Thursday, March 10, 2016

Discussion: I Review Books, Not People

Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts At Midnight host the 2016 Discussion Challenge.


I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with memoirs. The genre seems to be a mixed bag. Some memoirs are amazing. A few of my favorite books ever are memoirs. Other memoirs are long-winded, self-indulgent, and boring. Those authors need to learn that no one finds their lives as interesting as they do. Some of my least favorite books ever are memoirs. When I read a memoir, I will either love it, or it will get on my nerves immediately. There isn’t much middle ground for me.

 

Even though I have a shaky reading history with memoirs, it’s my goal this year to read more nonfiction, including memoirs. The problem is that I’m not sure how to review them.

Last year, I read a memoir that I liked. The author/main character didn’t always make the smartest choices in life, but the story was entertaining and honest. I had fun reading it. It taught me some interesting stuff. It was paced well and had a few funny moments. I wrote it a mostly-positive review.

Then, I went on Goodreads to post my review, and I saw that the book had a ton of negative reviews. Reviewers were calling the author/main character a “Stupid, narcissistic slut.” A lot of the reviews were hateful and judgmental. They criticized every single decision that the author made in the book. The reviews made me sad because this book is a memoir. The reviewers aren’t talking about fictional characters who make questionable decisions. The reviewers are slut-shaming and insulting a real person. I don't think anybody deserves to be talked about like that.

The reviews also made me sad because the memoir was about decisions that the author made 20+ years ago, when she was in her teens and twenties. I’m sure that a lot of people made bad choices when they were young. This author chose to write about her choices. Does that give reviewers the right to judge her? I guess if you talk about your questionable choices in public, people will criticize you, but the criticism still feels wrong to me. Maybe I'm too sensitive?

All of this made me wonder about the correct way to review a memoir. I think it’s fair to comment on a memoir’s writing style, pacing, and entertainment value, but is it also okay to talk about the "characters" and "plot"? The characters are real people, and the plot actually happened. I guess there are respectful ways to discuss these things, but critiquing real people and events feels weird to me because I review books, not humans.



So, if you review memoirs, how do you do it? Do you review them in the same way that you review fiction? Is it okay to talk about a real person in the same way that you would talk about a fictional character?




14 comments:

  1. I think reviewing memoirs is the same thing as reviewing fiction. I hardly ever let my personal dislike of the main character influence the rating. A lot of reviewers do this, rate a book low, simply because they wouldn't be friends with the characters in real life. I generally don't read memoirs of people that aren't in the public eye / that I don't know, so I don't really have much experience with rating books about the lives of complete strangers. Non-fiction isn't really my thing, but I salute you for trying to read more!

    - Jen from The Bookavid

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    1. Interesting. I try really hard not to let my personal feelings about a character influence my review too much. I understand that everyone will have different feelings, but mind blowingly stupid characters get on my nerves. It feels mean to call a real person mind blowingly stupid in a review. That’s one of my issues with reviewing memoirs.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  2. I guess I look at memoirs differently. I do let fictional characters thoughts and actions influence my rating of the book because it does contribute to my overall enjoyment of the experience. But with memoirs (which I usually don't love), I rate the book more on whether I think the author's story made a good book and whether I enjoyed reading it. If a memoir jumps around a lot and doesn't really tell a cohesive story, I'll rate it low - but my comments would be on writing style and plot development, not on decisions the author made in their real life. I agree that it's harsh to criticize someone's choices. I do think it's valid to comment on whether or not they wrote a good book from their life experiences.

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    1. I think that’s a good way to do it. I just wrote a review of a memoir (it’ll be posted in a few days), and I tried to focus on my enjoyment and not on the real people/real events.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  3. This is a hard one because, unlike Jen, I definitely let my feelings about the characters influence my rating. If I cannot stand the main character, the book isn't going to get 5 stars from me. I've actually never reviewed a memoir, so I can't say how I'd handle that. The only one I'm super interested in reading is Felicia Day's You're Never Weird On the Internet (Almost) and I already love her! This really is a thought-provoking topic.

    Tracy @ Cornerfolds

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    1. I’ve heard that Felicia Day’s memoir is really good. I’d love to see your review if you read it.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  4. I really like memoirs. They tend to touch me in some way. I think because it's real life, real stories. I just review my enjoyment or lack thereof. I try to keep my own opinion about actual events out of it. Great post!

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    1. I agree. Reading memoirs is a different experience than reading fiction. For me, memoirs are a lot more intense because they’re real. That’s probably why I don’t read a ton of them.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  5. I have a really hard time with memoirs for just this reason. I've really only read one in recent years and I struggled with how to rate it - or even talk about it. On the one hand, it was fun and interesting, but on the other hand, the guy did things that make me shake my head and they kind of bugged me. I actually had to say that if it were a fictional book, I would have been frustrated with the lack of character development and a lot of the decisions being made, but since this was a REAL person, I had to cut him a lot more slack. In real life, we don't always learn from our mistakes immediately and change is sometimes very hard to achieve. In real life, we don't always get the "plot progression" that we'd like. It's why I prefer fiction!!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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    1. I think the plot and character progression is why I prefer fiction, too. Characters almost always change by the end of a novel, but that doesn’t happen in nonfiction.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  6. I enjoy memoirs, and I have reviewed them. I do review them like other nonfiction reads. For me, it is about how the story was told, not who the person was or the decisions they made. I'm sure people would disagree with some of the poor decisions I've made in my life, but that judgement doesn't reflect how a person has grown, the lessons learned, or the changes made. I loved this post - very thought provoking!

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    1. Yes! I would hate to be attacked for bad decisions that I made a long time ago. Everyone makes mistakes and changes over time.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  7. Interesting points! I don't read memoirs, but I can see what you are saying. If I were to review one, I wouldn't mention the characters or plot. I totally agree you can't criticize something that is real. It is what it is.

    Jen @ Books That Hook

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  8. Wow, reading about those reviews you mentioned is horrifying me! That makes me sad too. You're right that no one deserves that.

    I think a review for a memoir should be about what you said, the writing and whatnot, not the person. I think it's fair to talk about how entertaining or not or whatever the book as a whole was, but bashing the person personally is going too far. I've never actually reviewed a memoir though. I have one autobiography review in waiting, but it's not even the personal kind of memoir you're talking about, so I'm afraid I'm not of much help with this!

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