When Does a Negative Opinion Cross a Line?

negative opinions crossing a line

We’re all going to have negative opinions at some point in our lives. For us book lovers, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll love every book we read. You may not hate very many books, but will you give everything you read five stars? Probably not. This means that there was something about the book that you didn’t like and therefore, you have at least one small negative thing to say. And of course, there will be books that you will downright hate.

But there’s a difference between having a negative but respectful opinion and trying to get everyone to see the book the same way you do. There’s a point where your negative opinion crosses a line.

I’ve talked before about how writing negative reviews makes me nervous. I don’t want to come across as some grumpy blogger who hates everything or sucks the fun out of things and I don’t want to seem like I’m completely discrediting all the hard work the author put into writing their book. But I also strive to be honest in my reviews which sometimes means posting negative reviews.

Over the past several months though I’ve learned that you can have a negative opinion and even give a negative review of a book without being disrespectful. This is where some people seem to have some trouble…

I’d say 99% of the book blogging community is great about being respectful in negative reviews. They know how to effectively get their point of view across without being overly harsh or rude. Often they will even add at the end of their negative review that people shouldn’t be completely discouraged and should still give it a chance if the book interests them. At the same time, there are some people who seem to think that because they personally didn’t enjoy a particular book, that no one else on the planet should read it. (Cue eye rolling.)

There’s nothing wrong with criticizing books, especially if the book contained offensive material that should be pointed out or you have real advice that can help the author do things better next time around. In fact, I’m sure that many authors appreciate constructive criticism (although side note: a lot of them don’t want to hear your negative opinions – so don’t bring them up to the author by mentioning them on Twitter or something).

However, there’s a point where you need to relax. You don’t need to type in all caps and tell people never to pick up the book. You don’t need to attack the author. You don’t need to tell people who did enjoy the book that they’re stupid or wouldn’t know a good book if it hit them in the face.

About a week or two ago, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child came out. A lot of die-hard Potterheads were ecstatic for this, desperately wanting to get their hands on more material from the world that they spent their childhoods reading about and living in. Other people didn’t seem to really care about it for a number of reasons – it was a script and not a full-length novel, it wasn’t written solely by J.K. Rowling, it didn’t focus on Harry, etc. A lot of people got very annoyed with the people in the latter group because some of them were being downright aggressive, telling people who were excited that it was going to suck and questioning why’d they even care about something that wasn’t a full book and wasn’t written only by Rowling. People felt like their excitement was being discouraged and looked down upon.

The reason I’m writing this post is to remind people that your opinion is not going to be universal and you shouldn’t expect it to be nor should you try to force people to hold the same opinion you have. It’s okay to have a negative opinion of something or to not be excited for something that a lot of other people are looking forward to. It’s not okay to try to ruin that excitement or those positive feelings for other people.

So at what point do you shut up about why you hated a book? At what point do you take a step back and remind yourself that it’s okay for other people to enjoy a book that you hated or to be excited about a book that you couldn’t care less about? Here’s a quick checklist to help you identify when you may be crossing a line (according to me – so please realize that my opinion is exactly that – an opinion – and that you or others may disagree):

  1. Are you making personal attacks on the creators of the material or on the fans?
  2. Are you telling people that under no circumstances will they enjoy the material?
  3. Are you telling people who are looking forward to engaging with the material that they shouldn’t?
  4. Are you going out of your way to interact with people who enjoyed the material simply to tell them that they shouldn’t have liked it?

If your answer to any of these questions is yes, you may want to take a few deep breaths and remind yourself of what I’ve been saying throughout this whole post: your opinion is not and never will be universal and that’s okay! Imagine how boring it would be if we all felt exactly the same way about every book, every movie, every TV show, etc.

The bottom line is this: you are completely entitled to have any opinion you want about a book. So are other people. As reviewers, we should tell people what we thought about the books we’ve read. As decent human beings, we should allow others to do the same without being attacked or criticized.

I have one more quick note before I completely close out this post. Giving negative opinions and criticizing books (or anything else) that contain offensive material makes this already gray area even more gray. I can understand being frustrated and angry that people are writing and enjoying racist, homophobic, sexist, etc. books and I can’t say I would blame you for being more aggressive and vocal about a negative opinion in that case.

What about you? When do you think a negative opinion goes too far?

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6 thoughts on “When Does a Negative Opinion Cross a Line?

  1. You’ve hit it on the nose and as I was reading your post I kept nodding my head in agreement. Earlier this year I posted a negative review on a book many people loved and I was gracious about ending my review with the notion that everyone should read the book if it interests them because no two people are the same. We have to be honest with a sense of respect for differing opinions. This is something that I try to teach my students as well. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I usually make a note at the end of a negative review that just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean no one will, especially when the review has had a lot of positive reviews (I did this with Truthwitch for example). I think if you assume that your opinion is going to be the most common or it’s the “right” opinion, you’re doing other readers (and the author) a disservice.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post! I believe negative reviews are useful as long as you state your opinion and justify your points with examples. But no matter how much I disagree with a book or the author, respect must be shown at all times (even when the story or author does not seem to have respect for something). As a reviewer, we have a responsibility to be fair and keep an open mind, no matter how many people disagree or agree with us.

    Liked by 1 person

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