I have been known to write an occasional negative book review, such as when a re-telling of a classic feels like a rip-off or when a novel either “cheats” on the plot or fails to have one. I stand behind my words, which I choose carefully in each review, but I derive no pleasure from being so harsh. I know that there are people behind those books — the authors who put effort into those novels. Why would I revel in potentially hurting their feelings?
I review books honestly because I feel an obligation to warn other consumers of a bad purchase. I buy almost all of the books I read, and so an awful book is not only a waste of my time, but it is also a waste of my money, and I wonder sometimes if I would have taken less offense to certain books had I accepted a free copy from the publisher. At any rate, my goal in writing reviews is to be honest and direct with the hope that both authors and readers understand that what I write is merely my opinion, and I am nothing more than a disappointed reader with a keyboard.
So, I will continue to write negative reviews as I see fit, hoping to inform other readers about what to expect from a book. I do not intend for these negative reviews to be humorous, and yet, in general, it seems quite common for readers to find humor in “angry” reviews.
For critics with “credentials,” there’s even an award for it: The Omnivore’s “Hatchet Job of the Year,” which is “for the writer of the angriest, funniest, most trenchant book review of the past twelve months.” I assume this award is not facetious, as its stated goal is to “raise the profile of professional critics and to promote integrity and wit in literary journalism.” According to the BBC, “[o]rganisers insist they only pick on established writers strong enough to take the criticism,” and one of the judges for the award believes the award-winner may have even helped the book, because it was “a demolition review with a difference: it made you want to go and read the book, for all its faults.”
While I applaud efforts to encourage honest literary criticism, the “Hatchet” award’s conflation of anger and humor gives me pause. “Angry” reviews aren’t always truthful, and to me, they are rarely funny. I see nothing funny about hurting another person’s feelings, even when I am giving my honest opinion.