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Why, Hello, Friend

It’s a small world, that’s for sure, and it’s inevitable that as writers, we get to know each other. We form friendships, etc. etc. Over at HTMLg, they’ve had discussions about friends publishing friends, which is a question worth exploring, but let’s not beat a tired horse.

So I’ll reframe their question: How do you feel about friends reviewing friends? Is it ok, or is it not? Does being friends with someone change your reading of their book?

I have to admit: I’m biased when reading a friend’s book. If I like him/her as a person, I’m bound to read differently than if it’s a stranger. Now, I’m not necessarily saying I’m a more generous reader if I know the person (though that’s often the case), but it does change things if you’re friends, right? Or am I wrong?

I had a conversation with a writer-friend (let’s call him Adam) recently who asked me why I liked another writer (let’s call him Bob). Adam argued that Bob was not a good writer, his sentences were un-noteworthy, and the book itself without point or purpose. I respect Adam. I generally respect his opinions too, esp. on books. (Though sure, we don’t always see eye to eye. But who does?) When asked why I like Bob’s writing, my first default answer was that he’s my friend. But I like his writing too. Only: do I like his writing because we’re friends? Except I can usually separate my opinions from my friendships. Kind of.

I often find myself saying: I don’t especially like his/her writing, but I think he/she’s a great person. So then do I read what I read, do I like what I like, primarily because of friendships? I’ve confused myself. I’ve talked myself in a circle.

How much of an influence does friendship play in your reading?

24 thoughts on “Why, Hello, Friend

  1. An interesting question. I’ve realized lately that I have to be tougher (on myself, on friends, on everything). I realized that I and my friends appreciate that kind of tough, though, so because I haven’t always felt this way, it’s one of my new year’s resolutions to reform, fully.

  2. from my experience, friends might get a quicker or more extensive read, but I still have to reject what I have to reject, friends or no friends. brutal sometimes, but we have nothing if not our integrity right?

        1. I feel exactly the same way. You actually probably get a slower rejection if you’re a friend or even an acquaintance, just because I feel like I want to write something with the rejection. (Although I write a lot of personal rejections anyway.)

  3. Honestly, friendship goes a long way for me.

    I read everything my friends write; I would publish MOST of the things my friends would complete. Not everything, but a heck of a lot more than if I did not know ya.

    Probably/Certainly (?) not the best manner of business, but …

  4. I think I can honestly say that I don’t let friendship effect my opinions of someone’s writing, although I have on occasion felt bad for not liking the writing of a friend. I have also lost friends because of my lack of appreciation for their writing. Conversely, I think I’ve become friends with some people because of my admiration or appreciation of their writing.

  5. molly: you’re just plain wonderful. nothing else to be said there.

    ryan: sucks to lose friends over writing, that’s not cool. & i’ve also made friends with people b/c i appreciated their writing. it’s become easier doing that. (i used to get super nervous talking to writers whose work i admired. now, it’s not so bad.) making friends with writers is nice. i like it!

    1. i’m sure i’m partially to blame. when someone asks for honest feedback, it’s hard to know when you should actually give it, haha.

      as for being nervous talking to writers, i have often gone the other route and been a smartass to them. i was lucky enough to be in an mfa program where some of my favorite writers taught, and the first time i met one of them i got on his case about the redundancy of a certain word in his first novel. now he’s one of my references, haha.

      1. My partner did something like that to Annie Dillard once when she spoke at Oberlin… he (completely innocently) asked some question like, “Did you mean for this ending to be so overwritten?” Or something like that…

        1. That’s awesome. I think the thing is the more I like a person’s writing or the person in general, the more likely I am to be myself with them, which means a healthy dose of smartassitude. If I don’t like a friend’s writing I try not to talk about it.

  6. I think being honest is the only way to be, kind of like in friendship. If someone was a drug addict, you’d have an intervention, if you were a good friend. Same in writing.

  7. I think this is an interesting question.

    I think on the one hand, language has its power or energy or momentum or whatever beyond its creator and I am often able to lose myself in a text and forget whatever I know abt the personality that shaped it.

    On the other hand, I think language can be really pliable and suggestible or ??ephemeral?? (I don’t know if this is the word I mean) or something and how I experience it can shift, not necessarily “negatively” or “positively,” but shift in some way, based upon how well I know the personality that shaped it.

    There’s a really interesting exploration of/commentary on this question in Dhalgren by Sam Delaney.

    1. I can tell you Delaney certainly pulls no punches himself. He was a visiting writer when I was at Brown, and he actually told one of my classmates he should quit writing fiction and write essays instead. Ha!

  8. Hi Lily, all,

    I don’t think I’m the Adam up above (am I?). Because if it were me, I don’t think I would have said such nice things about Bob’s work—I can’t stand that guy’s work.

    Friendship definitely influences my reading and reviewing. If nothing else, there are thousands and thousands of writers out there. So which ones am I going to read? But if a friend gives me their book, then I’m going to read it. So friends already have an in, so to speak.

    After that, though, it’s case-by-case. If I think the work is great, then I’ll boost it, just as I would anyone else’s.

    If I don’t like it (not “if it’s bad,” but if I don’t like it, because I like plenty of bad things, and I don’t like plenty of good things), then I try to disregard it—just as I would if I didn’t know the person. I don’t think it’s my place to go around tearing anybody down, especially not friends.

    If the friend insists that I give my opinion, then I’ll speak privately with them. If they insist that I review it, then I’ll do what I always do: I’ll point out what I like about the work. I just won’t be as enthusiastic as I would be if I really liked it.

    With the exception of Lily Hoang, none of my friends are famous, successful writers. It’s hard enough to get a career going without your friends tearing you apart.

    All of this is to say: be my friend and I’ll give you positive reviews! They won’t be worth anything—but!

    (My mom made a children’s book once, as a class assignment, and I loved it. Was it any good? I have no idea. Probably not—but what does good mean? It was a children’s book made by my mom, about a big black dog—and I adored it! It was good for me. It didn’t once even occur to me to look at it and think, “Christ, my mom can’t draw.)


    1. Ha ha, Adam. I feel for you if you think Lily Hoang is famous. I’d put my money of ANY of your other friends…

      But wait, considering I’m your friend, does that mean my book(s) will get good reviews from here on out? (hooray!)

  9. There was a conversation about this in The Stranger a few years ago between Matthew Stadler and Doug Nufer.

    “MATTHEW STADLER: I don’t know what you mean by “a fair review,” but I’ll do anything to get an intelligent explication of a book, even if it means assigning a friend to review a friend. Look at Kirkus’ “fair review” of Stacey’s book if you want to see what happens when editors subscribe to the myths you’re laboring under. That reviewer was so disinterested, the review was clueless and irrelevant to Stacey’s work. “Fair reviews” by allegedly disinterested strangers are very often pointless, clueless things.”

    the rest is here:http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/jaccuse/Content?oid=552

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