Writer dilemmas, like many other dilemmas, tend to be social and involve people with whom they interact: writers, editors, booksellers, and readers. Situations as tricky as any other human relationships.
Today's topic, for no good reason other than we're clearing out a lot of Stuff and some of it is books and manuscripts people have sent me to read and comment (i.e. "blurb") on over the years...is the disconnect between people and their writing. (When there's no disconnect--and there often isn't--it's easy: "Love you, love your work. Loathe you; loathe your work." Then it's just a matter of finding the polite excuse to not blurb the work of the person you don't like, whose work also--in your view--stinks.) But the disconnect--familiar to all the writers I know--is a serious dilemma.
You've got this friend whom you love dearly--to whom you would trust the care of your children--but their writing....you're just not into it, or--worse--you can't stand it. You love your friend, you don't want to hurt your friend, but their writing...? Sigh. Why can't their work be as wonderful, warm-hearted, generous, kind, funny, productive of good feelings as they are?
You've got this person you can't stand, but their writing...damn, they're really good. Great, in fact. Why can't their work be as icky as they are???
Fact is, if you don't like your friend's work, and they find out, they're going to be hurt. They put their heart into that work...how can you not like it? How can you not feel that it's a true expression of their inner nature, which you profess to love? So you mumble and fumble and (if you're both experienced and also kind people) you arrive at an unspoken agreement not to ask each other what the other thinks. (It's worse if said friend likes your stuff--and it's obvious it's genuine liking--and you still can't summon up enthusiasm about theirs.) You struggle to find something nice to say about their (sigh. Deeper sigh) book when their editor sends you a copy, because if you don't at least say something--one little phrase of niceness--they can't help resenting it. You would resent it if they didn't at least say something nice about yours. That's what friends do, right?
And fact also is that if you like your--well, maybe not enemy's, but person's you don't like) work, and you're vocal about it, and you give it glowing comments, people will assume you are in fact that person's friend. One of those people making the assumption may be the person you don't like. Who may then decide you're his/her friend and continue to ask you to blurb books and expect you to chum up with him or her at conventions and listen to him/her talk...which is why you didn't like this person in the first place, since you hold violently opposing views on politics, religion, race, gender, or some other topic that's a hot-button for you. So you waffle around between toning down your first wild enthusiasm for their (incredibly wonderful) book, or being honest about how great you think it is and risking the consequences of being considered one of this person's good buddies. When in fact you'd cross two streets covered in broken glass and swim through a canal full of toxic chemicals to avoid him/her.
Editors, who regard the personal likes and dislikes of writers as the whims of misguided children, often send books out to writers they think of as "helpful" (meaning, they think that writer's blurb will sell books, even though there's scant evidence for this.) This is the commonest way to be sent books or advanced reading copies of someone you loathe. They also send out books of people you've never heard of, sometimes with a note saying the equivalent of "This is right up your alley, so I'm sure you'll want to give us a quote." And it's not, and you don't want to, but you're aware that offending editors is unwise. So out comes the polite excuse (which probably doesn't fool them) and you don't say what you're thinking, which is "How could you possibly think I'd like something like that?" and then you go into at least four hours of self-examination wondering how you gave them the impression that you would be thrilled with a book that glorifies something you thought you'd made it clear disgusts you.
But back to the writer-thing. When these books and advanced reader copies and manuscripts emerged from the confusion of piles during the recent and continuing digging out of the place, every one of them was instantly memorable as falling into the easy (love you, love your book), moderately easy (hate you, hate your book), difficult (hate you, love your book), or heart-wrenching (love you, hate your book) categories. Waves of past emotion--emotion I'd thought were past, at least--rolled over me yet again.
So a bit of advice from a recent soldier in the trenches of writer-relationships. Throw everything in the last three categories away as soon as you've dealt with them. Do not keep friends' stuff out of sentiment, if you didn't like it--it will feel just as bad when you dig it up later. Do not keep enemies' stuff ditto--you will replay the decision you made and by then know how bad or good it was. Keep only the books you love by the people you love, that give you a happy feeling when you find them again.
And if your writer-friend's comments on your book aren't as wonderful as you were hoping for...choose the friendship over the blurb. The most scintillant blurb in the world, even if it adds 10% to your sales, will not come to the hospital to sit with you when your kid's in surgery, or sympathize with you when your publisher drops you, or offer you a place to stay when your house burns down.