And by “bad,” I don’t mean poorly-written (that’s a subject for another day). I mean those scathing one- and two-star reviews some people post when they didn’t enjoy a book for whatever reason. Now, I have no problem stating my case if I don't like a particular book. But when faced with the pesky dilemma of whether to imprint an already negative review with fewer than three stars, I have recently found myself unable to do it. Having been on the receiving end of a few such critiques, a one or two-star branding feels like the final twist of a knife that's already been bloodied from ripping a fellow author’s innards to shreds.

It’s quite easy to trash someone else’s work from the cushy comfort and privileged anonymity of the reader’s armchair. But like anything else we do in life, it pays to be mindful of our motivation and—whenever possible—kind in our delivery. It is therefore important when voicing our views to first examine our motives. Are we being deliberately catty, inflammatory, and unkind in order to fan the flames of dissent for its own sake? Or do we wish to share well-reasoned opinions in an attempt to broaden a discussion and better inform others of otherwise unexamined viewpoints?

I will admit that if I find myself not enjoying a popular book, I'll seek out one- and two-star reviews to see whether anyone else felt the same way. And if I am debating whether to read a book, I’ll definitely check out a few bad reviews (along with several good ones) to see if they strike a chord, as they often tend to be more honest than the syrupy five-star postings from friends and fans.

But if there’s one thing the backlash from that recent “anti-Mohammed” film, Innocence of Muslims, has taught me, it’s that even one person’s negative opinion can have far-reaching emotional and tangible impact. Putting aside for the moment my puzzlement over why a crude, amateur video should carry such weight among the faithful (unless there is no such thing as a rational, psychologically secure “true believer” ), careless comments can hurt and inflame those emotionally invested in a particular subject matter. And lest we forget, no one is more irrationally invested in a work of fiction than the author herself.

Having now traveled the path of self-published novelist thrice over, I find myself unable to damn another's work with just one or two stars. I’ll admit it’s tempting when faced with a traditionally-published but really bad book that is generating a lot of hype (think Fifty Shades of Grey—which I have not read, but for which I have imbibed an unavoidably strong whiff from ubiquitous blogs and reviews). Joining the ranks of tortured writers has opened my eyes to how painfully difficult—and just how brave—it is to place one’s blood and guts on paper for the entertainment and appraisal of others. So from now on, if I don’t like a book enough to give it at least three stars, I think I’ll hold my tongue. I’ll leave the one- and two-star reviews to the "haters" among us (of which there will always be plenty). Now I understand why my mother admonished, “If you haven't got something nice to say, don’t say anything at all!”