Sunday, 17 April 2011

Should Book Reviews Mention Content Issues?

As an adult I've often been forced to examine my beliefs and preconceptions.  You know, those things you assume are true because they were taught to you as a child and which you've never questioned, even though you should have.

Someone pointed out one of my blind spots yesterday.  I've written a review and posted another in which I mentioned the lesbian content of the books.  This person pointed out - respectfully - that these portions of my reviews could be misconstrued as stating that lesbian content is negative or 'different' and therefore needs to be pointed out to readers (for those who want to avoid such content as much as for those who actively look for it or don't care if it's there or not).

I'd not considered that my comments could be taken this way, but once seen I can't deny that they have those meanings - unintentional or not.

With Trouble and Her Friends my thought when reviewing the book was that it was fantastic and it would be a shame if people, learning it was a Lambda Award winner, might pass on it because it has lesbian content.  I wanted to show that the content is unobjectionable and doesn't take away from the enjoyment of the book.

Reading my own thoughts on why I added that to the review, I can't help but wonder why I felt people might pass on reading the book due to content issues.  Are we not adults?  Are we not mature enough to deal with sexuality of all kinds when reading?  Do I need to point out that something in this book is different, and why oh why do I even consider it different at all?

It's hard to see our own biases sometimes and I apologize if I've offended anyone with my review remarks in the past.  Now that I understand myself - and this problem - better, I'll be able to deal with it.

And it's not just sexual content.  I've got two book reviews in the wings wherein the books both mention the 'n' word.  I've got a post planned on the impact of words for when I post those reviews, but again, is pointing this out something you want in a review?  I mentioned it in my reviews because I know the word is disturbing to a lot of people and forewarned is forearmed.  But that supposes readers want to be forewarned about content issues, which may not be the case. 

I find there is value in pointing out content issues with children/teen books when it comes to language, sexual content and violence.  I will be keeping my 'for parents' segment in those reviews and perhaps making them more comprehensive.

So here's a question for you.  Should I a) leave out content issues in adult book reviews entirely, b) mention them if they're gratuitous, or c) mention everything (for example, with sexuality mention: heterosexual encounters, homosexual encounters, threesomes, rape, S&M activities etc.).  In other words, as readers of my reviews, do you appreciate my mentioning content issues or do you consider that not a reviewers job?  I also understand that if I start to mention all content issues, I've got to be comprehensive, mentioning ALL content issues, not just ones that bother me or ones that I assume (right or wrongly) will bother other people.  Everyone has different tolerances when it comes to violence and sexuality (for example I'm not a fan of the idea of threesomes while others find that idea titillating).

So I'm putting up a survey on the side of my site to see what you, as my review readers, want.  If you're reading this on a feed, please click through and vote so I can better tailor my reviews to your needs.

Comments are welcome.


Kaz Augustin said...

I'm all for disclosure of content issues. The reason lies in a lot of 1-star Kindle reviews, where the reader says something like: "This book is a neo-dystopian cavepunk splatter romance and I don't like neo-dystopian cavepunk splatter romances." As you can imagine, that type of review is Not Helpful. Content issues are not a problem where all readers are empathetic, broad-minded and willing to have their horizons widened, but we're not living in Paradise. (And, just for the record, I tend to avoid stories that are literary and have bad endings. Yep, definitely point those out so I can avoid them!)

I read your review, Jessica, and don't think there was anything wrong with it. My two cents is just to continue as normal.

Long-time lurker, Kaz

kevbayer said...

In my opinion, since you are the one doing the reviewing you'll mention whatever you feel needs to be mentioned. You're the one writing it, if you felt you needed to write about that particular content issue, then please do so - you're review will be better for it.

Sherry said...

I agree with Kev that you should mention any issues that you feel a need to. While we are all adults, there are some people out there who look for or avoid particular content. If the book is romantic, it would be natural to say who is involved and the reader will glean from there. Controversial language is also something to mention. I think if you are discreet and honest no one can be offended

Clifton Hill said...

I agree with Kev: I think you write the review however you want. People that have been coming to read your reviews, no doubt do so for your voice on the matter. If you start changing how you approach the review then you change your voice.

As to the lesbian note, I think your rationale seems perfectly appropriate. There are still people out there (and there will be for years yet to come) that object to that type of thing and maybe your comment would have kept them reading. I'm sure you can always find someone that objects to what you write in a review--if you look hard enough. From a proper moral sense, yes, it is silly to point something like that out--it shouldn't matter one way or another. But we as a people will always have biases.

So I guess Kaz suggests a Literary Warning. That's pretty funny.

Jessica Strider said...

Thanks for the comments. I think it's good to get reader feedback every now and then just to remind myself who I'm writing reviews for, and what you want.

@ Cliftin - I hadn't considered that changing my reviews/format might alienate current readers.

Clifton Hill said...

I liken it to how a writer needs to take feedback/criticism of their stories. You have a vision and you need to stay true to that, any critique you receive has to be taken carefully. It can be all to easy to change your vision, which doesn't serve you or your readers (at large).

That is one reason why I wait a while to share any of my fiction, because I don't want to confuse what I'm trying to do until I have a firm idea of what I want.