What I want to say, just before FUN CAMP becomes a Public Thing, is this:
If you dislike my book, you are welcome to say so publicly.
Even if you know me. Even if you like me. Even if I’m a nice guy you’re pulling for.
We are too careful not to hurt each others’ feelings and so we default to praise. Me too sometimes.
But when I reviewed Confessions from a Dark Wood, I paid Eric Raymond’s book the respect of criticizing it. I took the book seriously enough to point out opportunities I thought the book missed. (Even though I really liked it.)
I’ve tried to do the same with my upcoming review of Tom Whelan’s The President in Her Towers, another book I very much like and respect.
Because here’s the thing: The #1 indicator that a book is a “real book,” from my standpoint, is that people argue about its merit.
If I am investigating a new book and nobody is arguing and the reviews are glowing to the point of embarrassing, my takeaway basically amounts to, “This writer’s friends sure like him.”
Universal acclaim is the great arouser of suspicion. Takedowns beg to be contended with.
What’s a book “everybody loves”? Jesus’ Son, how about. Even Jesus’ Son has 124 one-star ratings and 361 two-star ratings on Goodreads.
When I gave myself two stars on Goodreads last week, it was both an easy joke and an attempt to break the seal on the lower tier. Since then, my publisher Adam Robinson has done me one better. Because we’re marketing GENIUSES.
Since most of us agree that indifference stings more than hate, I’ll take it a step further: If you are just kinda whatever about my book, you are welcome to say so publicly.
Ideally, as with all criticism, the discussion would stay on the book itself instead of the personal (“Gabe Durham is clearly just a pathetic sixteen-foot janitor gorilla with nothing better to do than hock oysters at SUVs”), since that’s the point at which criticism becomes trolling. But what can you do? Some people is dicks.
By the way: Everyone who really does like FUN CAMP and has said so–I believe you! I’m already really pleased with how this book has been connecting with people I know and people I don’t. I just don’t think you yeasayers need to be the only ones speaking up.
All this has been said better before. But since the personal and professional are now so muddled, it seems unfortunately necessary for each writer to define the terms of how he or she will react to criticism. So here’s me saying: I won’t sic the dogs on you.
At my best, I am a big boy.