Here’s my unpopular opinion: There are some books that I just don’t like. It can be because of the writing style, the characters, or because the synopsis gave a description that didn’t meet my expectations as a reader. 

Now be honest… what was the first thing that came to your mind when you read that statement? Did you nod in agreement? Did you cuss me out? Roll your eyes and mutter, “et tu, Brute?”

Maybe you had no reaction because you understand where I’m coming from. In either case, you’re allowed to feel your feelings when you come across a book or two… or five that doesn’t hit the spot. It happens!

A quick search of reviews on your favorite book will likely prove you aren’t alone in your opinion. The question is, how do you respond—rather, is there a right way to respond when your feelings aren’t positive?

In recent bookish news, several readers took to the “literary streets” to share their thoughts on novels they deemed lacking.

While some of the points they made were likely valid, it was all lost in the sauce when the critiques crossed the line into territory onlookers perceived as disrespectful and hateful.

Which brings us to a very important question: How do we approach critique of literature—especially that of Black authors? Is there a right way? Beneath that is another question: do our feelings about a book affect how we perceive criticism of it?

I’m not condoning the behavior of those readers, but instead of criticizing them, I’d like to use this as an opportunity to create a deeper conversation around not only our approach to criticism of Black literature but to call attention to double standards and the possible presence of implicit bias as it relates to our perceptions.

Things can get very sticky when critiquing Black art. It’s a delicate balance. We want to offer our honest thoughts while being mindful of the cultural context and the author’s intentions.

After all, we’re not just critiquing words on a page; we’re engaging with stories that reflect our identities and communities.

Yet, this doesn’t mean that we should refrain from critiquing anything Black, as some might suggest. It means the approach we take should be one that’s truthful, and fair, and allows the creator the chance to learn and grow.

But in doing so, we must ask ourselves if we’re holding Black authors to a different standard than their white counterparts. Are we judging the book by its own merits, or are we comparing it to some idealized version of what Black literature should be?

This is an important question because our expectations can shape the way we perceive a book. We might come to a story expecting it to be perfect, and when it isn’t, we discount the story and the author. But do we have this same energy for white-authored books?

This can also work in reverse!

We might give a mediocre book too much praise because the author and characters are Black; perhaps the result of an implicit bias that keeps us from being honest with ourselves about the flaws in the work.

Perhaps the ultimate question that arises from both overly harsh reviews and the resulting criticism is whether Black literature should receive “special” treatment from Black reviewers.

Because there are so many disadvantages Black authors have to overcome in the literary world, there seems to be more at stake when leaving a negative review of their work.

The answer to the question is something we each have to consider individually, but whatever the choice, here are a few ways to strike a balance between offering honest feedback and being kind:

Start With Empathy

Remember, behind every book is a person pouring their heart and soul onto the page.

A person invested considerable time and passion into their work. Avoid personal attacks or derogatory language and instead lead with respect.

Be Specific

Instead of making broad statements like, “This book sucks!” and calling it a day, use specific examples from the book to highlight issues or inconsistencies that didn’t work for you.

Focus On Your Craft

If you’re familiar with the storytelling process and elements—and even if you aren’t—try identifying areas where the author excelled along with those that could use improvement.

The recent controversy surrounding harsh reader reviews may have stirred up some heated debates, but it’s also given us a chance to reflect on some important questions.

How do we critique Black literature with care and respect?

How do we navigate the minefield of biases and expectations?

And perhaps most importantly, how do we support and uplift Black authors while also being honest about the flaws in their work?

I don’t have all the answers, but I do know one thing: as long as we approach these conversations with empathy and understanding, we’re on the right track.

So, let’s be gentle with our words, but let’s also be honest.

Because at the end of the day, it’s only through honest, constructive dialogue that we can truly grow as readers, writers, and members of the Black literary community.



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