TBIF: Thank blog it’s Friday! (Blogger-ethics-discussion edition)

Word of warning: this is a pretty lengthy TBIF post, and it’s all Booking Through Thursday‘s fault. Read on…

Tuesday Thingers (hosted by The Boston Bibliophile)

Popular this month on LT: Do you look at this list? Do you get ideas on what to read from it?
Have you read any of the books on the list right now? Feel free to link to any reviews you’ve done as well.

1. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
2. Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron
3. Nation by Terry Pratchett
4. Brisingr by Christopher Paolini
5. Anathem by Neal Stephenson
6. American Wife: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld
7. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
8. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel by David Wroblewski
9. Eclipse (The Twilight Saga, Book 3) by Stephenie Meyer
10.Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland

Short question this week, and I think my answer will be short too:

I do check out this list every now and then when I sign on to my LibraryThing homepage, but since it only changes once a month sometimes I forget to take a look at it! One thing I usually do notice is whether some of the titles look familiar because book bloggers have been talking about them – it’s funny how that works sometimes. (I know I saw quite a few posts about the Gaiman book in the weeks around Halloween).

I haven’t read any of the books on the list…yet. I will definitely be reading American Wife once it’s out in paperback, though; I like Curtis Sittenfeld a lot, even though I wasn’t so crazy about her second novel. Eclipse is in TBR Purgatory with Twilight and New Moon. The Guernsey Literary… has been talked about a lot of the book blogs, and most of it’s been positive, but it really hasn’t grabbed me. I might consider reading Dewey if it was about a dog instead of a cat, which reminds me – I think I’m on the verge of caving in and reading Marley and Me.

If you’ve read any of the books on the list, what do you recommend?

Honesty – Booking Through Thursday

Suggested by JM:

I receive a lot of review books, but I have never once told lies about the book just because I got a free copy of it. However, some authors seem to feel that if they send you a copy of their book for free, you should give it a positive review.

Do you think reviewers are obligated to put up a good review of a book, even if they don’t like it? Have we come to a point where reviewers *need* to put up disclaimers to (hopefully) save themselves from being harassed by unhappy authors who get negative reviews?

Don’t forget to leave a link to your actual response (so people don’t have to go searching for it) in the comments—or if you prefer, leave your answers in the comments themselves!

Ah, last week’s “controversy of the week” has come to BTT. I’m glad I was already working on a response to this issue, having joined a group on Book Blogs that’s trying to address the questions of posting review policies and developing a “code of ethics” for book bloggers.

When I first started book blogging, it was to keep a record of – and remember details about – the books I read, which, at that time, were my books. The reviews I posted were for me, and I didn’t really expect many people would read them, let alone come to value my opinion on books. (Even now, my book reviews tend to get fewer comments than other types of posts here, so maybe my opinion isn’t that valued after all…)

I’d been blogging nearly a year when I was first offered a book for review. The book came via a publicist and not directly from the author, but even so, I remember feeling some anxiety over it, since there was at least a slight chance that the author might actually read my review. I wanted to be fair, I wanted to be honest, and I didn’t want to be offensive in expressing my opinion. I think I found a good balance, and I hope I’ve maintained it. (Luckily, I didn’t hate the book.)

I don’t feel that reviewers are obligated to post positive reviews of books they disliked, no matter where the books came from. I think we’re obligated to post honest reviews. Also, if we accept a book with the understanding that we’ll write about it, I think we are obligated to follow through and do so, no matter what we think of the book; that is, in such cases, we’re obligated to post reviews, period.

Having said that, I do find that when I’m reading review books, I do look harder for positive things I can say honestly, especially when the book has come through a direct contact with an author or publicist. That’s a relationship, and if we want to nurture it beyond this specific book, a savage review isn’t in anyone’s best interests. Then again, I tend to stack the deck by limiting the books I accept for review to those I would normally read for myself anyway, so that makes it easier. It also makes it easier if I don’t happen to like a review book in a genre or subject area that I rarely read, because I can say that although I thought I’d give it a try, this type of book is unusual for me and I might not be the ideal audience for it.

However, as far as an author’s expectation of positive reviews from book bloggers goes, it occurs to me that when any of us put our words out there – in a book, in the newspaper, on a blog – we can hope they are well-received, but we can’t control anyone’s reaction to them. Not everyone’s going to like what we have to say, but it’s easier to accept that when they let us know that in a diplomatic manner; and if we disagree with their opinions, they are just that – opinions, not verdicts – and we should be expressing that disagreement diplomatically as well.

Trish posed some follow-up questions related to accepting books for review:

How has receiving ARCs affected your reading? Have you considered stemming the flow of incoming books so you have more freedom to read what you want? Has receiving free books become more of a burden than a blessing?

I responded in comments:

I don’t actively solicit books for review. When I first started blogging, my purpose was to have a record of what I’d read and remember something about it, and I assumed I’d be blogging about books I owned and chose on my own. I didn’t even KNOW that book bloggers got recruited to do reviews.
Most of the review books I received during my first months of blogging were for blog tours that I signed up for. I’d been blogging almost a year before I was offered my first review book, and I’ve gotten more review copies through publicists than I have from authors directly.
But yes, ARCs and review copies have definitely affected my reading patterns. I think there’s a responsibility to read and post about those books in a timely manner, so I put them ahead of my own books even if they’re not what I feel like reading at a given time.
I think I’m pretty selective. I try not to solicit, or accept on offer, any books that I wouldn’t be interested in reading on general principles, and I try not to have too many review books in at once. But I may cut it back even more next year. It’s hard, though; turn down too many, and you hurt your relationships, which means you could potentially lose out on a great review opportunity down the road!

I suspect everyone who has an opinion on this controversy will be posting it at her/his own blog if they haven’t already done so. I’ve read other responses to this week’s BTT topic; this author’s take and this blogger’s perspective are among the best I’ve seen.

I think this book-blog-review issue has broader considerations for product reviewing in general, and I know a lot of bloggers who do that. Where do you stand regarding a reviewer’s responsibility to be positive vs. honest – or is there really a conflict? In any case, I’m interested in your thoughts on this (including links to your posts).

Friday Fill-ins #99

1. The last band I saw live was The Brian Setzer Orchestra, December 2005 (no, I don’t get out much, why do you ask? And I’m not counting the Rock Bottom Remainders at the 2006 L.A. Times Festival of Books).
2. What I look forward to most on this Thanksgiving is seeing my son for the first time since last Christmas!
3. My Christmas/holiday shopping is a chore I’ve barely thought about yet, let alone started.
4. Thoughts of things I should be doing instead of what I’m doing now fill my head.
5. I wish I could wear a size seven shoe (there are a LOT more options than there are in size five).
6. Bagpipes just don’t sound very musical to me.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I’m looking forward to being done with the work week, tomorrow my plans include coffee with my sister and shopping for a birthday gift and Sunday, I want to not have very much to do, besides attend a 7-year-old’s birthday party!

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  1. I am commenting on your Fillins –
    Glad you are seeing family!
    Size five is tiny – do you shop the kids section? I knew someone that bought her shoes there 🙂

    enjoy your weekend….

    See my Fill-in

  2. lol #4 – I can relate.

    As to your book list, I read and LOVED The Graveyard Book, and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. In fact, if you're looking for a good story involving dogs, read Edgar Sawtelle over Marley and Me.

    I also read Eclipse, which was … ok, but better than the 4th book LOL! Going to see Twilight tonight 🙂

    The Twilight series: http://fondofsnape.com/?p=1156 & http://fondofsnape.com/?p=1152

    Edgar Sawtelle: http://fondofsnape.com/?p=1862

    The Graveyard Book: http://fondofsnape.com/?p=1942

  3. LarryG – Me too. I wish he was coming for Christmas, but a short visit over Thanksgiving is better than none at all!

    As for shoes, it depends on how the store is organized. Sometimes my size IS in the kids’ section, sometimes it’s not. But since I’m far too old for kid styles, it can be a challenge.

    Janet – I’m surprised my 14-year-old isn’t asking to see Twilight this weekend. Then again, she thinks the actors playing Bella and Edward look all wrong, so maybe that’s why.

    I’ve read some mixed reviews of Edgar Sawtelle – thanks for your links! But my stepdaughter (the 14-YO) and sister are both bugging me to read Marley and Me – and my sister’s not even a dog person.

  4. You make excellent points in your BTT post. Bravo! I this controversy was a good thing. It forced everyone to really define their reviewing guidelines. That can only be good.

    Great fill-ins, too. 🙂 I haven’t done much holiday thinking/shopping either.

  5. I’m commenting on your Book List. I’ve only read “The Guernsey Literary…” and even though I was reluctant at first, in the end I loved the book. I really liked the characters and the story held my interest. I wasn’t sure a book made up of letters could do that, but it did. I just bought “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” and am anxious to read it.

    As far as your Friday Fill Ins – I hope your visit with your son is everything you want it to be! 🙂

  6. Karen H (Scobberlotcher) – I think you’re right. It’s been a catalyst for many of us to think about not just review policies, but book solicitation and the relationships in the author/publicist/blogger community. Discussion is healthy :-).

    Kathy (Bermudaonion) – That was the second time I saw him – and yes, the show was a LOT of fun!

    Lisa – It seems like nearly everyone I’ve encountered has liked …Guernsey… – when it’s out in paperback, I may give it another shot!

    My son’s visit won’t be long enough (just the weekend), but it will be great to have him around!

  7. I’ve been thinking I need to read one of Gaiman’s books; I’m just not sure where to start.

    I think you are right about being honest. I can see how that might be hard with a book you don’t really like.

    I can only imagine how hard it is to find shoes. I used to work at a Finish Line a long time ago. I know not many five’s came in; it must be ten times worse for dress shoes.

  8. Mike – I haven’t read any of Gaiman’s books either, so you’ll have to tell me where you start.

    I think what’s difficult in being honest in a review of a book you didn’t like is being honest without getting overly snarky or mean about it, since you never know whether the author might find your post.

    I actually have pretty good luck finding shoes at Payless, but the selection in my size is maybe one-quarter of what’s available in a seven. My stepdaughter has the same problem, but in the opposite direction – she wears a size ten or eleven, depending on the shoe.

  9. It’s been interesting reading everyone’s BTT posts. I almost didn’t answer it, but thought I’d give it a shot anyway. I don’t know if I quite said everything I wanted or in exactly the way I wanted, but it’ll have to do. We definitely do share similar views on this topic.

    I would love to see the Rock Bottom Remainders someday. 🙂 You have tiny feet! I wear a 6 or 6 1/2 depending on the shoe, so I’m not much bigger.

    I hope you had a nice weekend. Enjoy the birthday party!

  10. Wendy (Literary Feline) – The birthday party is for a 7-year-old friend of the family, and we won’t really know too many people there other than his parents. But his dad is Tall Paul’s best friend since high school, so it’s almost a family thing.

    I’m really glad you did go ahead and respond to this week’s BTT topic. It’s been enlightening to read everyone’s views on that.

    Yes, I do have tiny feet :-).

    I think the Rock Bottom Remainders only get together for a show once or twice a year now, usually some kind of benefit concert. But they are a LOT of fun to see, so if you get the chance, do it!

  11. Darn it. I read this right AFTER submitting a book review. I’ll let you know when it’s posted – I’d love a critique of my critique 🙂