There are a couple of discussions going on in the sf blogosphere regarding book reviews. Here are my thoughts on the matter…
REVIEWS & CRITIQUES
In a rather lengthy post that mixes review with anti-review rant, Gabe Chouinard says he’s disappointed with the quality of online reviews. He says he wants substance in the reviews he reads.
There are some interesting comments and observations in that post and a healthy dose of angry comments, too. Much of the discussion revolves around the difference between a review and a critique. One commenter took issue with Gabe’s rant, enough to post a scathing counterpoint on his own Live Journal to which Gabe responded. Also good reading, that. Despite the occasional angry comments, it’s good that people are talking about this.
I’m reminded of people who gripe yet continue to punish themselves by continuing the behavior which seems to make them so unhappy. (I’ll ignore the ironic amusement provided by Gabe’s admission that he is part of the problem.) If a reviewer is not to your liking for whatever reason – lack of insight, differing tastes, poor writing – then don’t read their reviews. If you have a list of reviewers who you like, great! Stick with them.
As one of the offending reviewers, I’m tempted, as was apparently intended, to respond defensively. I could pick on the fact that the more “insightful” of my comments of my review was ignored and a quote was chosen (one with a typo no less) to suit the rant. I could also mention how Eragon was a book I purchased and not a review copy from the publisher, thus there was no aim to please anyone. I could say that the review was written relatively soon after I began reviewing and that my later (and hopefully more experienced) reviews were ignored. I could cite how my reviews are not always glowing, how I don’t like everything I see and that sometimes ticks people off. (Don’t get me started by mentioning Klausner.)
But the fact is that people review and critique for all sorts of reasons. Some do it as a profession. Some, like me, do it for recording their impressions. Some, as the other post suspects, might even do it for the free books. Without matching each and every individual review with a reviewer’s reasons and criteria, whining about them seems pointless. The most you can (respectfully) say is that your tastes differ from a reviewer and/or a review does meet your own expectations, which may be entirely different than the goals of the reviewer.
That said, there are review sites that I personally feel do not meet my own expectations. But you can’t please everyone. I’m sure those same reviews are useful to someone somewhere. To each his own.
SHORT STORY REVIEWS
Over on the Nightshade forum, there’s a discussion about short story reviews. The discussion revolves around whether a review of a collection or anthology should say something about every single story in the book.
Are reviewers obligated to do so? Some of that post’s commenters seem to think so. They feel cheated if stories are not mentioned. But, as mentioned there, some venues are limited for space (especially print magazines) and there are only so many words that can be used. Editorial constraints apply.
Speaking for myself, which is the only thing I can do, I like to review all of the stories. Again, this suits my reason for reviewing: to serve as a record and reminder of what I’ve read. Admittedly, I’m probably more anal-retentive about it than most, as will be evidenced by my upcoming review of The Space Opera Renaissance. But that’s just what I choose to do. Your mileage may vary between reviewers, venues and subject matter.