Quotes Don’t Tell You Everything About A Book

My first thought while writing the title for this post was: am I really explaining this? I mean, I thought everyone would know that reading a quote does not equal reading the book. But I have another reason for being annoyed by people thinking along these lines and using, “I saw the quotes directly from the text” as justification. I did get a few replies on Twitter from people who said they hadn’t thought about things this way once I ranted about why it upset me. But I’m STILL seeing people do this without realising how messed up it is. So, I decided to write a post on it.

First of all, I’m not supporting problematic content, nor is this an attack on anyone sharing such information with the book community (if it comes across that way, I apologise, not my intention at all). This is a post about exactly what the title says. My issue is with people using lines like: “I read a quote about this book in a review and that’s my evidence that the whole book is terrible.” I’ve literally seen people justify calling an entire book racist/sexist/ableist/homophobic based on quotes in a review, they think those quotes are proof enough. I don’t think the people doing this understand that using secondary quotes to label a book in this way is problematic in itself.

Want to know who else uses this line? People who trash the Quran. People that go up to Muslims and quote ridiculously out-of-context lines from the Quran and act like that’s definite proof of how terrible the book is and by extension, how terrible Muslims are. While you may not be doing the same thing, and while your intentions might not be sinister, you ARE giving a pass to people who DO use this line as a way to justify Islamophobia. I’m not even stretching this out of proportion, seriously this is the rubbish Muslims deal with on a day-to-day basis. I have heard this line COUNTLESS times, my Muslim family members have heard this line, my Muslim friends have heard this line, Muslim strangers on the internet have heard this line. They’ve heard it so damn often that the first reaction is: here we go again. I’m sick and tired of people using quotes to label an entire book and people who read/follow it as violent, or sexist, or whatever else. At a time when there is so much misinformation being spread about in the first place, having people in the book community validate the same tactics is shocking.

My problem is not with reviews (obviously), and it isn’t with people deciding a book isn’t their cup of tea because of reviews. Reviews tell you how someone felt about a book they read and what they thought about it. They can help you decide if the book sounds like something you’d want to read or if you’d rather pass, especially if you and the reviewer generally have similar tastes in books. Quotes in reviews are obviously fine too when the person wants to demonstrate a point, but the thing is, when a reviewer does this, they’re doing it with full knowledge of the context. They have read the entire book, they are quoting from the primary source. When someone who has not read the book takes a quote from a secondary source (said review) and then uses that to call the entire book racist (for example), they’re doing so without context. You’re using, say 30 words, as evidence to damn a book that’s probably around 75 THOUSAND words long – and you haven’t even read the other 74,790 words. Which is the exact same thing Islamophobes do. Quotes aren’t proof because 30 words don’t mean shit when the remaining 74 thousand might say the opposite.

Even in the case of reviewers who have read the primary source, there will be some cases where two (or more) reviewers from the same marginalised community will have a different response to what they’re reading. There are books on depression that I thought were terrible and harmful (and I can draw quotes from them), but other readers with depression thought they were great and helpful (and they can also draw quotes from them – maybe even the same ones). I’m not asking you to doubt someone’s experience and interpretation, your opinion of their experience is irrelevant. Those books on depression? They were harmful to me but they were helpful to others and I don’t think it’s fair for any of our interpretations and experiences to be rejected. My point here is, quotes can be taken out of context, they can be interpreted and explained ENTIRELY differently from one reviewer to the next.

It might help to think about the number of lines in the Quran (or even the Bible) that can and are pulled out of context, and how horrible they sound without any understanding of context and interpretation. Consider how many different kinds of Muslims there are and how many different kinds of interpretations they have of the same book. Taking all of that into account, does it make any sense at all to then draw a quote mentioned by someone else (who may or may not be Muslim themselves) and use that as an example to show the Quran is evil? Because that’s the same thing that’s being applied to the books being discussed. Doesn’t that sound scary to anyone else?

Maybe it’s just me, but I see using quotes to damn entire books and then telling other people you know everything there is to know about the book because you read a quote as a problem. If you can decide a book is racist from a quote you read in a review, then someone else can decide the Quran promotes violence from a quote they read on the internet. At the end of the day, holy books are exactly that: books. These ridiculous justifications make it sound like it’s okay to damn a whole book based on a line someone else quoted to you, throwing context and interpretation right out the window.

I’ve definitely rambled on a bit and repeated myself (the joy of explaining something on the internet), but it’s something that’s been bothering me for a while now and I wanted to explain myself in as much detail as possible. I want to reiterate that I’m not promoting problematic content at all. Sharing someone’s review where they talk about their experience of reading a book they found problematic is completely different to saying: “this book is (definitely) sexist because I read a quote from it in someone else’s review.” Really, the whole point of this post was just to show people how some of the lines they’re using when talking about books they haven’t read are giving way to more harm.

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