Too Snide? Yes? Too bad.

Seems this article in the Huffington Post about how blogs cannot possibly replace book reviews in newspapers made KatieBabs’ head spin around on her neck. (With anger, not because she’s possessed by the spirit of Col. Bimbo or anything). Bloggers cannot possibly replace book reviewers in newspapers, cries the author. Oh, they are so solipsistic and self-absorbed, and they use “I” too much.

So would it be snide of me to point out that if newspapers paid attention to the more profitable market share of fiction –  that would be romance, folks – and reviewed books such as Kresley Cole’s, Nora Roberts’, or Nalini Singh’s recent novels, they might not necessarily be facing such dire financial straits? What, my economics has flaws? Please. My math skills bring all the boys to the yard, but mostly because they

doesn’t

don’t make any sense on this planet and thus are entertaining.

Yes, that’s a simplistic analysis and certainly one review of a romance novel would not turn the mothership of the economy around for any given newspaper, but while I try not to pay too much attention to analysis of blogs as writing formats, the bemoaning of the bloggers as the heiresses apparent to the now-dying review pages of newspapers bugs the crapola out of me:

I think book reviews on blogs—particularly those of the Blogspot variety—tend to be self-indulgent. Book reviewing bloggers need to move away from opinion in favor of judgment. How does the book compare to—and fit in with—the author’s previous work? What’s the book’s place in the genre? The canon? Does the writer succeed in doing what he or she set out to do—meaning, is it the book they meant it to be? Whether it’s the book the blogger wanted it to be is of much less importance to me, frankly.

We review romance because no one else in print did so consistently. I hold the books I read to any number of measuring standards as I write a review. Self-indulgent reflections on romance? Try: neglected as a genre too long. Put that in your newspaper and smoke it.

 

 

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    ev says:

    I can’t be bothered with reviews in papers or TV anymore. Do they really thing that WE care about what they like or don’t like? And are we really to believe that their opinions aren’t influenced by their likes/dislikes?

    I don’t think anyone is that unbiased.

    I would much rather read a bloggers opinion of a romance novel than some idiot who probably held their nose while reading it so it didn’t infect them with something. Like romance or a sense of humor.

  2. 2
    toni says:

    I especially love the fact that the writer implied that newspaper reviewers have this certain ESP skill and can know what an author intended their book to be.  And we all know that readers everywhere go into the bookstore wanting to only pick up books that fall into a certain place in the canon, because really, shame on them if they just wanted to read for oh, say, fun.

  3. 3
    Kalen Hughes says:

    Does the writer succeed in doing what he or she set out to do—meaning, is it the book they meant it to be?

    Um, just how the hell would they know?

  4. 4
    Christine says:

    Fanfic, blog book reviews… same issues for the most part, IMO. They are both “unprofessional.” Of course, unprofessional is not the same as bad, sloppy, or immature. It can be, but not always. Just like “professional” writing. I think we all know that just because something was published in a newpaper, magazine, or book, doesn’t automatically mean it is relevant, meaningful, or even well done.

  5. 5
    Gail says:

    This reminds me a review of a Julia Quinn book I read a couple years ago. I forget whether it was the Times or someone else, but review contained the phrase “It’s so nice to review a book people actually read” and was clearly written by a reviewer who was happy to talking about something different from her normal assignments, something that was just fun.

  6. 6
    Linnet says:

    Dude!  Although I’ve never heard them described like that we obviously have the same math skills. Thanks for the laugh.

  7. 7
    Lori says:

    There are good & bad ways to do reviews, but the divide is not between professionals & bloggers.  The fact that you don’t use “I” doesn’t mean that you’re not just stating your opinion.  I would far rather read a review by a person who tells me up front what his/her prejudices are than one who tries to pretend to be simply stating objective fact.  There are too many reviewers who seem to simply be trying to prove how smart they are and what superior taste they have and that crap gets old fast, which is way I basically stopped reading them.

  8. 8
    Kaycee says:

    coming out of m a j o r lurkdom

    Aren’t ALL (book) reviews, to some extent, self-indulgent?

    spamblocker : problem74

    “nuff said there!  lol   ;-)

    back to lurkdom :)

  9. 9
    Ocy says:

    I’d rather read an opinionated review than one that pretends to keep clean of any bias (“pretends” being the operative word there).  Let’s face it, regardless of format, a book review is pretty much someone’s opinion, even if the word “I” is completely avoided.  The big difference?  The person whose review is opinionated has obviously read the book, and not just the back cover.

  10. 10
    Emmy says:

    Book reviewing bloggers need to move away from opinion in favor of judgment. How does the book compare to—and fit in with—the author’s previous work? What’s the book’s place in the genre? The canon? Does the writer succeed in doing what he or she set out to do—meaning, is it the book they meant it to be?

    Uh, isn’t a review a person’s opinion of a book they read?? Judgment, opinion…call it what you like, it’s still the same.

    And how the frick would anyone know if someone wrote what they wanted to? Do they call the author and ask, ‘so, hows this book workin for ya’?

    Srsly, I couldn’t care less about any of that. Did you read the book and did you like it? Why or why not? I don’t read just one review, nor does any one review influence my book buying. If a bunch of different people have the same gripe, I’ll think twice about a purchase. I’ve really enjoyed books that several people have hated, so it’s all taken with a grain of salt.

  11. 11
    lijakaca says:

    The type of review described in that article – where the book fits in ‘canon’ etc. sounds way more self-indulgent and, frankly, prone to pomposity and uselessness than an honest and frank blog review where the point is, “Is this book well-written and enjoyable? What are its outstanding good (or bad) points?”

    And isn’t ‘canon’ just a euphemism for “Does this fit into the ranks of respected but not enjoyed dead white guys?”
    Sorry, that word obviously ticked me off.

  12. 12
    ev says:

    Does the writer succeed in doing what he or she set out to do—meaning, is it the book they meant it to be?
    Um, just how the hell would they know?

    Didn’t you know? All “legitimate” reviewers are issued crystal balls when they sign their contracts. THAT’S how they know what the writer set out to do and if they succeeded or not.

    analysis82.

  13. 13
    RfP says:

    I agree with some of what she says about what makes a good review.  But she’s both ignorant and complacent if she seriously thinks those attributes can’t be found online.  For one thing, can she really be unaware that a number of reviewers for reputable print media *also* do online book reviews, and refugees from folding print reviews are increasingly to be found online?

    I’m tempted to say it’s an issue of format. Blogs are, by nature, brief.

    Wrong.  As many blog reviews are too long as too short.  Print reviews don’t have space for a lenghty description of the plot; a long print review often adds more about the author, the genre, or the writing, rather than more plot.  All reasons that I continue to read print reviews: I like context, and if I want to read the whole plot I’d rather read the book itself.

    the writer implied that newspaper reviewers have this certain ESP skill and can know what an author intended their book to be.

    To be fair, I appreciate it when reviews give a book and author that kind of consideration.  However, finding those qualities isn’t about the medium itself.  Newspaper reviewers aren’t inherently different, but the *good* ones have an editor who carefully matches up reviewer and book so the reviewer really should have some idea what that author’s all about.  A dilettante reviewer—like me—may pick up a book for sheer novelty value and then review it without a clue what the genre’s about.  E.g. I’ve discussed a few horror stories, but I’m not the ideal reviewer for them because it’s not a genre I read regularly.

    The best print reviewers know very well that there’s value in gut reaction as well as critique.  I think book blogs are a space that allows all different styles of review *and* a wider variety of genres than conventional print.  It’s not that online reviews need to ape print reviews; I’m interested in seeing more really good reviews in print *and* online.

    What’s the book’s place in the genre? The canon?

    Discussing those issues is *not* the same as saying you can only read “canon”.  Again it’s the kind of context I appreciate in a review, and the best of the print reviews often have a good context for the book in question.

    Turn it around:  Say that someone completely unversed in romance picked up Book 10 of Christine Feehan’s Carpathian series and wrote a review.  It might well read like “OMG, this is an Anne Rice rip-off AND the moron’s given it a happy ending!  I can’t believe some publisher doesn’t get that Rice has already written all there is to say about vampires, and falling in love with a vampire is just Not Done!”

    That review would have the depth of a small puddle of puppy urine, because as *we* all know, there’s a vast amount of vampire fiction out there; Rice is by no means the Entire Canon; and vampire romance has its own rules.  A review that considers genre and canon can comment on where the Feehan books fit in all that vampire lit, and where they fit in romance, and whether they’re typical or innovative within those contexts, and whether the series still has any blood left in it by Book 10.  The review doesn’t *have* to do all that, but if the reviewer is totally unaware of the context, odds are the review won’t “get it”.

  14. 14
    MoJo says:

    Newspaper reviews are exercises in provincial circle jerks at worst and masturbation at best.  If the effete of NY and LA ever stuck their heads out their windows, they’d know they weren’t the mostest smartestest pipples ever.

    Oh, wait.  That’s why they don’t.  Never mind.

  15. 15
    RfP says:

    Newspaper reviews are exercises in provincial circle jerks at worst and masturbation at best.

    Obviously I’m not going to agree.  If it’s not OK to say all blog reviews are bad, then ditto newspaper reviews.

  16. 16
    MoJo says:

    Perhaps I should have put a “/sarcasm” on my post. I can see where it might seem I was entirely serious.

  17. 17
    RfP says:

    Oh, sorry.  I’m really tired of the blog-versus-print war, and my sense of humor is diminishing accordingly.

  18. 18
    MoJo says:

    Entirely my fault.  My sense of humor tends to be parched.  ;)

  19. 19
    Jody W. says:

    I enjoy all sorts of reviews except for the seriously fusty ones that give me nightmares of my time in grad school.  But it’s worth noting that many of the questions the author of the original article suggested need to be answered in a “real” review are, in fact, matters of opinion.  (The evil “I think”, couched in neutered and neutral terms to sound like fact.)  You can discuss whether Feehan’s books are typical or innovative compared to canon…in your opinion.  Yet other readers might have a different opinion and also be able to “prove” it using examples from canon and whatever lit crit tools and large, bombastic words they cared to implement.  I guess you can turn your “review” into straight up lit crit but that serves a different purpose.

    I mean, dude!  Did it suck or what?  Should I spend my money on it or save it?

  20. 20
    SB Sarah says:

    All you people behaving like grown ups are going to give the internet a shoddy reputation.

  21. 21
    cecilia says:

    RfP – well said.  The one thing I’ll add is this:

    I’m tempted to say it’s an issue of format. Blogs are, by nature, brief.

    Wrong.  As many blog reviews are too long as too short.

    Either way – too long or too short – it’s not the best writing, right? I’m “tempted to say” it’s an issue of editorial control. A print review is going to be subject to what the needs of the medium are – how many column inches can be accomodated, the style used by the paper/magazine, etc., while a blog may or may not have an editor who oversees things. Personally, I think some kind of editor is likely to be a good thing. I don’t mind seeing a reviewer constrained from expressing his response to something in terms of “wtf” or—-tard, or whatever the current interweb slang is at the moment. Granted, you’re more likely to see that kind of inarticulate verbal vomit in a movie review than a book review, but even in the most dumbed-down newspaper, you’re going to see better writing than that. There are lots of blog reviews I read for enjoyment, but I don’t think the scorn for blog reviews has come from nothing or is totally unearned (present reviewers excepted, naturally).

  22. 22
    katiebabs says:

    Col. Linda “Bimbo” Blair reporting for duty! :P

  23. 23
    RfP says:

    The internut, it has the powers to lowers expectations.

  24. 24
    KellyMaher says:

    Book reviews that are an attempt at academic literary criticism should in no way be the only content of a books section aimed at the general public.  The quote that Sarah pulled out put me in mind of the hardest class of reference question I get as a librarian: literary criticism.  I’m sorry, but as a general populace, “low brow” reader, I am not going to read any review that is attempting to conflate itself with something that appears in the Contemporary Literary Criticism (CLC) series and its ilk.  When I have my librarian hat on, yes, I’d like to have reviews for books from people who are reviewing a title with an eye to the type of collection the book would best fit in to when acquired (large public library, small public library, library with fans of the author, library with strong romance collection, etc.), but I can get those reviews from my professional journals or from other librarians/library workers who blog about books with the *acknowledged intended audience* being librarians with collection development duties.  As a reader, I enjoy reading reviews from fellow readers.  They know what will and won’t appeal to me as a reader.  I don’t need to read a treatise of the book when a review will do.

  25. 25
    megalith says:

    Well, I did have a well-considered response to Warren’s article (I swear), but it got eaten by the spamblocker. So, in short: Warren segues from talking about lit-fic review sites to blogspot sites, the vast majority of which review popular or commercial fiction rather than lit-fic, without making any distinctions between them. The audience is different, the “canon” is different, the intention of the reviewers is different, and the requirements of the review are thus very different. And she never comes close to the question posed by the title to her article: Will Blogs Save Books?

    Now that would have made for an interesting article.

  26. 26
    RfP says:

    Cecilia, yes, I think having an editor can be a boon.  Not always—editors can limit and skew as well as improving—but when the system works, it can produce some really good stuff.

    OTOH blogs show that edited print isn’t the only game in town.  I’d hate to see *all* professional/print reviews go away, but blogs do better than some papers’ review sections.

    You can discuss whether Feehan’s books are typical or innovative compared to canon…in your opinion.  Yet other readers might have a different opinion and also be able to “prove” it using examples from canon and whatever lit crit tools and large, bombastic words they cared to implement.

    Absolutely, and when a reviewer makes that effort it helps me figure out whether I’m likely to agree.  I don’t care whether it’s couched as “WTF” or bombast; either way, that discussion helps me understand where the reviewer’s coming from.

    I want to know “Did it suck or what?” too, and either “sucks!” or “not canon!” can be an interesting review.  But my favorite style does some of each, because what sucks clots for someone else may be a bloody good read for me.

  27. 27
    Teddypig says:

    Avast yea scoundrel! I say we make him walk da plank!

    Arggggh Arggggh!

  28. 28
    Silver James says:

    Because I’m a self-avowed word nerd and often get wrapped around the axle on semantics, I keep dictionary.com open at a tab on my server. After reading through this, my first thought is that she’s equating a “book review” with a “book report”. Remember those from school? My sense of the connotation of “review” involved “opinion”.  Curious, I checked and came up with this:

    —Synonyms 1. REVIEW, CRITICISM imply careful examination of something, formulation of a judgment, and statement of the judgment, usually in written form. A REVIEW is a survey over a whole subject or division of it, or esp. an article making a critical reconsideration and summary of something written: a review of the latest book on Chaucer. A CRITICISM is a judgment, usually in an article, either favorable or unfavorable or both: a criticism of a proposed plan. The words are interchanged when referring to motion pictures or theater, but REVIEW implies a somewhat less formal approach than CRITICISM: movie reviews; play reviews; book reviews. 8. reconsideration, reexamination. 16. criticize.

    I’m not sure this makes any more sense but I’m tossing it out there.

  29. 29

    And isn’t ‘canon’ just a euphemism for “Does this fit into the ranks of respected but not enjoyed dead white guys?”

    Sorry, that word obviously ticked me off.

    Yeah, me too.

    [Ann] Rice is by no means the Entire Canon; and vampire romance has its own rules.  A review that considers genre and canon can comment on where the Feehan books fit in all that vampire lit, and where they fit in romance, and whether they’re typical or innovative within those contexts, and whether the series still has any blood left in it by Book 10.

    All right, when you put it that way, I’m not so annoyed, but I do think it’s a snooty word that “professional reviewers” would hesitate to apply to “genre crap” like Vampire Romance. Likewise, I don’t think it’s a word most genre writers would apply to their own work. I’ve seen the term “sub-genre” all over the place, but never “canon”, so it’s easy to see why some would think it only applies to dead white dude fiction.

    the writer implied that newspaper reviewers have this certain ESP skill and can know what an author intended their book to be.

    Um, I intended it to be a book, hopefully a good one that people will enjoy reading.

    As a reader, I enjoy reading reviews from fellow readers.  They know what will and won’t appeal to me as a reader.  I don’t need to read a treatise of the book when a review will do.

    The audience is different, the “canon” is different, the intention of the reviewers is different, and the requirements of the review are thus very different.

    Well said. I want to read books I’ll enjoy, and I want the reviews I read to help me decide if a certain book will suit that purpose. While we’re talking about author intent, well, I’m pretty sure that a large segment of litfic is not written to be enjoyed. That doesn’t make it not worth reading, but it does necesitate a totally different type of review if that review is going to be at all useful.

  30. 30
    Carrie Lofty says:

    Sarah, I’m diggin’ your attitude today. 100% full of McRanty goodness. Granted, you’d probably be able to cool it if people weren’t dicks…

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