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    The case against criticizing books (specifically mine).

    Jessie Gaynor

    May 31, 2023, 11:01am

    In the past few months, it has become increasingly clear that something is very wrong with book criticism.

    As the editor of a literary website, I believe that a robust literary discourse can only make the industry stronger and more vital. Unless, of course, the discourse involves things that people don’t like about my book. Such criticism, specifically about my book and the ways in which people don’t like it, weakens the very infrastructure of the literary world, and also really hurts my feelings.

    I believe in the value of literary criticism. Criticism that engages deeply with a work enriches our understanding not only of the work itself, but of books as a whole. We need smart, thoughtful engagement with literature now more than ever. I can’t help but wonder, though, if everyone engaging deeply with my book could also remember that I worked really hard on it, like waking up early and everything, and so it makes me feel bad to read negative things about it, or things that could in any way be interpreted as even slightly negative.

    Of course, as traditional literary criticism has lost cultural ground, new platforms have emerged. Much has been written about BookTok’s impact on publishing, but without exception, these pieces fail to investigate what I see as the most important question about the platform: Are people using it to talk about how they didn’t like my book? And if so, can we stop them?

    Should we, as readers, be considering books with the seriousness they deserve? Yes. Should we also think about whether that seriousness could be applied to the things my book does well, and present the bad stuff like maybe in a compliment sandwich-type situation? Also yes.

    As a reader and a writer, I love nothing more than nuanced critique and also praise. I would argue that the best literary criticism of my book, in particular, offers both. But mostly the second one.

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