Blogging with Integrity

9 May

I have always described myself as a reader, before most anything else. At different times I’ve been a martial arts student, a horseback rider, a roller skater, a crafter. I have been a mother (of now-adult offspring), and a food service worker, but I have always been a genre reader, even when I have struggled to read.

(I like to say that Paul Féval’s Le Bossu made me a reader before I knew how to read 1, that Agatha Christie made me a mystery reader by the time I turned nine, and that finding a copy of E.M. Hull’s The Sheik–just shy of turning eleven–made me a genre romance reader)

I also tend to think things to death. And lately, I have been thinking a lot about how I blog and review (again). And you, lucky people, get to learn what I’ve been thinking.

Starting with the big caveat: what I lay out below refers exclusively to my own writing, and is in no way a judgement of anyone else’s thought processes, decisions or ethics. (If and when I have a problem with someone’s behavior, I tend to name names. 2)

* * * *

Long ago (May 2012), in a world quite different from today’s, a group of bloggers organized an Unconventional Blog Tour, in which ten of them would write on topics important to book bloggers (though the advice was general enough to adapt to other kinds of blogging).

Back then, I read Maintaining Independence and Integrity by the Book Smugglers, and I found myself nodding my head; both at what they wrote, and what MotherReader had to say in her comment (and in her post).

My first draft of this post, dating to that May a decade ago, centered around my own path to reviewing books, from getting ARCs to being invited by Karen Scott and by Mad (of the now defunct Novel Thoughts) to blog with them, to starting my own space; all while striving to adhere to a personal code of ethics that basically boiled down to being honest, with myself and with whoever would happen to read my words.

Today, ten years after writing that draft, the world in which I exist as a reader/reviewer/blogger has changed a lot, and so have I. As I look back at some of my thoughts about individual books or whole series, I’m struck by my privilege, by the many things I didn’t notice (or perhaps noticed but chose not to mention).

Yes, I tend to disclose my biases (personal baggage, historical knowledge or ignorance, relationship with the author, familiarity with the genre, and so on), in my reviews, but that leaves so many things unaddressed.

I don’t mean here that I have such an inflated idea of myself/my ~influence~/my responsibility, that I believe I can (or even should), address all things that affect all people in all places.

I can’t, and not just because I’m only one person without a particularly large platform, but because I’m human: there are many things about which I’m ignorant while not being aware of it, or of the depth of that ignorance. I’m still learning!

* * * *

However, there are things I have known, or been aware of, for a long, long time, that I haven’t incorporated consistently into my reviewing:

Yes, I blogged about copaganda once upon a time, but I never tagged any of my many reviews of books invoking the “good cop” myth as copaganda.

Yes, I blogged about how language can be used to harm, and about my decision to do better, but I didn’t tag many of my reviews of books where ableism is part of the worldbuilding, the narrative, the characterization, etc.

Yes, I have written about my support for abortion and all bodily autonomy, but I didn’t tag the books or series were abortion is demonized.

Yes, I have written (quite a bit, actually) about sexism and misogyny, but I have often failed to be as candid when reviewing or tagging books where it’s a theme, or a shortcut, or otherwise a problematic part of the narrative.

Yes, I have started to note when a series is relentlessly heteronormative, but that leaves the hundreds or reviews where I didn’t. (Same for fatphobia, whorephobia, and so much more.)

Then there are my reviews of books I loved (or still love), written by authors who have since shown themselves to be white supremacists/MAGAts/Nazis/TERFS/Christofascists.

And as I think about all these things, I wonder what “blogging/reviewing with integrity” truly means to me.

Should I leave things as they are, accepting that I have changed, and just continue to adjust my behavior going forward, while hoping that someone reading today my words and thoughts of ten or fifteen years ago, will take the passage of time into account?

Or should I go back and add tags/updates/warning notes to old reviews, in light of what I know now?

For me, the ethical answer is the second. Ideally, I would check every review (and really, every post) in this blog 3, and add the pertinent tags and notes. Practically, this is limited both by spoon availability, and memory.

The first is pretty obvious–just finding links for *this post* took me hours.

The second…

There are books I remember well enough, or have re-read recently enough, that I can go back to the reviews and add tags and/or commentary fairly accurately. But there are also books I clearly enjoyed at the time, going by my rating and the reviews I wrote, that I barely remember today.

Even if I could commit to re-read every single book I’ve written about (which is risible–see: spoon availability), I no longer have ready access to many of them; either because the print copy is gone (god knows how, I rarely get rid of books), or because I cannot longer access an old digital file–or even because amazon deleted my copy when the author got their rights back.

And so I end this post with a rather unsatisfactorily vague course of action in front of me: to do what I can about past writings, as I can, and to continue to strive to do better in the future.

Which honestly feels like such a cop out, but which is the most realistic and, yes, ethical path open to me today.

* * * *

1 The relatively-short version is: starting when I was a toddler, my mother used to drive all five of us siblings to school/childcare across Mexico City. Even back then, the trip would take 40 minutes on a good traffic day, over an hour on a bad one. Each way. One of the things my mother did to keep us relatively quiet and entertained as she ferried us back and forth was to “tell us stories”. One of my earliest and most clear memories of those mornings was hearing her narrate, almost verbatim (as I discovered when I finally got my hands on the book, years later), the prologue of Le Bosu. I knew then, with such clarity, that I needed to read the full story, myself. I first “read” Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Montecristo and The Three Musketeers; Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène Lupin, gentleman cambrioleur, Emilio Salgari’s Malaysia pirates stories, and many other classics this way, but it was my mother’s narration of Le Bosu that made me a reader.

2 For example, Jane Little/Dear Author, and Sarah Wendell/SmartBitches. (Beware: it’s a black hole, you’ll lose days following links)

3 I started guest-reviewing (and guest or co-blogging) in February 2008; when I started this blog in January 2012, I copied most of my existing posts and reviews, but while I can update tags and add commentary to my 2008-through-2012 writing *here*, I cannot do so elsewhere.

12 Responses to “Blogging with Integrity”

  1. Lori 09/05/2022 at 2:10 PM #

    I’ve always found you to be honest to a fault and open to other voices and perspectives. As a reviewer I trust you. I know if something is problematic for you, it will be problematic full stop.
    Changing or tagging reviews… that’s an interesting question. One of my all-time favorite books since I was a teen I sat to read about a year ago and couldn’t because the misogyny was so bad. (Robert Heinlein, not a huge surprise.) Thinking about it, I think I would tag a review had I written one because my love of the book is no longer and I’d want to warn women that it can be a very insulting book to read.
    I think you are right to tag what you can.But this shouldn’t be a full time job for you to do so.

    • azteclady 09/05/2022 at 2:16 PM #

      Yes, exactly this!

      My writings are honest to who I was when I wrote them (both reviews and generally writing), but as I know more, I would hate that those writings mislead people today in ways that could harm them.

      And, thank you; I try.

  2. willaful 09/05/2022 at 7:38 PM #

    I hear you, I really do. I’m so ashamed about some of the stuff I let get past me.

    • azteclady 09/05/2022 at 8:58 PM #

      I’m not sure I would describe it as “shame” myself, because I wrote honestly in the moment. It’s more a feeling of responsibility towards someone coming across old reviews/writing, and being harmed because I didn’t add in a warning about something that I am now aware of (whether or not I noticed at the time)

      • willaful 09/05/2022 at 9:44 PM #

        I closed my former children’s book review site for that very reason. Oh, the ableism.

      • azteclady 09/05/2022 at 9:46 PM #

        oh, I did not know this, I’m sorry.

  3. SuperWendy 13/05/2022 at 8:05 PM #

    I’ve been posting genre fiction reviews online for 23 years so naturally I have a lot of feelings on this topic – although distilled down to the essence it would be “I feel ya.”

    I think it’s OK to like problematic entertainment/art/what have you – the trick is RECOGNIZING it’s problematic. And as we get older, as time marches on, we should grow, change and hopefully learn more. None of us is perfect. Even as we strive to “do better” we’re still going to say boneheaded things, have problematic sh*t fly over our heads – the trick is learning from those experiences.

    Blessedly I haven’t had a reader come back at me for posting a positive review online for a book back in 2001 that turned out to be riddled with problematic elements. If that did happen to me? I’d simply say, “I’m sorry. I read that book back in 2001 and hopefully I know more now than I did back then.” I hope I’m doing better in 2022. Am I perfect? Good Lord above, no. Sh*t still gets by me. Given that we’re all products of our environments, we all have our own unconscious bias, perfect is something that just ain’t gonna happen. Better though? I think we can strive for better.

    Like you, even if I had the time to go back and label all the reviews I’ve done in the past 23 years (!) – I can’t recall enough about many of those hundreds and thousands of books without rereading them with my 2022 reading glasses on. Auntie Wendy says, just be a smart review consumer. When was that review posted? 15 years ago? There might be problematic sh*t in the book that the reviewer didn’t catch at the time. A book that came out last month and the reviewer let a whole bunch of problematic sh*t slide past them? Well, maybe re-evaluate following that particular reviewer if the problematic sh*t was a bridge too far.

    • azteclady 13/05/2022 at 8:21 PM #

      About liking problematic stuff, “The trick is recognizing that it’s problematic” –oh boy, yes.

      And I agree that people who read reviews should consider when reviews are written, as much as when the book/movie reviewed was written–though we know they don’t always.

      Like I said, I don’t expect anyone else to feel the need I feel to go back to reviews of those books I remember well, and add the tags/notes/commentary that I feel necessary today. It’s a lot of work; it’s work requires a fair level of fixation, and it’s bound, by its own nature, to be incomplete.

      And finally: 23 years????? Holy. Shit. Batman.

  4. whiskeyinthejar 19/05/2022 at 2:15 PM #

    I take Wendy’s view on this. I’ve been posting reviews online since 2009 and when I first joined GoodReads, I rated romance books that I had read when I was 12yrs old. No way I would rate those books the same as a 39yr old woman, so then there is that struggle you talk about if a person should go back and change or delete those reviews/ratings.

    A couple years ago I decided to just let everything stand because even 12 months later when I was doing my end of year romance awards posts, I discovered that I could change ratings/reviews even that soon as distance and time changed my thoughts and feelings on even those books. I just don’t want to get lost/stuck on an endless loop of deleting, rereading, and revising.

    I certainly hope my thoughts and views have changed because then that shows growth, learning, and understanding. Liking/consuming fictional material that has problematic elements are discussions to be had and oooh boy can they get tangled. It’s a struggle to navigate, especially when you don’t want to hurt anyone, and especially on social media that doesn’t always take the time for discussing, nuance, and growth. No one is perfect but everyone can learn and grow.

    Like you said, we can’t be everything for everyone. Trying to reconcile and mitigate what we put out in the world will be a constant struggle, you recognizing and being active in what and how you want to do this, will never be a bad thing.

    • azteclady 19/05/2022 at 2:28 PM #

      I agree, on the whole; especially the part about getting trapped in a loop.

      On the other hand, and given I’m already in a loop of re-reading (because gah!!!!), taking some time to tag the most egregious instance of harmful stuff will, too, never be a bad thing.

      • whiskeyinthejar 19/05/2022 at 2:42 PM #

        I rarely reread, if you’re rereading more because you’re struggling/slumping, then I use rereading like you to try and get out of it but typically only reread old favorites. My memory is poop with fictional stories but definitely on rereads calling out now realized harmful elements can only help.

      • azteclady 19/05/2022 at 3:23 PM #

        Exactly.

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