Off-Topic: The Story of an Internet Revolt, by G.R. Reader
I have, broadly speaking, not got involved in the protest reviewing surrounding Goodreads’ new policy on the deletion of reviews and shelves which refer to author behaviour. I think I’ve “liked” a few particularly creative ones. It isn’t a coincidence, though, that I’ve set up a book blog of my own now after years and years of relying on Goodreads.
This is not an off-topic review. The subject of this book is Goodreads’ own policy, and it contains genuine commentary and opinion backed up by facts. I recommend it for understanding the issue in general terms — it’s available on Lulu for $0.99, or it’s been put on Dropbox free here.
One thing from the book that was particularly interesting to me was Emma Sea’s commentary on why the deletion of reviews that focus on author behaviour is censorship: she points out that most current literary theory goes against that. You’ve still got ‘The Death of the Author’ as an influential piece and idea, yeah, but you’ve also got Marxist and feminist readings. I’m basically a new historicist, myself, I “aim simultaneously to understand the work through its historical context and to understand cultural and intellectual history through literature, which documents the new discipline of the history of ideas.” (Confession: definition from Wikipedia. I’m bad at defining my critical approaches.) Part of the historical context is inevitably the issue of the author.
Now, I can see comebacks on that like, “an author’s behaviour may not be relevant to their book when it isn’t reflected in the contents of the book”. To which I kinda say, yes and no. The author’s behaviour may not impact the content of a book, but it still has an effect on the context of the book, and it may frame the content of the book in a new way. Which is relevant.
Now maybe Goodreads really wants to say they don’t want any new historicists or Marxist critics or feminist critics here, only people who will always and only use practical criticism to judge a book on its own merits, bereft of any context. But somehow I really doubt it. There are still plenty of ways I no doubt haven’t thought of to disagree with Emma Sea, but I like that this is a serious attempt to engage with the issue not on a visceral reactionary level, but on a theoretical one.
I haven’t got involved in protest reviewing because I wanted to abide by the rules of the site. I’ve loved the site for a long time and contributed to it in many ways, and I’m not making immediate plans to leave — or to make it easy for people to get me to leave! But this is not an off-topic review; this is not an off-topic book. In fact, my review and rating are very, very sincere: I’m amazed and pleased at the passion for the community at Goodreads which people have displayed in putting this thoughtful book together, in making it more than a prank. I very much hope Goodreads don’t follow up their previous policy of deleting this book and all the “off-topic” reviews.
Still, if they do, you can still find me and this review at The Bibliophibian and LibraryThing. Unless you are my mother, in which case, please stick to The Bibliophibian. I love you, but let’s maintain some boundaries, yes? I won’t look too closely at your pen collection, and you’ll pretend not to notice my groaning shelves? It’s a deal.
See this review on Goodreads… for now, at least.