I haven't touched the stuff in years, but this NYT booze blog piece querying the value of blind tastings has me thinking about book reviewing, prompted by its rhetorical question, "why are book critics permitted to know who wrote what they are reading?" The question of how a critic's judgment is affected by his or her knowledge of the author (or publisher, etc.) of a book was addressed by Doris Lessing, when she published two books under a pseudonym, Jane Somers. In 1984 she told the Times:
''I wanted to highlight that whole dreadful process in book publishing that 'nothing succeeds like success.' If the books had come out in my name, they would have sold a lot of copies and reviewers would have said, 'Oh, Doris Lessing, how wonderful.' As it is, there were almost no reviews, and the books sold about 1,500 copies here and scarcely 3,000 copies each in the United States.''
But what did she prove, really? That people are more interested in hearing what Doris Lessing has to say than in what an unknown writer might? It is a rather dramatic example of how hard it is for a new writer to get noticed, I'll grant that. But book reviewing (and wine reviewing, I guess) is as much news as it is evaluation--readers want to know not just that there's a new spooky thriller just out, but that Stephen King has written a new book. (King of course himself invented a pseudonym, Richard Bachman, not to test the public but to enlarge his share of the market.) Would I be reviewing Ana's Story were it written by someone other than the President's daughter? It's more "not bad" than it is good (which, in an era of egregious books by celebrities, is itself news) but I can definitely see a teen audience for it; kids who would read it regardless of its author's name. But that's the other question, of course: would it have been published had a Name not come with it?
Blind reviewing could certainly shake things up, though. How would publishing would look if reviewing was done that way?