The Politics of Opinion

I picked this piece out of a dusty cupboard and thought to myself, this is just as pertinent as it was when I published it several years ago.
CheatingDeathlaura tomei

As a reviewer, I’m regularly approached to “analyze” specific books. Sometimes it’s the publisher asking, and sometimes it’s the author. What, exactly, are they looking for? They’re hoping I will read the book provided and write several paragraphs of glowing promotional material they can show the public as proof that an informed and independent reader likes the book well enough to suggest it’s one you want to buy. But reviewing doesn’t always work that way: there are times when I dislike certain aspects of a book and, in all fairness, will write about these dislikes. I’ve often gone so far as to slam publishers and editors when the quality of their work reduces the quality of the book being reviewed.

Which brings me to The Politics of Opinion.

Generally speaking, politics is the process by which specific groups of people arrive at a single decision. For example, an “individual opinion” is an expression of something you believe in, when you don’t also provide positive proof of what you say. Such an opinion expressed by a group (including a description of how they arrived at that decision) would be the Politics of Opinion.

So, what do I mean when I use the phrase The Politics of Opinion when I’m talking about reviewing a book?

First, when I write a review, I’m not trying to change the opinion of a “group.” I’m providing information and beliefs regarding a specific book I have read, so that you, “the individual,” have some idea or reference point from whence you can move forward to make up your own mind regarding the book in question. Sometimes I provide proof for my beliefs, oftentimes I don’t. They key here is that if you respect my opinion, I may influence your decision to read said book.

Now, when an individual or individuals or organization (a reviewing company, publisher, etc) attack my reviews, my abilities, even my character, using our comments section, they’re trying to change not only my opinion but the opinions of all my readers. Our public clash puts us in the arena of The Politics of Opinion. You see, you the reader (as a group) are being offered all kinds of extra information and insights into the book being discussed, a glimpse of the reviewing process, and even a more complete idea of who I am. Good things, all. But, you’re also being asked to make a “group” decision: to ignore me.

So, when I say a book borders on pornography, someone challenges that opinion and I, hoping to offer further insights for you, provide proof and/or additional information to help you make your reading decision, The Politics of Opinion are in full force.

Anyway, in a nutshell, here’s my (generous) definition of pornography: if the format in which the book appears doesn’t or can’t stand on its own with the erotica removed (erotica is writing designed to sexually arouse the reader), then you’re looking at a piece of pornography. Using this definition, I felt Cheating Death by Annie Alvarez came very close to being pornography. Bloody Passion by Laura Tolomei, without it’s many erotic scenes, still stands up as a short story… but I’m paying for a novel! So, I ask you, my reader, if 3/4 of what I’m paying for (as fiction) ends up being erotica, doesn’t that suggest pornography to you?

Looking forward to your comments.

Clayton Bye is a professional writer and publisher with well over 50 books to his credit. He has also worked as an editor, proof writer, ghostwriter and public speaker. Clayton lives in a small town in northwestern Ontario in Canada. He refers to it as “God’s Country.”

Copyright © Clayton Clifford Bye


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7 thoughts on “The Politics of Opinion

  1. Cynthia B Ainsworthe

    Clayton, Thanks for that wonderful post. Yes, if the steamy scenes don’t move the story forward, then what’s the point? Does the physical intimate interaction of the characters change the stakes, cause a threat, can the course of future actions, change the character’s outlook? That should be the purpose of those hot scenes—not merely to thrill the reader.

  2. Micki Peluso

    Well said, Clay. For years I worked as a professional reviewer for a fairly prestigious review company,The New York Journal of Book Reviews. I stopped when the Lyme disease kept me from guaranteeing my deadlines. Their rules were rigid in many ways. I was not allowed to review a book such as one about making wine if i did not have proof of experience in this field. Well I did drink it lol. If you know me at all you know that rules annoyed me but I enjoyed reading my favorite best sellers instead, Like Nora Roberts and Patterson. I got a secret kick out of finding legitimate fault with these supposedly flawless writers. Other than that I followed the protocol for book reviews and there is one, but added my own touch which make my reviews recognizable to book buyers.

    That said, pornography is a big turn off to me. While like most women, I love an occasional hot steamy romance because my own imagination is sufficient to add any extras Add offensive language and demeaning body parts and I can’t finish the book. So I just don’t review them. A writer recently wrote a lovely book which might have had a wide readership by including YA until she ruined it at the end with inappropriate sexual word usage for YA yet okay for adults. I’m still tying to figure a way to give her a review without losing a friend and colleague. I enjoyed your post.

  3. Steve Lindahl

    I’ve written many reviews and enjoy the process. The purpose is, as Clayton Bye said, to provide “information and beliefs regarding a specific book I have read, so that you, “the individual,” have some idea or reference point from whence you can move forward to make up your own mind regarding the book in question.” I also find that it helps me enjoy what I’ve read by forcing me to organize my thoughts about it.

    Regarding the pornography issue, I believe sex is an important part of life and relationships, so if sex is important to a novel’s characters, I believe it belongs in the book. What I feel distinguishes good writing from pornography is the careful inclusion of the reasons for the sex scene. Is the sex about love, a first time experiment, an attack, a bribe, or countless other aspects of the human experience? I want to know what’s going on in the mind of the characters no matter what they’re doing.

  4. James L. Secor

    Well, of course we want a good review when we ask someone–at least insightful??? I have nevertheless found one who wrote a review without reading more than the blurb on the back; another review was a 4 word worthless note. I’ve reviewed books–and, better yet, theatre productions–and, if I know the person, I self-censor, attempting, if it’s not up to my standards, make it not bad. If I don’t know the person, I don’t self-censor. THIS is political reviewing. I learned, as a social critic playwright/director, that the most onerous, damning review indicated that I was right on target. So that sometimes a review of this sort is good for us from another angle: if it’s that bad I’ve got to read it to find out if it’s so (and what it is that sent the reviewer over the cliff).

    I must admit that I was miffed the first time I got a critique that was right on target because. . .shit! He understood me! Now what do I do?! Unless I ask for a review, he says pretty much nothing about the other things I send.

    When it comes to major prizes, the politics is behind the scenes and pretty much bought. I sent Clayton a note on the Mann-Booker Prize unveiling the money and politics behind it–and you have to pay to be considered! (Your publisher pays.)

  5. Patricia Dusenbury

    The emotions that surround sexual relations make for some terrific fiction. Lust and desire, jealousy and heartbreak provide powerful motives. The mechanics, while important to the participants, don’t really add much to the story. As a reader/reviewer, I tend to skim or even skip the steamy pages, and the more pages I don’t read, the less likely I am to recommend a book.

    As a writer, I may write about relationships that have a sexual component – or core – but I don’t bother explaining what went where. If you don’t already know, it’s not my job to tell you. There are manuals.


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