Apr 25, 2009

Don't you bring me no bad news

I've noticed that in the world of book reviews, there seems to be a policy of only reviewing books that are "worthy of review." That is, if the book is amateurish, or unremarkable, or just plain bad, there's nothing said about it. Silence.

Now, I can see how reviews, even bad ones, will serve as publicity for a book. I can see where reviewers might think they won't even waste people's time reading about something that they absolutely should not read.

But honestly, I don't buy it. In what other field, art or otherwise, does something bad not even merit a mention? Bad films get reviewed. Bad art shows get reviewed. Hell, bad microwaves get reviewed! But a mediocre book, even if it was good enough to get picked up by a publisher...nothing.

And I personally would like to know about these things! Even if it's just a one-liner: "Spelling atrocious. Cover amateurish. Story full of holes. Couldn't finish--like reading nails on a blackboard." That would do. Especially given the explosion of books available through POD and self-publishing...books really are a commodity rather than an art form a lot of times, and I sort of think they should be treated as such on the review circuit.

I really distrust websites that only run good reviews. I assume that somebody is paying them or giving them freebies, and I assume that their good reviews aren't trustworthy. Just like I wouldn't trust a math teacher who gives all his students A's, I don't trust a book review website that only rates books "excellent!", "classic!", or, at worst, "very good!" (book reviews dot com, I'm looking at you!).

If readers should have the freedom to decide what they enjoy reading (even if it's Twilight), they should also have access to the information necessary to make an informed decision.

That is all.


Roland said...

Two of my favorite literary reviews of recent years:

A Million Little Pieces

Tree of Smoke

You'll realize that you've been enormously kind to the self-publishers.

But you're right that there are rarely scathing reviews of books in, say, The New York Times Sunday Review.

(Please excuse my haunting of your blog tonight. Found you on the self-publishing site and can't do anything productive with my time.)

Erin said...

Hey, Roland -
Well, for what it's worth, I think that leaving comments on my blog is an extremely productive use of your time! I love me some comments. And those reviews are fantastic - thanks for linking them!

I definitely try to strike a balance in my SPR reviews...the authors are, after all, closer to hobbyists than professional writers, and I give them some credit for that. While there's an enormous amount of fun to be had ripping apart a book that got a million-dollar advance, there's not so much fun picking at all the flaws of a labor of love that the author just wants to put out there to see if anyone enjoys it.

Like I say, I'm too nice for the internet!