General

Who Gets to Have an Opinion?

While I’m on the subject of lines of discussions I think have issues on Book Twitter, let’s talk about who gets to have an opinion on a book.

Here’s the scenario.

Person A reads an ARC and says, “Hey, guys?  This book is pretty messed up.  It is racist (or sexist or whatever).  Here’s some quotes that illustrate my points.”

Then People B through K pick up the argument.  They retweet person A and start talking about how racist the book is whenever anyone else brings it up.

Person M pipes with up, “I don’t know about that.  I read it and I didn’t get that sense from it.”

Oh, now it is on.  People B through K start yelling at Person M.  “You’re such a racist.  Why do you hate Person A so much?  Why can’t you listen to what she has to say?”

Then the side arguments start.  Person J tweets, “I see you people at the end of the alphabet.  I’m remember you weren’t here for Person A.”  At that point I imagine most end of the alphabet people are like, “What are you talking about?  Who’s Person A?  I never heard of her.”

Eventually Person Z says, “Hey, Person B?  Have you even read this book?”

Person B will come back with all kinds of excuses for why she hasn’t read the book.

  • She doesn’t need to read it to know that it is racist because Person A said it was and why can’t you believe people?
  • She isn’t going to read the book because it would be Harmful to her.

Ok, time out.  Here’s way I think it should go.

Person A puts her opinion out there.  That’s fine.  People who find that they tend to agree with Person A’s opinions can then decide that they agree that this sounds like a book that they would find offensive.  They are welcome to pass on it for themselves.  They are welcome to retweet Person A so people know that the book may have problems.  If they see the book brought up in other discussion they can say that they HEARD that it was horrible from Person A.

They can not say that they know for a fact that the book is racist.

Why?

  • Person A may have misquoted the book or taken quotes out of context to make it appear in a bad light.
  • Person A may or may not have misinterpreted the book.
  • (At least Person A in this scenario has read the book.  We all know this happens a lot based just on cover blurbs which are notoriously inaccurate.)

A person who has not read the book can not know if Person A is telling the truth or not because they have not examined the evidence for themselves.   If they want to get involved in the fight, they need to know the facts.  They shouldn’t be relying on hearsay.

A person who has not read the book should be not leading the charge to get the book pulled. (Should anyone?  That’s a discussion post for another time.)

If you don’t have the facts, you don’t get to have an opinion.

This should be common sense like not forwarding news articles that fit in with your political views until you make an attempt to see if they are factual.  I once saw a person beg people on Twitter to explain a book to her that she hadn’t read.  She had heard that it might be offensive but she didn’t know.  She didn’t want to read it because, you guessed it, it would be harmful.  She had many people say that they read it and they didn’t take it that way at all.  Finally she got someone who agreed with her and then she went on a rampage against the book and author armed with nothing but a stranger’s say so on Twitter.  I unfollowed at that point so I don’t know what happened.

I see how it could happen.  One of the biggest books of the last few years is The Vegetarian by Han Kang.  Everyone loves this book.  When I first heard of it I was excited.  Yeah, a book about a vegetarian. Oh, it is about coming out to her family?  That’s boring but whatever.  Wait, this is basically a story about her descent into mental illness and vegetarianism is considered the first warning sign?  #%#$ you, I’m not reading that.  I’d just end up throwing it against a wall.

That’s how I feel every single time someone brings up that book.  This is the first time I wrote that opinion down.  You know why?  I haven’t read the book.  I don’t know if what I imagine the book to be is what it actually is so I don’t get to have an opinion on it because my opinion would not be informed.  I feel very strongly that this book would be offensive to me.  I don’t want to waste my time reading it because I would just be looking for something to piss me off.  For these reasons, I don’t get to discuss this book. If another vegetarian read it and wrote a post that factually backed up my theory,  I’d be retweeting the heck out of it though.

Be informed before you type.  There, I just fixed 90% of the Internet for you. 


I’ve had this post written for a while. It was even scheduled to post but didn’t.  I figured that might be a sign from the universe not to kick a hornet’s nest.  But I’m getting more and more annoyed by this and it turns out that there may be people who agree with me.

Yeah, I watched a whole youtube video so you know it was interesting. She talks about this at about the 12 minute mark.

8 Comments

  • Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    This is so interesting because I just replied to another discussion where someone was saying how they felt it was insulting if someone said that they wanted to judge a book for themselves (that someone else considers to be racist) and this just didn’t sit well with me. I understand the thought behind it, but in the end, I feel like every individual can (and should!) form their own opinions—not that that means you HAVE to read something you think you might not appreciate (like in the case of your vegetarian book—you’ve gathered that you’ll hate it, and you don’t feel the need to read the book yourself to make sure), but if you DID want to, then you shouldn’t be condemned for that. And I agree that you shouldn’t spread an opinion (as your own) if you haven’t actually read the book.

  • Briana

    Right. I think it’s totally fair to read someone’s review or concerns about a book and think that, based on the evidence, they likely have a point and you no longer have any interest in reading the book.

    However, I disagree that anyone who actually wants to read the book for themselves is “part of the problem” and needs to be called out or whatever. People are wrong about books. It happens. People take quotes out of context. I’ve seen it. One of my English professors complained that there is published scholarship by literary experts that includes inaccurate information about what happens in Paradise Lost. (Ex. I will make a whole argument interpreting this scene based on the fact that Eve is not in it…except she actually IS in the scene; she just doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, and I read the scene wrong.) I would never read a secondary source about a book and believe that now fully understand the book. I would need to read the primary source in conjunction with it, and possible some more secondary sources to get a wider range of thoughts and opinions.

    So, yeah, you can personally choose to walk away from a book because there appears to be compelling evidence it contains material you do not agree with. That’s fair. But if I did that, yeah, I would not claim to be an expert on the book, and I would not hassle people who wanted to read the primary text to check into things more. I teach literature and writing to students and I WANT to encourage people to do their own research and fact check what they read online.

    I think part of the frustration is some assumption that if someone “checks for themselves” they’re going to disagree with the original complaint. But it’s totally possible to look into and confirm that the original complaints were correct. And that’s a win in the long run. If I check what you’re saying and end up agreeing with you, I’m more likely to think that you’re an accurate source of information and opinion on books in the future, and I will listen to what you way.

  • Krysta

    When I started blogging, I never thought I’d be writing this, but it’s very brave of you to say that you believe arguments should be based on evidence and to suggest that we should be careful about calling for the censorship of books. I have seen people argue that we do not need to read books ourselves because we should trust the reading skills of people who say they have read the book. However, I see people–bloggers included–misinterpret books all the time. I do not, in fact, trust that someone I have never heard of has not misinterpreted a book. Look at how Go Set a Watchmen was misinterpreted with the racist quotes taken out of context and readers in general not understanding that this book is not a sequel. It is a first draft never meant to be published.

    I have even read published literary scholarship that misrepresents others’ words. I wish I could remember the title of the anthology–perhaps I’ll do some digging one day and try to find it–but it excerpted part of another scholars’ work to give a Freudian reading of LotR. Later I read the original scholar’s work and the Freudian analysis was a joke–the scholar ended up saying “Yeah, this isn’t a real thing. This is not happening in the text.” But their words were taken out of context to suggest that they believe in a Freudian reading of Tolkien!

    People mean well, I know, by calling for people not to think for themselves, but this is a dangerous path. When you have a group of people trained to believe anything they read on the Internet because to research it is considered wrong, then you risk that group of people falling under the influence of someone who is, well, not you. It’s not guaranteed that their lack of thinking is going to result in them believing you over some other Twitter user.

    • heather

      “When you have a group of people trained to believe anything they read on the Internet because to research it is considered wrong …” Scary thought.

  • Laura

    I totally agree with you! If you haven’t read a book then you can’t really say that it is definitely like this or that. Everyone interprets things differently, so just because one person interpreted something as offensive doesn’t mean that it definitely is. It’s definitely worth discussing why the person found it offensive, but I think it’s ridiculous when people who haven’t read the book start really ripping into the author without having checked it out for them self and getting all the facts.
    Great post! 🙂

  • Ravenclaw Book Club

    I think you’re absolutely right! I have retweeted people calling out problematic books in the past to spread the message in case they’re right and it might warn people, but I would never say that I know for sure that they are telling the truth unless I’ve read the book myself. I don’t think you should go out and read something that’s been called problematic on purpose just to find out if people are right, I personally just stay away from those books and don’t pretend to know anything. x

  • Jean @ Howling Frog

    Huh, I’d gotten the impression that the book is about a woman who becomes vegetarian, and her family gets angry and controlling about it, but it’s not her that has the problem…so I don’t know.

    As for your theory about who gets to have an opinion, you are absolutely right. It’s now possible to vilify and really injure somebody without ever actually reading the work. (And no…books shouldn’t be pulled.)

  • Claudia

    So true Heather. Applies to the whole political arena as well. What’s funny is, now I want to read The Vegetarian, just so I know what it’s about. If I don’t like a book though I’ll just stop reading.

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