Dear Goodreads, It’s Time to Require Civility in Book Reviews

I finished reading Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen recently. What a unique voice. What a fascinating and complex feminist protagonist.

Scarlet’s compassion for the poor Nottingham villagers – and her unwavering commitment to helping the legendary Robin Hood – give female readers a new (super)hero to admire. (She can even scale castle walls.)

Eager to know what other readers thought about the novel, I headed to Goodreads.

I was appalled by what I saw.

One of the reviews at the top of the list is unnecessarily cruel and insulting. It’s also obvious the reviewer didn’t read the novel carefully and was too quick to judge; she missed the point in several cases.

Granted, one book review by an established media outlet mentioned Scarlet is “billed as ‘not your English teacher’s version of Robin Hood.’” (Our hero speaks in the rough grammar of lesser-educated townsfolk: “It were too hot and stank of beer and men…” “It were heaving with bodies, laughs, and mugs slinging ’bout.”)

And there are times when Scarlet feels conflicted about one character’s romantic advances. She has a right to feel uneasy; this man is supposedly a friend but he’s too aggressive in trying to convince her to love him. His behavior would be considered sexual harassment by many women today.

It’s telling that the cruel reviewer felt compelled to explain away her mean-girl ways in her profile:

“Contrary to how I seem in my reviews and my profligate use of profanity, I’m actually a very nice, easygoing person. I’m totally chill. I am snarky, I am sarcastic at times, but I am never malicious.”

I beg to differ on that last bit.

My guess is that some readers have called her out on her bad behavior.

Maybe that’s why she also says, “I no longer accept anonymous, non-friend messages because, well, trolls…” According to the Law of Attraction, you get what you give. If you spew negative energy into the world, you will attract negativity.

The worst (unintended?) consequence about this person’s spoilers-filled review is that she successfully persuaded a few readers to not give Scarlet a chance. In her eagerness to win favor and entertain readers with what she believes is wit and brutal honesty, she fails to write a fair review.

I was disappointed to see one person reply, “I love this review so much. I will never read this book. But I will read more of your reviews. So honest and entertaining.”

But I was heartened to see reviews like the one my friend Margot wrote: “I LOVE Scarlet’s voice and her fierce vulnerability – and Robin!!!! … “The banter between the ‘guys’ in the band was one of the best parts of this book. A good banter can make you feel like you are part of the gang, and that’s just what this book excelled at.”

One brave soul questioned the harsh reviewer’s opinions, which do not appear fact-based:

“I didn’t read this entire review but I just wanted to ask: Where is it written that a girl can’t be BOTH a badass bitch and still be in love and have feelings? Having emotions and being a badass aren’t mutually exclusive. If she was only one or only the other, you’d probably then criticize her for being a 2D character….Her speech is also explained in the book. Did you read this book?”

Touché.

In a nutshell: it’s not nice to trash a writer’s life work in a self-serving attempt to gain more likes and followers.

The good news? Out of 22,982 ratings, most readers gave the novel four stars out of five, and the author went on to write two sequels (Lady Thief and Lion Heart) that received nearly 12,000 ratings of mostly four stars.

Goodreads’ guidelines about reporting abuse state, “Our goal is to maintain a welcoming space for all Goodreads members. If you notice abusive or inappropriate content on the site, please flag it to our attention and a staff member will review it…”

The Community Guidelines state, “You’re welcome to flag any content that might violate our Community Guidelines…only content that violates our rules is removed.

“Don’t take it upon yourself to correct other people’s bad behavior, and don’t encourage bad behavior by acknowledging it…Simply put, add value to the community – don’t diminish it.

“If you’re here because you adore books and you make it your business to treat others with respect, then welcome to your literary home.”

Because Goodreads allows “harsh critical statements that apply to the book or the writing in it” and there was no abuse or harassment in the review in question, I wasn’t holding my breath that Goodreads would acknowledge my request and remove the review, even though I made a solid case for civility.

Goodreads never responded.

This post was first published at www.NoSpoilersBookReviews.com.

Katherine Valdez loves to read and write about books and authors. Subscribe by typing your email in the Follow box at www.KatherineValdez.com and watch for a confirmation email to complete the process.

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8 comments

  1. Good post, Katherine! I’m often shocked at the very nasty reviews I see, especially those that clearly show the author did not read the book at all, or did not finish. And what about the “reviews” that award one star and leave no comment at all, or perhaps one that says, “I didn’t finish this book?”

    My own normal policy is to review only the novels I read all the way through and am willing to recommend with four or five stars. If I don’t care for a book, or don’t finish for some reason, I usually just remove it from my Want to Read list on Goodreads. Sadly, trolls are a way of life on the Internet. We need to learn how to pretend they’re not there (which is, of course, difficult when it’s your book being slammed).

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Pat! I’m shocked, too, that some people would be so arrogant and clueless as to review a book they obviously didn’t read thoroughly. Bullies and trolls. I like your policy, and tend to do the same.

  2. I agree Katherine. Nastiness for the sake of vitriol, reviews like this, generally say more about the reviewer than the book that’s reviewed. I must say, however, that if I were Gaughen, that one nasty review in a sea of thousands of Goodreads reviews and hundreds of Amazon reviews would just make me shrug.

    The whole system of book and product reviews is a bit out of control and the notion of rating the reviews (liking, saying they were ‘helpful’) is not extremely useful. Should we regularly rate the people who rate other reviewers?

    But the bottom line is, as you suggest, a need for civility, something increasingly lacking in society in general today.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response, Mark. Good points; I would hope AC Gaughen doesn’t give a second thought to trolls masquerading as book reviewers, and one vitriolic
      review didn’t affect her book sales. Appreciate you taking time to comment and support my call for civility.

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