Reviewing Black Literature | Black Lit Ep. 4

Discussed Review:

Special thanks to Rod Kelly:

Also a big thank you to:
Well Read Black Girl

Black booktubers and instagrammers
Djenne G.

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Carissa Quinn says:

I liked the way you tackled this subject. And I can see posting trigger warnings for Morrison’s works because they can be very brutal, but I can’t imagine down grading a review based on it. Not all books are here for us to enjoy. Some books are here for us to have to face the ugliness that has existed and does exist in our world. To give a low review for a book doing what it intended to do seems strange to me.

I know I’m far from perfect. I appreciate these videos that educate as it does help me think about how I talk about things and helps me do better.

Djenne G. says:

Such an amazing video, Seji! You really hit the nail on such an important topic. Thank you!

She Wants the Diction says:

I would argue that The Bluest Eye being hard to stomach is kind of… the whole point? it’s not supposed to be pretty. we’re witnessing the destruction of a young, innocent black girl here. it’s *supposed* to be difficult to bear. just as Pecola struggles to bear the weight of her life, we struggle to even read about it. it’s meant to make us question how Pecola got to the point of wanting blue eyes, what went terribly wrong, and how it could’ve been stopped.

The Happy BookTuber says:

I have to kindly disagree with some of these points. I believe reviews should be completely subjective and based on one’s individual response to the work itself, not what the work was attempting to do or who the author is. Reading other reviews before writing one allows those reviews to influence opinion and leads to group think which is counterproductive to true understanding. I don’t subscribe to the notion that one can read a book wrong. Of course there will be subtext that one might not recognize due to their background, but their opinion should be based on their personal experience, an experience which can’t be controlled and therefore shouldn’t be criticised.

For example, if I give a book one star because it uses foul language, it doesn’t mean I didn’t get the book. Maybe the author clearly stated why there is so much foul language, but that doesn’t change the fact that I personally didn’t like the book because it had foul language. That review should not be critized. Others who hate foul language would know the book isn’t for them. And some reviewers only review as a way to catalogue how they felt for themselves and not for others.

There is value in gathering more context and being critical, but only once an opinion is firm.

Ex: You could write your review first, then do all the extra work, come back and say… though I hated this book because of the language, the author used it as a way to show xyz.

I hope all that makes sense doesn’t come off as antagonistic. I just want people to respond to books on a personal level. I’ve seen far too many times when people base their opinions on others’ and it leads to false hype or even cases of taking things out of context from a book and calling it xyz when they’d see it’s not xyz if they read it for themselves. It is possible for people to miss facts in a book that lead to an inaccurate interpretation, which is a good reason to maybe read some reviews after your opinion is solidified and make adjustments as necessary.

For instance, I reviewed a book the other day thinking a character was 10 because it was a fantasy and I didn’t know that there was only one cycle per year and not three, so the character was actually 18. That altered a few things, so I tweaked my review.

All of this to say, I understand where there would be value in your method of reviewing, but I don’t think that undermines the value in subjective reviews based solely on text with no special considerations.

On a side note, I have read “The Bluest Eyes”. It’s been several years, but it still sticks with me. Having that context, I don’t think the reviewer missed the point. It seems she just didn’t like all the insest, which included the main character, a young girl being repeatedly and knowingly raped by her father. I believe she was even impregnated by him, but it’s been a while so the pregnant part might be me thinking about thee movie precious. But I do remember the rape scenes and her mouthing slapping her in the face. This being a book by a poc about a poc for pocs doesn’t change the fact that those events are disturbing and made her uncomfortable. If this were the book “Speak” and she wrote the same review, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Not being comfortable with rape has nothing to do with privilege. The conclusions people drew about this review are disappointing.

However, I’m only going off your quoted section. I clicked your link, but it didn’t go to the review so I don’t have full context.

Anyway, that’s my quite lengthy opinion on that. I wish these had voice options because descenting opinions always seem aggressive in text though my tone would just I’m only offering a new point of view.

Winita Frederick says:

I’m watching this late but wanted to say that this is such an even-handed analysis of the issue within the community. Thank you, Seji. I remember reading the Bluest Eye a few years ago & feeling terrified but also seen by literature in a v rare way. It wouldn’t even occur to me that someone else would find the story to be “too much”. I’m glad Morrison wrote it that way and that we can still have learning conversations about it all these years later!

ryzenable says:

I’m very late but I wanted to say I have seen too many reviews of Toni Morrison’s works that gave low ratings because the content was ‘yuck’ and ‘sick’ and ‘slavery/racism is a tired topic and please let’s just move on.’ Some people read for pleasure and not to educate themselves and that’s all right. However, the ignorance has me raging. (Let me just say the instagrammer was a very mild case compared to the reviews I’ve seen)

SAVY says:

This is a great video!! I love Toni Morrison’s writing, and I’ll have to check this book out. I agree that it’s unfair to write a negative review of the book based on its content being something you don’t want to deal with. It doesn’t seem like a fair way to review the quality of the writing or the story. If a book isn’t for you, just say “wasn’t for me” and don’t leave a low rating. At least, that’s how I see it. I also agree that a book’s context needs to be taken into account. Excellent discussion.

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