On Meanness

I have strong opinions, often immediate. When these opinions are about books, I can…wax wroth, basically. Which is fine among friends (I hope), or when ranting to myself in the house (I also hope). But in these troubled times, I hesitate to put these opinions out into the world. On, say, a blog. Yes, this blog.

But by shying away from writing mean things about bad books, I fear I am being a coward. 

My thinking is muddy on this, as evidenced by a bunch of contradictory thoughts that flit through my mind, like so:

1) The world doesn't need more negativity. 

2) There are authors out there, on Twitter and in the wider world! My friend Anne, a smart person and publisher, talks about this

3) We are all flawed and failing. I gave a long obnoxious speech (I've tried to block out most of it) railing in a literature class about Fitzgerald's not-so-great novel The Beautiful and Damned before reading that Edmund Wilson read it as the book an author writes before he writes a great one. This is a profoundly generous way to read a novel. (It also turned out the be right.) I would so much rather be generous than small and mean. 

4) Unfortunately, I may be small and mean all the same. 

5) Why is being "nice" so important? Kindness is a worthier pursuit than niceness.

6) But what if people get mad? Or hurt?

7) At the direction of the Anne Trubek piece above, I read this blistering yet convincing review of American Dirt. As much as it points out what seem to be terrible flaws in the book—a good and noble calling—it also makes me feel like crap, like the gringa book group participant she excoriates, and that I surely am. So where do I put that? 

8) I also believe that false kindness is no kindness. Writers are adults, after all. They put their work out into the world, pretending not to see them or their crappiness isn't respectful, it's condescending.

And round and round the thoughts go. I used to compromise by saving my vitriol for the large and powerful, but…that seems kind of like bullshit, probably? Doesn't everyone deserve the same unsparing eye? To be seen, if not loved?

That's what I'm thinking about over here. 

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