Some of you may know that as well as blogging about whatever the hell tickles my fancy over here, I also review books. Yes! It is true! To hell with you, all the kids that mocked me for reading too much in school; I’ve made a nice little lucrative (in a non-paying sense) career out of it on my beloved interwebs! I have two places that allow me to spew my book-related thoughts whenever I feel the need; Insatiable Booksluts and Snobbery. It’s the perfect gig for me; no deadlines, I get to read what I want, and I get to tell people about amazing (or, at times, NOT-amazing) books that I come across (and there’s nothing happier for a reader than when you recommend a book to the faceless masses and someone takes your recommendation, reads the book, and loves it as much as you do. It’s an amazing feeling.)
However, there are some books that I read that, for whatever reason, don’t make it to either site, Either I didn’t like them well enough to write a full review of them, or they just don’t fit either site. For those books, I write a quick review at Goodreads.
Goodreads is perfect for me; I can keep track of what I’m reading, I can socialize with other readers, and I can write quick reviews of books that don’t deserve the full-review treatment. This is as much for me as for everyone else. I read a lot, and I like to keep track of what I read. I used to have a spreadsheet, but I lost track of that when it got insanely long. I like the graphic aspect of Goodreads, as well – sometimes I don’t remember the title of a book, but I remember the cover. I can just scan through what I’ve read lately and pick it out of the list.
I’m not a rabble-rouser over there. I know there ARE rabble-rousers; trolls who do various things like bait authors into getting into fights, or bait other reviewers, or if – GASP! – you disagree with their evaluation of a book, call you names. NAMES! Can you even IMAGINE the HORROR!
I don’t get involved in the drama. I don’t care for that nonsense. I’m there to write reviews so people can make educated decisions of books before they purchase or read them, and for my own records. That’s all. That’s it.
Recently, Amazon purchased Goodreads. There was a LOT of uproar over this. Up until this point, Goodreads was an independent site for readers. How would the biggest online bookseller owning the site change things? People threatened to leave, and people left, and people moaned, and people groaned.
I’m a big Amazon fan (although I’m not blind to their issues; I just like their prices and convenience.) I decided to wait it out.
Well, Goodreads dropped the hammer last weekend. I assume only the first hammer. We are, I would guess, going to be nailed with so many hammers in the coming months that we’re going to want a platinum umbrella when we visit the site.
Right before leaving for the weekend, they put up the following announcement, but they didn’t make it obvious; they put it up in the forums, where as few people would see it as possible.
In case you don’t feel like clicking, here are some of the highlights:
“**Delete content focused on author behavior. We have had a policy of removing reviews that were created primarily to talk about author behavior from the community book page. Once removed, these reviews would remain on the member’s profile. Starting today, we will now delete these entirely from the site. We will also delete shelves and lists of books on Goodreads that are focused on author behavior. If you have questions about why a review was removed, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. (And to answer the obvious question: of course, it’s appropriate to talk about an author within the context of a review as it relates to the book. If it’s an autobiography, then clearly you might end up talking about their lives. And often it’s relevant to understand an author’s background and how it influenced the story or the setting.)”
“To clarify, we haven’t deleted any book reviews in regard to this issue. The key word here is “book”. The reviews that have been deleted – and that we don’t think have a place on Goodreads – are reviews like “the author is an a**hole and you shouldn’t read this book because of that”. In other words, they are reviews of the author’s behavior and not relevant to the book. We believe books should stand on their own merit, and it seems to us that’s the best thing for readers.
“Someone used the word censorship to describe this. This is not censorship – this is setting an appropriate tone for a community site. We encourage members to review and shelve books in a way that makes sense for them, but reviews and shelves that focus primarily on author behavior do not belong on Goodreads.
“Some people are perhaps interpreting this as you can’t discuss the author at all. This couldn’t be further from the case. The author is a part of the book and can certainly be discussed in relation to the book. But it has to be in a way that’s relevant to the book. Again, let’s judge books based on what’s inside them.
“Some people are concerned about their “not-interested” shelf or variants of that. We are not deleting those; you are free to keep cataloging books that way. We are deleting shelves like “author-is-a-jerk”, as they don’t fit our guiding principle that the book page be about the book.”
“Thank you for all the comments so far. One concern that has come up in this thread is that the content was deleted without those members first being told that our moderation policy had been revised.
“In retrospect, we absolutely should have given users notice that our policies were changing before taking action on the items that were flagged. To the 21 members who were impacted: we’d like to sincerely apologize for jumping the gun on this. It was a mistake on our part, and it should not have happened.
“Anyone else with reviews or shelves created prior to September 21, 2013 that will be deleted under the revised policy will be sent a notification first and given time to decide what to do.”
OK, so let’s see what’s up here.
- We’re no longer allowed to discuss authors when reviewing books. I know this SAYS it’s ok if it’s relevant to the book; we’ll discuss that in a minute.
- Any reviews violating this rule will be deleted.
- Any shelves labeled offensively toward the author? Also deleted.
- Goodreads will be making these decisions. How? Arbitrarily, it seems.
Goodreads went around deleting things before even telling anyone they were doing it. They say it was only 21 people; more than 21 people are reporting it happened to them. Who’s to say who’s telling the truth, here? The big, bad company, now owned by Amazon, or people who aren’t getting paid and just love to read and write reviews?
Here’s my issue.
I understand if you review a memoir or an autobiography or sometimes even a collection of personal essays you’re probably going to have to touch on the author. Goodreads states very clearly here they won’t censor that (HA HA IT’S NOT CENSORSHIP! says Goodreads! We’re just telling you what you can and can’t say or do, and what to think! IT WAS A PLEASURE TO BURN!) but who knows what they’ll do. If they find it offensive, it’s gone.
It’s a nice thing, to say the author and his or her behavior and personal beliefs have nothing to do with a book; that it’s easy, just judge a book on the content, not the author. It’s an easy thing to say. It must be nice to live in such a black-and-white world.
However, I just read Ender’s Game.
And I can’t, in good conscience, review Ender’s Game on Goodreads.
Because I cannot, utterly cannot, divorce Ender’s Game from the beliefs of its author, Orson Scott Card. It would be a betrayal of my own beliefs, and a betrayal of a number of people I care about a great deal.
Would my review, among a veritable sea of reviews for the book (which was written in 1985) be a drop in the ocean? No. Not at all. But I don’t betray myself, not if I can help it.
So I’m going to review Ender’s Game here, because this is a safe place, and no one’s muzzling me on my own blog.
And as for Goodreads? I’ll continue using it, unless someone creates something comparable. There’s not another site out there that has the same functionality. But I think they need to stop fooling themselves: this is censorship, pure and simple. Not telling us what the rules are – or telling us, but not playing by them – and arbitrarily deleting our hard work because it doesn’t fit your rules, whatever they might be – this is censorship. Whether or not this was dictated by Amazon – my guess is yes, because it’s not good for a bookseller to have someone give bad reviews of books or authors, now, is it? – is irrelevant. We’re no longer welcome to share our real thoughts on things.
This scares the hell out of me, to be honest. To just do something like this, and think it’s ok? And to say no, no, this is not censorship?
Such a pleasure to burn.
I just finished Ender’s Game. Ender’s Game was a really wonderful book. I immediately got caught up in the story. I didn’t know what was going to happen; somehow, a book that’s almost thirty years old wasn’t spoiled for me, even though it’s a cult classic. There were two points at which I had actual tears.
Then what’s the problem, Amy? I can hear you asking. It was a good book! Yay! The world needs more of these!
The problem is that the author is a loathsome homophobe, and I can’t reconcile that with this book. It was bothering me the entire time I was reading.
Orson Scott Card doesn’t just disapprove of same-sex marriage and homosexuality. Orson Scott Card wants to BRING DOWN ANY GOVERNMENT THAT ALLOWS SUCH AN ABOMINATION. I wish I was kidding.
- is a member of the board of directors of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), on whose agenda are things such as fighting against marriage equality, gay adoption, safe schools for LGBT students and the gay “lifestyle” as a whole;
- has called same-sex attraction “reproductive dysfunction”
- stated “Normalizing a dysfunction will only make ours into a society that corrodes any loyalty to it, as parents see that our laws and institutions now work against the reproductive success (not to mention happiness) of the next generation”
- has equated homosexuality with pedophilia, and stated, “The dark secret of homosexual society — the one that dares not speak its name — is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse, and how many of them yearn to get out of the homosexual community and live normally”
- wrote a lengthy essay titled “The Hypocrites of Homosexuality” in which he admonishes gay people as nothing more than people who are giving in to sin and states that anti-sodomy laws should remain on the books, making homosexuality illegal in the U.S.
In 1985, he wrote a beautiful book about, among other things, a child forced to grow up far too quickly, and the grownups around him who use him as a blunt weapon for their own ends. Ironically, he also loaded it with homosexual subtext. But hey, it’s much easier to be shouty about the HORROR! the HORROR! of teh EVIL GAYZ! than to deal with whatever he has going on in his own closet.
I can’t reconcile this book with this hate speech. This really is a beautiful book. It’s full of huge thoughts and themes. It’s kind of groundbreaking; I could name a ton of books that have taken the lead from what happened in this book. The characters were fully-fleshed and relatable. I loved Ender. Utterly adored him.
But the man that wrote it hates some of the people I love more than anyone in the world. And he’s loud about it. And the last thing we need in this day and age is someone who had a podium and had the nation’s ear (the movie of this book is coming out in a couple of months) shouting hate-speech.
The book was about how we ill-use our children; I’d argue that teaching them hate from a young age is ill-using them, Mr. Card.
I won’t be reading the rest of the series. This book ended perfectly. I don’t need any more of his books. I just can’t divorce the author from the work. It hurts to do so.
I’m glad I met Ender. And, for what it’s worth? He’d find his creator’s views repulsive. The character you created, sir, has more compassion and character than you do. And he’s fictional. Do you see the problem here?
(For more on the Goodreads controversy, please read sj’s take, This is Me. Getting involved., Emma Wolf’s take, Where capitalism and art intersect, and Charleen’s take, Goodbye to Goodreads?)
Orson Scott Card’s Anti-Gay Views Prompt ‘Ender’s Game’ Movie Protest (Huffington Post)
Ender’s Game, Superman and Anti-Gay Bigotry (Huffington Post)