The Opinionated Reader: Do (My) Opinions Matter?

I think we’ve established that I read a lot. The more I read, the more Opinions I form on my reading matter. Yes, Opinions with a capital O. As someone who suffers from anxiety and had an education system’s worth of criticism for not being able to express opinions (or expressing the “wrong” opinion and being called out for it very publicly), choosing to write this makes for an usual situation. I am no expert. I am not a teacher of English, nor a well-versed professor with an extended edition of the Oxford Dictionary on a little table next to me while I read in my dusty library of fine classics. I’m hardly shattering a monocle and spewing tea in outrage whenever I see an abuse of the en dash (even if that’s what I worry I come across as being like). What right do I have to say what I think? Why would anyone care what a “graphic designer” has to say about typos, character flaws, or the merits of semi-colons vs commas?

Could it maybe in some tiny way be helpful? Or am I getting above myself?

Hold that self-depreciating thought.

I’ve written before about my e-reader habit, especially when it comes to indie authors. They don’t all have teams of editors and spell-checkers, proof readers or unbiased sources of feedback. Maybe, just maybe, when put in the form of critique rather than the dreaded criticism, Opinions could be of some use. That and a second pair of eyes; automated spellcheckers can’t tell if someone “shutters” whether they’re cold and lost without the letter d or are just closing some windows. If I’ve been feeling bold enough (or just darn well adored the book in question), I’ve asked the author if it would be useful to get feedback. And you know what? The responses I’ve gotten have more often than not been kind, understanding and willing to engage. It can be scary, but I just need to remember: writers are people too. You wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of flaming or false praise. Do a Bill and Ted and just be excellent to each other.

There’s also that little part of me that as a reader knows that reviews matter. Not just positive ones, but negative too. Something I hated about a book (e.g. themes like insta-love, slow-burn plots over several long books, unexpected “steam” in the bagging area) might actually be what someone else is looking for. There are reviewers I follow because we have similar taste, and to know that they disliked this book because X but loved that one because Y helps me make better decisions about what I read. Sure there are trolls out there alongside those auto “I loved it so rated 5 stars MOAR PLZ” responses, but they seem to be the exception rather than the rule. While dumping a star review with literally one or two words may help the Amazon algorithms, it won’t help real people. I write my opinion-based reviews to help authors and potential readers. Surely we all just want to enjoy books ourselves and direct others to discover wonderful new stories.

Then there’s my last thought on the matter: opinions are a part of you. Back in the days of paperback-or-nothing, my opinions only extended as far as “like” or “do not like”; maybe there would be a character that stuck in the mind or a plot I inexplicably thought back to, but I’d rarely go much beyond the binary basics. Nowadays, I’ll look at the writing itself. I’ll take into account character arcs and dialogue, foreshadowing and description, pacing and tone… It sounds like writing a school book report, but it’s not. There’s no pressure when you’re doing it for yourself. From it I’ve learned to appreciate the work that goes in to constructing an engaging story and know my own preferences better for it. Sometimes I think I understand more about writing from doing this than I got from English Lit/Language lessons because I’m interested, not being forced.

I suppose what it boils down to is this: Opinions can matter. Other people can learn from them. You can learn from them, even if it’s just a case of working out how to form your own. It’s probably worth sharing them as long as you’re not aggressively forcing them one others.

So do my specific opinions matter? On a macro level, probably not. But small-scale? I could quote from Disney’s Mulan about one small grain of rice tipping the balance, but hey, who knows?

It’s all a matter of opinion.