When Does A Book Review Become Trolling?

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. The old saying seems particularly apt when discussing the issue of trolling and, more specifically it’s relationship to book reviews. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, a troll is an individual who makes comments in order to provoke conflict. Here we are not talking about a reader who provides a 1 or 2 star review and furnishes a reasoned explanation for his/her perspective on the work. Authors may not like such reviews (although one can learn from constructive criticism), however they can not be considered as constituting trolling. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and the taking of offence at the expression of opinions with which authors (or anyone else) may disagree is not a valid reason for labelling such expressions as trolling.

Genuine trolling is, however sadly alive and well on the internet. Take, for example the following review and the comments generated by it, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/499148682. The reviewer takes a positive delight in ripping the author’s work apart. It is, to the reviewer a source of considerable hilarity to point out grammatical errors (real or imagined). He appears to revel in making his followers laugh and laugh they do in response to the reviewer’s tearing apart of the author’s work. What should be a serious forum for discussing literature degenerates into an arena in which the reviewer and his/her followers rip their quarry apart. Blood sports are banned or curtailed in many countries but they remain alive and well on the internet.

As a libertarian (with a small l) I am wary of banning activities. There is a thin line between a person expressing their strong objection to a book and an individual deliberately looking to stir up conflict for the sake of so doing. However it strikes me that forums such as Goodreads need to look at whether they have strong enough measures in place to prevent, so far as is possible, unproductive and often vicious attacks on authors.

(Disclaimer: I have not read the book in question nor am I acquainted with it’s author).

9 thoughts on “When Does A Book Review Become Trolling?

  1. manchesterflickchick

    That is pretty pathetic to basically just rip the piss out of someone’s work. I mean I’ve delightfully done the same with books & films and made people laugh but that’s in conversation with my mates – not as ‘feedback’.

  2. karenleahansen

    Whoa, that was just a mean-spirited, nasty review. Admittedly, I’ve written some critical reviews on Goodreads, but never anywhere close to that. I always try to back up my reasons and I try to find something positive to say about the book/author to even it out. There is just no reason to be such a jerk.

    1. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

      I do the same as you (I.E. I always try to find something positive to say about a book, indeed it is, in my experience difficult to come across a work about which it is impossible to say something positive). Many thanks for your comment, Kevin

  3. jorobinson176

    Wow – that was really over the top, rotten, and not funny at all. I clicked on to the actual book, and there are quite a few really vicious reviews, and another really good reason never to interact with these people – it brings out more of the pack.

    1. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

      Thank you for your comment. Can you provide an example of when trolling has contributed positively to debate, literary or otherwise? All of the trolling I have encountered shows adults behaving like children. Indeed where children to act in the way trolls do we would reprimand them for so doing. I agree, if there is nothing positive you can say about a book then, of course you must be honest and make it clear that this is the case. “I can not recommend this book” is acceptable but “this work is shit” exhibits a lack of manners and points to a limited vocabulary on the part of the reviewer.
      I have read your article which is interesting and thought provoking. I can not agree with your premise that different rules apply as regards manners on the internet, or when dealing with cold callers. I have been in the position of receiving cold calls and have (despite being sorely tempted to do otherwise) always remained polite, telling the person I am not interested, not to call again etc. Trolling is often the preserve of cowards. You don’t have the courage to say something face-to-face? Fine hide behind a fake identity and express yourself online.
      In my experience much (if not all) trolling is aimed at provoking controversy for the sheer sake of so doing, there is no serious intent behind it.

  4. Pingback: Trolling Along | newauthoronline

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