‘Tis the voice of the critic


Am I being oversensitive? I’m still smarting from an unprovoked comment posted on my LibraryThing profile page which declared that it’s “like the rest of your site — and especially your reviews — ‘over the top’ – and verbose!”

Over the top? Verbose? Really? For much social media I can see lengthy product reviews or Facebook comments may well be unwelcome, and of course on Twitter such verbosity would be impossible. But on a book-cataloguing and review site, where words are held in high esteem, how can one be so philistine? Especially as the writer — I won’t name and shame him — tells us that “in a former life I was an Assistant headteacher in a local comprehensive school. Now a freelance researcher into the rise and decline of ancient civilizations.”

For an ex-teacher, let alone an ex Assistant Head, to say such a thing makes my blood run cold. His own handful of reviews run from epigrammatic (“44 years old in 2014 – not a lot of use!”) to self-publicising (“I am doing a Masters in Classical Studies and I cannot fault the accuracy and detail …”), but they don’t tell me much about the value or content of the books themselves. It’s unclear who his review comments are aimed at — himself, perhaps? — though it’s crystal clear that my intended audience does not include him.

But his cutting and rather spiteful remark gave me pause. Am I in fact over the top in my statements or way of writing? And above all am I too verbose?

I’ve said elsewhere that I believe that good reviews should mainly educate, enlighten and entertain: this a mantra which, when I google it, seems pretty commonplace, and is close to the Reithian principles of the BBC — to inform, educate and entertain. Reviews based merely on opinions (“Meh” or “Awesome!” for example) only work if you know and agree with the individual making them; reviews that give you a reasoned argument why something may be good, bad or indifferent seem to be much more helpful.

So, if I want to educate or enlighten you about a book or an issue then I need to use words, and often a lot of them. That’s the verbose bit. But as for over the top, could that be my attempt at entertaining? Entertaining: well, that’s certainly a matter of opinion.

However, I’d be willing to consider a path rectifying this supposed fault if most bloggers thought I’d erred on the wrong side of acceptable.


25 thoughts on “‘Tis the voice of the critic

  1. The comment box aligns with the “YOU ARE FOLLOWING THIS BLOG” note that says I’m one of 685 followers (!). Let’s be conservative and say 10% of those regularly read your posts: that’s still nearly 70 people who want to know what you think about the books you read — nearly 70 people who in fact probably rely on your verbosity to provide us with a sense of what we might find if we open those books. We’re waiting for your next review.

    1. Thanks, Lizzie, for your support and reassurance. I’m one of those for whom even a little criticism serves to eat away at self-esteem — however unjustified it might appear — because a little voice niggles away and says “You know there’s something that rings true in this!”

      It’s like a barb which not only causes temporary discomfort but which is tipped with a poison that continues to work long after the initial hurt is forgotten. So thanks again for your salve! And, yes, the next review is in hand!

    1. “Begrudgers”! I like that! It’s true, isn’t it, that by exposing our writing to the world (for whatever reason, whether given in a generous spirit or merely for self-aggrandisement) we risk carping censure from ill-wishers, but I’m very grateful to well-wishers like you for putting things into perspective.

  2. Having just had a peep at him, I wouldn’t worried, he sounds like a dry old stick. I know nothing about books, only that I enjoy the one I choose to read and depend on people like you to inform me if they are to put it bluntly, rubbish or not. Anyway this is you and why change because of him 🙂

    1. Thanks, Lynn! No, I probably won’t change — I write the kind of reviews I would want to read (I think this is the honest way of doing it) and hope very much that they’re also the kind of reviews others like you would want to read. I also like the idea that they may be a kind of service to readers havering about whether to read a book or not (though I do try to omit any spoilers!).

    1. The fact that he is a ex-teacher was what distressed me most, Alastair. But, as they often say that incompetents get ‘kicked upstairs’, perhaps the fact he’d got to the dizzy heights of Assistant Head may mean his contact with sensitive students in the classroom had been curtailed, even if his attitudes to adult colleagues (should his comment to me be typical) might give real cause for concern.

      And I see, with all those subsidiary clauses I’ve written above, the term ‘verbose’ is probably spot-on!

  3. Pffft. I find your reviews perfectly helpful. They’re perhaps less easy to digest than other reviews, but that’s more or less in the same way as it’s easy to eat snack food and this is more like a meal. It is not a bad trait.

  4. Verbose? Chris? To paraphrase a famous gentle giant, ” I don’t think that word means what he thinks it means”. Your detractor may suffer from a slight case of envy, as it seems he has things to say (mostly about himself it would appear) but cannot find a pleasing tone in which to communicate, therefore he chooses to lash out at someone whom he wishes to be more like. People like this cannot help but criticize those they secretly admire.

    Oops, sorry to be so verbose. What I meant to say, is some people are so insecure they make themselves feel better by trolling others. I’d ignore him.

    1. I’m so grateful for all these positive responses, Sari, and yours particularly has put a name to what really unsettled me about this out-of-the-blue comment: it’s trolling, pure and simple. That it’s done by an ex-teacher makes it more horrible, but it at least puts it into context. Trolls play on fears, to which there’s no comeback: you can’t give a rational answer to an irrational gibe, so I won’t try. Thanks so much, Sari.

  5. What a horrid and unnecessary gesture for that LT member to make. If someone doesn’t like the style of your blog or reviews, there’s one simple thing to do: don’t read them! No writing style will please everyone, but as the comments above make clear, yours is congenial to many of us. Yes, your reviews are more “wordy” than some, but they are words with substance and thought behind them. That’s what makes you stand out, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. Keep going with the conviction that your words will find their right audience, if you are honest and true to yourself.

    1. Thank you, Lory, I very much appreciate your generous and supportive comments; honesty and truthfulness are indeed the virtues I try to infuse into my remarks — though without the brutality and rudeness that one sometimes sees! Thank you again.

  6. I can only hope that he was active in the classroom for as short a time as possible – can you imagine how harmful this way of treating others was to young people who are still unsure of themselves, still searching for their own identity? There are ways to give creative criticism without being hurtful – clearly this was a lesson this man missed at teacher training college.

    For my penny’s worth – I don’t follow many book review sites, despite loving books. This is because I get frustrated by the ‘awesome’, superficial ‘reviews’ that aren’t really reviews at all, give no insight into why the book was good or bad, its strengths and weaknesses. This is why I follow you, because you do exactly this, and you’re knowledgeable in a wide range of subjects which I also find interesting – hence some of our lovely and fascinating online chats!

    Your intelligence, knowledge and eloquence come across in every post – don’t change them because of one person’s rudeness.

    1. Well, what kind, generous remarks, Lynn, and I can only say I too have enjoyed your posts and our online conversations for the same reason.

      As for said troll, I too hope his time in the classroom was brief, though if this is how he treats other adults then I hope any such bullying tactics with teachers below him in the school hierarchy were swiftly curtailed with retirement. It won’t affect my blogging, now that I’ve had such marvellous support, thank you!

    1. Totally agree, Annabel, I shan’t be giving him any more of the oxygen of publicity. And you’re right about LibraryThing not being snarky, though I have been neglecting it (and Goodreads) shamefully of late. Time to revisit, I think!

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