in the marketplace of ideas i can see a valid need for an open discussion on the merits of whether a particular creative thing (in this case books) adds value or achieves a certain level of status worthy of mention. or not. within the spectrum of taste, many people will land somewhere on the like/dislike arc, and in standing up for their beliefs a multitude of topics and ideas can be shared in a way that may change or alter another's view, or cause them to dig in and insist their viewpoint is the correct one.
one of the things ported into the world wide web of ideas is the notion of flattening the loftiness of academic analysis. criticism was for critics and academics to dictate, with fledglings tussling for a seat at the table, an opportunity to show off that they, too, can think the big thinks.
and to be honest, it's fun to stand tall and sound off in public, to make a declaration and stand by it, come hell or high water.
but what we have witnessed in these digital times is the commodification of opinion -- not just in artistic criticism, but in news, politics, everything -- which in turn has changed both the nature and the value of critical thought. we go online and look to reviews in order to cut to the heart of whatever is on offer and wade through the thickets of opinion in order to find the one true nugget we can sink our teeth into. but we are also witnessing the rise of bot-driven drivel devised to sway us toward a specific aim, or at least buffer the true criticisms enough to make them difficult to locate.
i came into criticism of books (kid lit, mostly, and movies before that) out of a genuine love for the things i was into. when i started it was both on radio and in the go-go 'zinester scene of the 90s. diverse voices were hard to come by, hard to find, and the mainstream sources were already consolidating into a mushpot of their own greed. it was exciting to come to something fresh and try to find a unique angle, not so much to show off (okay, maybe a little) but to hold up a hand to Big Name Critics and say "hold on there!"
now, there are hundreds and thousands and millions of voices out there. everyone a critic, and seemingly out for their fifteen seconds of fame as quickly as possible. with comment sections for every piece of input, any critical note can be countered by an army of trolls doing everything from calling you names to threatening your life. suddenly, everyone's opinions are more important than your own, especially after you've thrown yours into the tubes and wires of of the crit-o-sphere.
i sat at my laptop intending to carpet bomb a recent read that left me furious with most of it, yet at the same time unable to deny that it touched on a couple raw nerves. it is a YA title that likely had its (author's) heart in the right place, but it was... subtly moralistic and perhaps a little irresponsible in sending the reader a message of "don't worry, it'll be alright" when the underlying facts would suggest it might not ever be alright.
yes, i'm vague-critiquing, because in the end i realized that somewhere between the "bad publicity is still publicity" and "if you can't say something nice..." there is a whole sea of reviews being tabulated and aggregated and, now with AI, being used to train algorithms into purpose-driven data points. a bad review used to be a conversation starter, a chance for reviewer and reader to sit for a moment and share in an invisible dialog. no one was attacking the other (or the original writer, mostly) but instead were in a sort of hippie-feely share fest to form a way of thinking about a small shared piece of the world.
a bad review now invites vitriol, it invites legions of defenders to rise up and slay the reviewer for daring to expose flaws and doubts and raise questions. in truth, all people want is to know how many stars you would give a title so they can decide how much they want their biases confirmed. one person's one-star review becomes another person's attack meme designed crush dissonant opinion.
i cannot say i will never write a negative, critical book review in the future, only that if and when i do it will be because my heart and/or brain has become engulfed in flames that can only be put out through the expulsion of words words words.