Thursday, April 29, 2010

Negative Reviews

There was a time when negative reviews were my favorite to write. This was back when I wrote reviews for Metal Archives, and I couldn’t get enough god awful albums. First of all, negative reviews are generally easier to write. Justifying why you like something is hard; pinpointing the element that stuck in your craw is usually quite easy. Second, they’re just god damn fun. Back then, I would throw down all pretenses of objectivity and wade into the offending album armed with nothing but rage and sarcasm.

Then something changed. I got an email from a band member who’d seen my review (and it was just a mixed one, at that). He tried to come off as fairly glib, but I could tell I’d really hurt him. It felt like I’d just punched someone in the face. Since then and the time I finished on Metal Archives, I wrote negative reviews, but the malicious glee was gone.

Now, an easy solution to this problem would be to just not write negative reviews on Hat Rack. The only problem is that, when I hear statements like “I don’t waste time with the bad stuff,” I cringe a bit (and this isn’t a condemnation of any particular bloggers, just a personal thing). I can’t trust a reviewer who likes everything. If you’ve posted ten reviews, and they’re all positive, how do I really know your tastes? I need to see something you loved, something you liked, and something you did not like, for me to even begin thinking about whether we’re compatible. Besides which, ignoring the issue of recommendation for a minute, I just have a problem with the mindset that negative thoughts shouldn’t be articulated. Why on earth not? Don’t we, as reviewers, have as much of a duty to expose the bad as we do to highlight the good?

Up to this point, I’ve written negative reviews on Hat Rack. The difference was that those weren’t books were I felt like the author was going to hear and feel like I insulted them. I don’t think that Philip K. Dick cares much anymore, and I have a feeling that Stephen King isn’t reading my blog.

But Tome of the Undergates is different. I don’t think that Sam Sykes is going to start bawling, of course, but a large part of the reason that I read Tome in the first place was that I loved Sykes’s online personality. I can’t really say that I know him, of course, but I read enough to realize that he was a cool guy who would probably be awesome to hang out with. I could’ve just not reviewed the book, of course. It would have been easy; I don’t put something in the Upcoming Reviews slot until the review’s finished, so none of you would have ever known it was even being contemplated. I considered doing that, but I felt like I was lying to you, reader, even if it was just a lie of omission. So here we are; the reviews up, and I forced myself to be honest and to not sugarcoat my opinion. In conclusion:

I’m sorry, Mr. Sykes, but I had to do it.

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