Thursday, October 12, 2017

Rant: Can We Please Not Make Assumptions?

Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts At Midnight host the 2017 Discussion Challenge.

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?


  1. I totally get ya! People get faaar too defensive! I also get really pi**ed off when people criticise #OwnVoices people, or other people with valid points, and refuse to FREAKING LISTEN! *ahem*

    When it comes to 13 Reasons Why, I've very gently suggested to some reviewers (who wrote fawning reviews) that they put a warning somewhere at the beginning or end of their review, just to acknowledge that the book and series *could* be harmful to someone, and to be careful when reading/watching. The reaction largely ignored everything I said, questioned whether there had been copycat cases, and accused me of wanting to ban the book.

    Everyone needs to chill, stop making assumptions (as you quite rightly say!) and LISTEN to each other! (Is there a book blogger version of the naughty step? Because I think we need one! Lol.)

  2. Preach on! I think it is so hard because everyone has different experiences and different takes on them. I don't like when people go after others on sites like Goodreads for opinions. But whatever I stay away from drama as much as I can.

  3. I don't engage much with the social aspect of Goodreads, but I think you make some excellent points. I remember one author recently talking about how her fat character was indeed #ownvoices and people didn't need to criticize her for choosing to use author photos that did not highlight that fact. Very much a damned if you do; damned if you don't situation--she'd either get accused of not having personal experience to draw on, or of hiding her personal experience. I do think it's interesting from a literary analysis perspective to know how much an author is drawing on their own life, but you are right--it's not actually any of our business.

  4. I'll give you a B on the rant scale - needs more yelling. XD Seriously though, I agree with you! I've had people make assumptions about my life based on my review of a book before and it's really weird to me. I'll never understand people throwing out random "facts" about strangers on the internet. I'm totally cool with people having different opinions. Great post!

    Tracy @ Cornerfolds

  5. I totally agree with you on this. I get really annoyed by some of the comments people make about authors or reviewers like that. I don't spend as much time as I used to on Goodreads and I don't like several things about it but I can't quit as it is too useful to me! Your rant was actually quite restrained! I tend to use the sweary words when I get annoyed!

  6. Well, if you have to have experience with the topics the books you are reading cover, then none of us should be reviewing fantasies, or any supernatural books. It is "fiction" after all. I can understand people complaining about non-fiction books where maybe they don't think the author has enough experience to write about that topic. And when you are writing for teens, well, trying to appeal to those brains is just a whole 'nother challenge. Well said.

  7. Oh YES!! That is a huge thing that bothers me on Goodreads too! How do you know what someone's life experiences are, who they family is, who they're married to, what's happened to them in their life?! You just can't. I definitely stay away from the drama on Goodreads. But one time I soooo wanted to say something. A reviewer was attacking how the girl in the book was completely unrealistic because of her life experiences and thought it was over the top. Like she hadn't eaten a panini, hadn't been to a certain chain restaurant and the list goes on and on. Well I had never done any of the things she's listed. And I'm in my 30s. Sigh. I wish people would stop and think before attacking or making assumptions. Fabulous post btw!

  8. That is a very mild rant...more like a strong opinion, and one I totally agree with! People like or don't like books for all kinds of reasons, and I've never understood the point of attacking someone publicly for their take on a book, even if I disagree with it. No one knows my life, and I don't know anyone else's, so why should I assume that they have or haven't had certain experiences that inform their reactions to particular books? Uggggh online discourse is so often the worst

  9. I agree that these assumptions have gone over-the-top. It's fair to say that you think something is unrealistic or problematic, based on your experience, but that does not give you an excuse to outright bash the author. What happened to respecting people? I think one reason that Goodreads (and some other places in the book blogging community) has this problem is that having our lives public online has made some people act like everything about a person should be public and available to criticize. As you say, what if the author has this relevant experience but has chosen not to scream it to the universe? We are allowed to keep some things private.

    Now another thing I consider is the room for growth. There are many things in diversity that require people to learn, so I appreciate it when an author who says they don't have experience with something says that they did their best to research and be respectful. To use the Thirteen Reasons Why example, the author wrote a note in it to explain how he went about researching suicide and suicide prevention. With everyone's assumptions floating around, I think there also needs to be a moment where we consider that authors are learning. No one is perfect. I went on my own rant here.

  10. Girl, PREACH. This is a solid rant, and I daresay you should do more of them! YES yes yes. I could not agree more. Because we ARE all entitled to our opinion, and it isn't fair for someone to think that they get to drag YOUR opinion in the process. Like- if you have experience, and you find something problematic, absolutely say something! But there is no reason to assume that everyone who didn't happen to have the same problems as you did is somehow "less than". And you're right, it is a HUGE invasion of privacy to start demanding to know how/why something affects a reviewer or author. Not anyone's business. If you disagree with an opinion, that's cool. You don't have to be an asshat about it, though. The call-out culture is incredibly problematic. There are so many better ways to bring attention to problems in books, to bring attention to issues in general without making people feel bad. GREAT post!

  11. "Some things just aren't the Internet's business." Thank you!! This kinda thing has gotten way out of hand. I'm all for diversity and #OwnVoices is great but there seems to be a litmus test these days where if you're perceived as being insufficiently versed in your subject you shouldn't write about it. But like you said, how do we KNOW they're not versed in it? Good grief people don't give up their privacy or life because they write a book. So glad you pointed this out.

    the Internet and Goodreads and everything else are great but I feel for authors now- they have to be so OUT there. If they want to share, fine. But if not, we're not the boss of them.

  12. Yes to all of this! One of the many problems with being able to be somewhat anonymous on the internet, is it frees people to be complete idiots. I try to avoid all of the messiness that comes with people judging the validity of other people's experiences. I don't have to wade in if I don't agree with someone, I just keep moving. I don't have time to argue with people online over a book! :) It would have to be truly offensive for me to even be inclined to say something. I think too many people feel entitled to know too much about others. I'm just not a big fan of putting seriously personal things on social media as if it's everyone's right to know me that intimately. No, thank you!

  13. Absolutely agree. I feel like people often go on witchhunts every time someone effs up? I mean, don't get me wrong, I know misrepresentation is really harmful, but a lot of the time people's experiences are just different from your own, or maybe they did get it wrong, but they were honestly trying to idk write diversely and just messed up one little aspect of one little thing or genuinely didn't mean to misrepresent anyone. Yeah, I guess you could say do your research better, but maybe they did do their research and it just happens that different people experience different things in different ways. I also really dislike that people seem to think that you should only write about things you've experienced yourself - yes, we DO need more #ownvoices books, no question, BUT that doesn't mean that authors can only write about things they've experienced themselves. If authors want to write diversely, someone is eventually going to get something wrong, and yes, sure it's absolutely valid and probably necessary to call them out in your review, but that NEVER means you should go after the author personally because they're a frickin' person with feelings too. I think this comment turned into a mini-rant itself, oops.

  14. I'm in agreement with you 100% of the time and I'm sure I've been guilty more than once when it comes to making assumptions about people on Goodreads. Or social media in general. But, I feel like this post was really needed because it's definitely something that needs to be talked about. And constantly hearing someone say things "Well, not like you'd ever understand." is so disheartening and I'm really glad you shared this rant with us because, again, it NEEDS to be talked about and in depth. I always feel like we go circles around people when we do try to talk about it because so many of the people who make those assumptions are so stubborn but I still think it's so important that we try. Basically, GREAT post. I'm giving you a high five through the screen and it's probably really quite awkward but, you know. High-fives all around, anyways.

  15. I LOVED THIS AND TOTALLY AGREE, AJ. It bothers me to absolutely an insane amount how these days we're literally forced to "out" ourselves to be taken seriously. I get so much hate on my reviews when I'm critiquing mental health rep...often because I don't want to discuss my OWN in a public place with people I don't know?!? Like that's fair?? But unless I like "list my credentials" it seems I'm not allowed to have opinions. *Sigh* I know authors have literally been outed from the closet and things on the lgbt+ spectrum (which is nOBODY'S RIGHT TO DO) just to defend their own books with people abusing them for writing. It's really disgusting and awful.

    Why do we always have to assume the worst of people?!? *sad noises*

    And also we have to remember EVERYTHING is a spectrum!! Like one person's experiences won't have to match another's. I wish people (especially on GR) would remember that.

    Anyway, I loved your rant. I don't think it sounded too angry at all hehe. ;)

    (I also hated 13 Reasons Why. It gave me huge panic attacks for weeks and I couldn't read anything after it for ages. ;_;)

  16. I SO agree with all of this! I also think that people can have valid points and feelings about something without having direct experience with it, but that is, of course, blasphemy.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  17. Don't you make assumptions about people's blog reading habits? (see: your 11 Q and A post)

    You obviously don't think it's the same. But...

  18. Word!!!
    I think the fact that we all bring our personal experiences into the stories we read make it so interesting to discuss books with each other! I even tell my students that I love discussing literature with them, because they can make me see something in a way I hadn't before. A different perspective, a new detail that stands out, a dialogue that can suddenly be analysed differently. That's one of the things I love about reading.
    And like you, it makes me sad that some readers / reviewers / authors try to invalidate someone else's opinion just because it's different from their own. And a lot of people are extremely wary of sharing too much personal information on the internet - with very good reasons.
    Awesome topic, AJ! (And you did well with your rant - even if you didn't swear ;) )
    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

  19. I am giving this post a standing ovation right now. I think a person has the right to not like something, just like they have the right to like something. My moral and value system is not the gold standard that everyone lives by, and I accept that. I totally agree that we are shaped by our personal experiences, and someone telling us what we should or shouldn't like isn't going to make it so. I always feel bad for the authors too, because it's a catch 22. They are criticized if they do not have enough diversity in their books, and then they are criticized by the way they incorporate diversity in their books. You can't please everyone. We, society, have become to judgy, and we are trying to impose our tastes and standards on other people. It is very frustrating.

  20. I hate some people on Goodreads making assumptions about books because they heard some reviewer say it didn't include enough diversity or expose it in the right way. I get that we need diversity, but not every author is comfortable. Also, I have seen some diverse authors saying that they don't feel the need to write diversity and that just makes sense to me. I do hate when reviewers assume they know all the things about how a book will be received. Even if you are a paid reviewer, it is still only an opinion about a book. Great topic!

  21. Rant away with ones like this - I totally agree and think this a great topic to talk about & address. Well said, Aj.

  22. I adore Goodreads, but I can recognize that it's far from perfect. People are too quick to shove their opinions/tastes down your throat. The worst part about it is that they get mad if you don't absolutely agree with it/love it. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and just because someone wrote a book doesn't open them up to be burned at the stake or obligate them to talk about something that they clearly don't want to talk about publicly. Great post!

  23. Great post. I also feel like this whole policing things impedes creation too. If I haven't had experience about something, I'm now not allowed to write about it in my story? That's like... damn! So basically I can't write anything! Isn't the whole idea of writing that we set our imaginations free and just let it run? If we're only "allowed" to write what we experienced, where's the imagination? Grrr. And what's all this "shouldn't be allowed" at all? Like, who do people think they are, the uppermost authority? As if there is such a thing at all? It also really riles me up. Great post.


I do a happy dance every time I get a comment. (You should be grateful that you’re not around to witness this dance. It’s truly horrifying.) Leave a link to your blog so I can visit you.