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I don’t think I’ve ever written a rant before. I’m not the ranting type, but I decided to give it a try. There’s a first time for everything, right? Blogging gets boring if you don't mix it up once in awhile. Read this in your angriest voice. It’ll seem more like a rant that way.
Like many bookish people, I’m completely addicted to Goodreads. I’ve wasted countless hours of my life reading reviews and researching books on that site. Like all social media sites, it has some pointless drama, but I can’t quit Goodreads. I love it too much.
That being said, there’s one thing about Goodreads culture that irritates me: People on that site often make assumptions about the personal lives of other people.
The assumptions happen in reviews and in the comments on reviews. They usually have to do with the “diversity” aspect of books. I’ve seen reviews that say “This author obviously has no experience with ______ and shouldn’t be allowed to write about it.” I’ve seen comments that say “This reviewer is wrong because she doesn’t have experience with _____. If she had experience with _______ she would love/hate this book.”
I ask: how do you know? How do you know that an author or reviewer doesn’t have experience with something? You can’t tell everything about a person by reading a book/review. What if they do have experience with the topic, but they don’t want to talk about it online? Or, what if their experience with _____ is just different from yours? A different experience isn’t wrong. It’s just different.
Here’s my example: I don’t like Thirteen Reasons Why. I have real-life experience with the topics discussed in that book, and *in my opinion,* the events in the book aren’t handled well or realistically. That’s just my opinion. My opinion is based on my experiences alone. If a reviewer loves Thirteen Reasons Why, it would be rude of me to say, “Obviously, you have no experience with suicide. You’d hate the book if you did.” That’s awful. Maybe they do have experience with suicide, and their experience is just different from mine? Their experiences led them to a different opinion about the book. It's not fair to make assumptions about a reviewer’s personal life based on which books they enjoy.
The assumptions on Goodreads bother me because the author or reviewer will feel pressure to defend themselves against them. When you make assumptions, you’re basically saying, “Your writing/reviews are invalid unless you prove that you have real-life experience with this topic.” That’s crappy, guys. Reading a book or a review doesn’t entitle you to know the creator’s life story. They shouldn’t have to prove themselves. They shouldn’t feel like they’re being bullied into talking about something they don’t want to discuss.
On a related note, I get kinda weirded out when people ask authors on Goodreads if their books are #OwnVoices. What if the book is #OwnVoices, but the author doesn’t want to discuss their personal life with strangers on Goodreads? The author could say that the book isn’t #OwnVoices and then open themselves up to criticism of the “This author knows nothing” variety. Or, they can say that it is #OwnVoices and then be expected to talk about their life. I think an author should be able to write something fictional without having to share their history.
Some creators want to keep their personal lives personal. Some things just aren’t the Internet’s business.
Public service announcement: Be a good human and don’t make assumptions about the lives of strangers.
Let’s discuss: Was that ranty enough? Should I have said swear words? Just kidding. I really want to know if there are parts of online bookish culture that irritate you. Are there things that you wish people in the bookish community would stop doing?