May 17, 2012

Reviewing Without Prejudice: Can Honesty Turn on You?

Homosexuality. It’s my generation’s civil rights movement, and it affected my life recently in an interesting way.

I review books for World Literary Café as part of their WLC Review Team. Every month, I choose four books from their selections and receive two to review. Since I pride myself on reading all genres and styles, I choose books based only on the covers. Could I go look up summaries? Sure. But I wanted to experiment with picking books solely based on my reaction to cover art.

Last month, I received a complimentary copy of Sunset, Pact Arcanum: Book 1 to review (you can see my review at Mom in Love with Fiction). I did not know it was a homoerotic book until I started reading. The whole book I was nervous about writing the review. I’ve never felt that way before.

I wanted to treat this book like any other, but the truth… I read it in fear. There was no way to write an honest review without mention of the homosexual theme. What if I didn’t like the book? Would I just be labeled homophobic?

In the end, the book was a good, but not great, read. I have never hesitated so much in pushing the Publish button on a post. An excerpt:

Let me also address the white elephant in the room. Prior to this book, I had never read a novel with detailed homosexual love scenes. While a bit uncomfortable for me, and I would say this about overly detailed heterosexual love scenes, they provided a much-needed look into the character of Nick Jameson. His male relationships, and gradual maturation process from sleeping around to finding love, is crucial to the story.

Although I admired the story (and world) the author creates, the constant jumping around in time and the details about the vampire/Sentinel society became overwhelming. I felt bogged down reading it. About halfway through, with my brain packed to capacity, the book started really moving. From that point on, it was a great read full of twists and turns and anxious excitement.

I am proud to be a Christian, and in no way attempt to hide it. In the battle over homosexual rights, being a Christian labels you as intolerant and unkind. Two things I am most definitely not. I believe my faith teaches me to love everyone. We are all sinners, and I will not be the one that judges which sins are more offensive than others or who gets to go to Heaven. It’s simply not my call to make.

However, it's a shame that I can’t be honest about a book without fear that I will be labeled. This country is built on opinions, and the right to express them. Reviewing a homoerotic book should be like any other review. If I love it, I love it. If I don’t, I shouldn’t have to tip toe around it for fear I’ll be labeled homophobic. The same can be said for reading a book by an African American author. If I don’t like it, I shouldn’t fear being called a racist.

I’ve said time and time again that I prefer women characters and women authors for the most part. I’m never afraid of being called sexist, because I’m female. So can only the minority disagree with the majority without fear of judgment?

I do not in any way choose unkindness in my life. The thought that my actions or words would ever hurt someone is upsetting. But, I also shouldn’t fear honesty, another character trait I place a lot of value on.

Am I making too much of this?


Jaleh D said...

It's a tough call. I worry more about race, since even though I know color is only skin deep and was raised to see all people as one race, I also only have 2 people left in my social circle who have darker skin, one of whom is my son's age. (his first best friend) However, homosexuality is a topic I've become more comfortable dealing with as I have several gay people in my social group. Some are writers I've met online through WD and Juliette Wade's weekly worldbuilding hangouts, and the others are good friends I met through my husband. (Our "best man" was a lesbian, one of his close friends from college.)

I think as long as you use tact and discretion, it's okay to be honest. I probably would have mentioned that I wasn't comfortable reading the erotic scenes (since I'm not comfortable reading erotica even with straight couples), but making an assessment of how those scenes were used to show the change in character provides an objective viewpoint despite that.

Anytime I review something outside my comfort zone (like vampires), I simply state my stance regarding personal taste in order to provide context for my opinion. Then I try to point out objective strengths and weaknesses in plot and writing so that someone who did prefer that type of story could choose for themself if it would be something they liked. I didn't really care for a couple of the stories in Eight Against Reality, but I knew people who would appreciate them. So I reviewed the stories essentially for them.

I think even if it's something outside your comfort zone, don't worry too much about all the nasty minded people out there. Write it as though a friend asked your opinion about it. A (real) friend wouldn't jump on you for your personal taste, so just explain what you liked/didn't like about the writing, the story, and the characters.

Sorry for such a long comment. It's a meaty topic. :D

Carrie Anne Schmeck said...

A fear to read. Scary to post about it.
Kudos on your honesty. It's a tricky topic, for sure.

Anonymous said...

Reviewing without prejudice is tricky, isn't it?

I have always been sure that my beliefs about homosexuality were rooted in truth, honesty and love. It came much closer to my heart two years ago when one of my very close relatives revealed to us that she is a lesbian.

Now, it has become an issue of"loving" without prejudice, while not letting go of what I believe is the "truth." It is a test of love, which I never thought I would have to face.

The paradox is that love never fails, while truth never bows to popular opinion.

Jan said...


I think you are very brave and honest. You explained your reasoning and you may or may not get slammed. But you spoke what you believed to be the truth.

Nice job,

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

No, I don't think you're making too much of it. And I also think the fact that you're so aware of the sensitivity of the subject and are determined to be fair in your review of the book proves that you are NOT homophobic. Just caring.

Tia Bach said...

Jaleh, Thanks for your thoughtful response. It was a tough call, but I didn't want to wimp out completely and NOT review it.

Carrie Anne, Thank you.

Anonymous (wish I could put a name!), Well said.

Jan, Yes, I definitely was honest in my review. I wish I could hear what the author thought.

Susan, Thanks. I'm feeling much better.

I really appreciate all of you leaving your thoughts.

Melissa said...

Excellent post, Tia. You hit the nail on the head. ;)

Beth said...

I think you put a lot of thought into this and were honest and sensitive.

Mama's Always Write said...

Tia, I read both your blog on this and your review just moments ago and I have to say that you are a great reviewer!

Book reviews are always subject to the reviewers particular tastes and preferences - it's the nature of the beast.

However, you did a great job pointing out what was important to understand the character, even if it was not something you're used to reading about. The fact that you are reading across genres says a great deal about your open mindedness.

While you did a great job, I wish you didn't feel that honest literary criticism would cause some to label you homophobic. People who are quick to label will find multiple reasons to label you, or someone else, for a variety of reasons, so just be you and be honest. You explained that the graphic scenes - of any kind of sex - make you uncomfortable and you did so in a respectful manner.

I am a strong gay rights advocate - I have many friends and acquaintances that are gay and I think you handled the topic with great care and the review was in excellent taste.

I wonder if you could imagine this book with heterosexual sex scenes - and if you could - would you still be as generous in your review? Maybe, maybe not? I wonder if you would have felt less concern in being critical in that case?

Good post and good review.

I appreciate your candor on this topic.


Tia Bach said...

Tammy, Thanks for your compliment. My worry about labeling was more about people who read my blog consistently (or acquaintances - I move every 2-3 years on average, and a lot of people don't know me as intimately as I wish) would see Christian Republican and make assumptions.

But I guess their assumptions wouldn't be any more fair than any assumption I might make.

Thanks so much for stopping by and your thoughtful comments!

Tia Bach said...

Thanks, Beth & Melissa. Your comments mean a lot!

Elise Fallson said...

I understand your fear, but you are an honest reviewer who always backs up her opinions and is never out right hurtful. Like some commentors above, I too have several gay friends and none would have been offended by your review. Unfortunately we live in a society where no matter what you do or say you are going to be labeled one way or another. Great post Tia, I'm proud to call you my friend. (:

Tia Bach said...

Elise, Thank you. What a sweet comment. I'm proud, too! ;-)