Friday, July 06, 2007

With Our Face Sketched On It Once or Twice

Gail Gauthier has a link to a valuable article about book reviewing. What interests me most about Alex Good's piece is that much of what he says about the particularities of Canadian book reviewing speak also to children's book reviewing: both often default to defensive postures re their respective embattled territories:

Do these factors – the small-pond effect, anxiety over blowback, our politeness and deference to authority – contribute to our culture of book reviewing? How could they not? They all help push our reviewing into being more positive. And they come piled on top of the aforementioned doping effect, our consumerist culture’s resistance to criticism, and institutional strictures against being snarky. It is not just the entertainment value that consequently drops off (is there a free-standing book review anywhere as consistently dull as Globe Books?), but the level of critical insight. Reviews become abstract, academic, and non-evaluative. Safe.

Have a look. I'm also interested in what he says about the increased pressure of the marketplace, in that reviewers today are often expected to predict and applaud the bestseller, that a popular book is a good book by virtue of the fact that lots of people like it.

6 comments:

AMY said...

I'm surprised there was so little response to Good's essay here. I'm curious, for example how kidlit bloggers would respond to his claim that "Content is crap; traffic is king." And his take on how the small pond and deference to authority factors don't dissipate in blog reviews, but are likely amplified.

I do believe that Good, like other critics, doesn't give the review-reading audience enough credit. I suspect most serious readers and folks passionate about fostering reading habits in children are able to bring a critical lens to their consumption of book-related information, found blogs or in print.

jimmer said...

"Today, culture is a product."
Reminds me of D.H. Lawrence's line:
"Culture has her roots in the deep dung of cash."

Joni Mitchell was at her best in 'Blue'....

rindawriter said...

I don't like the idea much of "safe" book reviews. It sounds too much like "safe" books....shudder, shudder, shudder...what a horrible idea..."safe" books that replicate and replicate and replicate...what do we call those? Bookoids?

As they would say in Dr. Who....exterminate, exterminate, exterminate....safe books...exterminate....a safe book making robot....eeeh!

rindawriter said...

More seriously, (thanks for letting me have a bit of silly sand tossing in the sandbox), I note that, online now, websites are proliferating in which ordinary bloggers get paid to review anything and everythign under the sun--so long as they have a blog, basically--with the monies coming from advertisers who want to post bloggers' reviews on their sites.

What is being produced of course are massive amounts of mediocrity and "safe" positivity about anything and everything online! If the blogger reviewers want to get paid, in this sort of getting paid for blogging posts, they don't dare write anything truly intelligent or negative in any way!

An interesting alternative site for bloggers who want to get paid for their blogs is found at www.helium.com

It's unusual in that the bloggers who submit their writing 0reviews and articles and fiction whatever) there are rating, without knowing who wrote what, each other's writing, and the visibilty of the reviews and articles on the site(it's more than just bloggers writing reviews on this site) depends solely on those peer ratings! It's peer review in a massive way! Whether the site software can keep up with the numbers is a good question, but it is a fascinating concept that they are trying out.

Writers there don't get paid by advertisers to have their work posted on advertisers' sites as blogging "reviews." The monies for writers come in from shared (with the website owners) AdSense revenues and from publishers who want to buy rights to one-time publishing of complete articles on different topics, which ends up being a licensing of the articles in essence. Writers keep their copyrights as far as republishing their work on their own elsewhere.

They don't have a lot of book reviews yet.

I would enjoy, very much, seing blind peer ratings going on of all the children's book reviews being posted on blogs.

It seems to me that it's more than past time to review the reviews!

I'm enjoying my summer reading very, very much this year thanks to tips from the Hornbook folks. Thanks again.

dan allosso said...

As the author of a YA book that CAN'T get a "professional review" (because I self-published it through iUniverse), I really appreciate the fact that a lot of people online are reviewing books. At risk of being accused of sour grapes, I'd suggest:

YA book reviews by actual teens are incredibly relevant. I've also found them to be at least as insightful as adult reviews. Lets face it, a teenager who chooses to spend her (or occasionally his) time reviewing books is a zealot. These people don't get paid. Their big reward, usually, is they get to keep the books. As an author, I care a whole lot about their reaction to my book. Aside from the difference in circulation, popularity, and resulting sales, I suspect most writers would prefer to please their target audience rather than adult reviewers, if push came to shove.

Does push come to shove? Well, given adult anxiety over the word "scrotum" (Editorial, May/June Horn Book), it's safe to say that writers of edgy, transgressive, or counterculture fiction for Young Adults may have a legitimate concern? Am I convinced tht adult reviewers will judge my novel the way a sixteen-year old boy would? Not at all. And I don't mean the kid will be more lenient on the prose. I mean, maybe the prose isn't the kid's top criterion.

Professional reviewers and publications that avoid self-published titles are perpetuating the corporate-dominated, popularity (that is, sales) equals quality attitude the previous posts lamented. The standard refrain that "all POD writing is crap" is breaking down. Just as the standard assumption that the only meaningful reviews come from the industry is breaking down. Technology enables individuals to bypass these centers of power. "Things fall apart, the center cannot hold." But whether you view the new thing as a rough beast is up to you. Will professional reviewers fall into increasing lockstep with the publishing giants in a desperate attempt to appear relevant? Or will they break out and compete in the new market?

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