getting into reviewing, need to separate the work from the author. The book can be total crap but that means nothing about the author. If the mystery is bad, that doesn’t mean the author is lazy or ignorant. It means they poorly wrote that aspect. Perhaps the ending is ridiculous and stupid, but that’s the –story- not the author. I tend to use the two synonymously in both casual conversation and reviews. It’s a habit I try to break unless I’m specifically addressing the author or referring to them for a reason, but I admit, it’s an ongoing vice I must actively remind myself not to do.

Now, I can say to any authors I’ve done this to – I apologize and meant the work! But how often do readers do this? Does a bad book really affect how you view the author? Does the book itself change your view of an author?

On that note, I remember reading a book and although it was a m/m romance, I had the distinct impression the author is homophobic. How can I infer that? I guess I didn’t find the “jokes” funny or the comments amusing, but instead purposefully insulting. I definitely equated the book with the author. Right or wrong, I had that strong impression.

What about other readers?
Do you tend to make assumptions and judgments of authors based on their work?
As reviewers, do you review the author as much as the book?

10 thoughts on “Reviewing the book or the author?

  1. I was actually thinking about something related to this…
    I recently read a book by an author whose works have been pretty consistent in their awesomeness, and I pretty much loved it. My friend–whose taste is very, very similar to mine– read it, their first time reading this author, and thought it was good, but nothing great. And that made me pause, and for a lark, I re-read it, trying for a more critical eye. While I still really enjoyed it, I could see what my friend meant, could more easily identify the problems in the work.
    Anywho–sorry for the ramble–it got me thinking…if the book had been by an author I was unfamiliar with or one I hadn’t read before, would I have thought it was good or fantastic? Can my impressions of an author make a story live up–or down–to my expectations? Am I more likely to overlook small problems from a favorite author? Of course, I’m talking about degrees of difference here, between good and great, for example, and not so much between horrible and good.
    A lot of food for thought in this topic. Thanks for bringing it up. 🙂

    • Hi there! Thanks for commenting on my random thoughts. I’m glad others think of the same things too. It makes the mind not such a scary place.
      The first instance you mentioned is quite common. I’m often afraid to go back and read some of the books I’ve really loved because at the time, I read for pure pleasure and often took the leaps the author wanted without much thought or context. Then when trying to describe the book to someone I would realize um.. yea so this werewolf becomes a bat who later has a dragon for a dad and well.. it was a cute puppy! But that’s one of the great things about reading right? 😀
      Your comments are so good, they almost deserve a post in itself. We judge authors we know and love differently. We excuse way more (ie. author forgiveness) because we’re confident in the author. It’s a human nature trait I think and not necessarily bad. Just shows how anything so subjective as writing/reading has no real hard rules.

  2. Interesting. I definitely have higher expectations of books by authors I already know and like. I still haven’t forgiven Ruth Rendell for the ending of “Thirteen Steps Down”, although I admit, if it had been another author, I probably wouldn’t still be enraged at the lazy deus ex machina of it.
    I definitely equated the book with the author. Right or wrong, I had that strong impression.
    This is a tough area, especially when writing in first-person. Is it the author who is homophobic (or anti-religious, or racist, or whatever?) or is it the character? It’s not always obvious, and that can be an easy trap to fall into. I definitely wouldn’t want readers to assume I’m anti-Catholic based on certain characters in “Takeaway” and “Troubles”, but if the narrator is constantly making offensive remarks, it’s an easy supposition to make. (Like in the case you’re referring to. Isn’t that the one where it was a lot of “as a real man, Bill couldn’t believe he was taking it up the ass like a sissy dirty queer” stuff?)
    That Cassandra Clare stuff is pure fandom wank gold. Almost as classic as that romance author who stole passages from wildlife magazines. I wish I knew what these people were thinking.

    • Hi there!
      BTW – Thank you again for Troubles, my review will be posted tomorrow. Your streak is safe!
      I usually forgive authors for a wide range of missteps if I know them and generally enjoy their writing. I can count numerous authors I’ve forgiven due to my trust in their writing and hope that they will bring the next book around.
      As for first person writing, I think generally the association is not the case but I can definitely see why authors would be careful. I don’t think anyone would mistake that in your case but in some authors’ (such as the one you described and others) the thin line blurs. I try hard not to translate character issues onto the author (ie. if the lead character is uneducated, then that doesn’t mean the author is) but I think the author has yet another challenge to tackle. I was just curious if others had the same problem.
      Oh yes! I remember that one too. I do wonder what they’re thinking but when College Presidents can plagiarize their thesis with no repercussions, I’m guessing these writers weren’t too worried? :/

  3. Very interesting post, Kassa. I’ve thought about this issue a lot this week subsequent to finding out about the Clare debacle only after I had read the City series.
    I have to admit I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand having been plagarised myself in my RL I absolutely abhor the practice so discovering Clare’s background really made me take a step back. But on the other I loved the City series and, just because I’ve found out something negative about the author, cannot be anything but honest in talking about my enjoyment of the books.
    I guess the important thing is being honest about your approach to a review; if not to your readers at least to yourself by examining the reasons why you’ve had a particular response. After all, wouldn’t you do something similar if for example it was BDSM or another theme that you were uncomfortable with in the book you’re reviewing??
    I’m not sure if this is a side note or not, but this topic also reminded me of your post about series as well as the reader ‘forgiveness’ factor to familiar and to new authors. Some readers have certain expectations when it comes an author and if they give a ‘bad’ story the reader tends to critique the author for producing the work just as much as they do the book itself.
    It’s very interesting, isn’t it. Further proof that readers – whether they review or not – all come to a book with a set of opinions and expectations.

    • Well the Clare debacle I find fascinating. I’m not sure that would turn me entirely OFF an author if I LOVED the series, because.. well whether they stole or not you liked it right? It’s a hazy area and I think I wouldn’t want to support the author but if their pub’d fiction is totally unique then…. well you liked the books and thats important. End stop.
      I hadn’t meant to intertwine the topics so closely but they ended up being that way. I think it’s fascinating the inherent bias everyone brings to their reading. No matter if it’s a view of an author, previous books (or not), the genre and so on. And furthermore, the various take away messages we get when it’s all the same words.
      I think above all, you nailed it with the comment about being honest. But then you usually do!

  4. I don’t think I’ve ever confused a book, whether well or poorly written, with an author’s character, personality, or lifestyle.
    On the other hand, there are two or three writers whose stuff I’ll never read, because their online personas really turn me off. I wouldn’t be able to get absorbed in a work written by somebody who comes across as really juvenile, full of herself, inordinately nasty, and/or barely literate in her Internet postings.
    In short, work doesn’t affect view of author; author’s behavior does affect view of work. (Might sound silly, but I can’t help my reactions!)

    • I can’t say I’ve confused an author with their characters. I think the possibility is always there, though I haven’t confused them yet (I don’t think anyway).
      I also don’t think it’s a silly comment at all actually. I’ve stopped reading more authors due to online behavior than their actual work. Like I’ve said, I have huge reader forgiveness and it’s rare I *never* read an author again due to strong hate or something but when I come across bad online behavior? Oh yea, that’ll do it. I think, for me, it’s a matter of just disliking the person so I’m predisposed to dislike their material so what’s the point in reading?
      You’re definitely not alone in that respect.

  5. What I meant was, I don’t see an author’s books as a reflection of his or her own character. To me, good writer doesn’t mean cool person; crappy writer doesn’t mean uncool person.
    I do feel a little petty not being able to read stuff by certain authors. It’s just that I wouldn’t be able to disengage myself enough from my negative impressions to read objectively. When, for example, somebody acts, and communicates, like a teenage twit online, I just can’t take that person seriously as an author.

    • Oh no I agree with that, if I confused your point – my apologies.
      I don’t feel petty for choosing authors to read (guess thats my harshness for you) as long as I’m not going around calling names and acting like said same twit. It’s the chance authors take I think. On the flip side, many readers have said if an author is nice online they tend to buy their books and give them good reviews regardless. Seems there is only a win-win situation to be nice.

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