Saturday, April 22, 2006

The art of book reviewing ...

... such as it is, is nicely appraised by Scott Esposito: Trusted Fellow Reader.

I think that readers develop a sense of which reviewers they can trust. It isn't that they necessarily agree with them, or immediately run out and buy every book they recommend or scrupulously avoid any they dismiss, it's rather that they feel they've got a fair appraisal - and can take it from there themselves.
Because of space constraints, I usually tell reviewers that if they really don't like a book, don't bother reviewing it. Find something you like that you can tell readers about. I also think positive reviews are more heeded by readers than negative reviews are. Moreover, a good reviewer tells you enough about the book and his reasons for liking or disliking it that you can make up your own mind about it.
My column, Editor's Choice, is designed for recommending books, so I rarely have the opportunity to write negative reviews. Tomorrow will be an exception, since I was asked to look at a couple of European-bred Da Vinci Code clones. I was underwhelmed.
Again, much has to do with the tone adopted. Dale Peck's tone is pretty narrow-gauged. And a lot of people seem to have adopted a snarky manner in order, I guess, to get across how tough and tough-minded they are. I've been around the block far too many times to be impressed by that sort of thing (and also for reasons indicated in this post). In fact, it turns me off.
If anything ought to be an example of a civilized manner, it's book reviewing.


  1. I do book reviews for the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance (the 26th we do Brandilyn Collins' new book, Web of Lies) and I'll be doing all future reviews for Alton Gansky's books for Novel Journey.

    these two are easy to do because I love the authors' writings. When I have to do someone I've never read before I look for the elements that would make it an interesting read....other than that...I cry alot!

  2. There is a class of person who seems to think that publishing a comment on someone else's work means you have to make nasty comments. I agree with you, Frank, that it is all too easy to appear "clever" and rude, but that doesn't help the reader of the column (and, potentially, of the book) very much.
    I'm glad you have your column and that it functions as it does!

  3. Anonymous5:20 PM

    I detest reviews where the main point of the piece seems to be the critic's attempt to show how smart or witty or acid s/he is. I not only see little value in the content of such "reviews," but I also don't enjoy reading them. So what's the point?

    I also don't particularly enjoy writing negative reviews, and I agree with Frank that they're of less value than positive ones. That's not to say that there's no place for them, but they're better in smaller measures.

  4. We all seem to be on the same page here. I think that's because we're all reading enthusiasts and we like principally to share our discoveries. Of course, if you don't ficus on weighing things in the balance and usually finding them wanting, you won't really be regarded as a critic - so there goes that Pulitzer.