Links and Silliness: Kirkus, Libraries, and Assorted Updates

Consider this a week in review, because there is so much to talk about!

First up: Kirkus!

Last week, a librarian named Maureen drew my attention to a review of Mary Balogh's “The Proposal,” which contained the following concluding paragraph:

Balogh contravenes the conventions of historical romance by introducing an ingredient the genre is not always known for: intelligence. 

This week I called Kirkus out on that review, explaining all the reasons that review sucked mightily and reflected poorly upon them as a publication, because I was HOLY CRAP MAD. Like, steam emerging from my ears and making my hair frizzy so I looked like a cocker spaniel mad.

Kirkus has responded, and requested that I post their response, to which I replied, “Surely!” (I'm not calling you “Shirley.”)

Earlier this week, Kirkus published an article by Sarah Wendell titled “Bad, Kirkus, Bad,” and it stimulated quite a bit of controversy. As the fiction editor of Kirkus, I thought it appropriate to respond to the heated comments both in the article and contributed by passionate readers.
First, I want to set the record straight about what Kirkus really thinks about the romance genre and its readers. In short, we love ya. And we would love to review more books for you. Kirkus is a small literary journal, and like many in our shrinking field, we have limited resources. The romance genre is enormous (with more than 150 books published per week!), and unfortunately, we cannot afford to cover as many of its books as we’d like. But I disagree with Sarah’s comment that if we do not have the infrastructure or capacity to build out a full romance section in our print publication, we should ignore all romance titles that are published. Kirkus wants to cover as much of this genre as we can—and if we can only introduce readers to a handful of fabulous romance books per year, we believe that is a worthy undertaking.

Moving on to controversy over our review of The Proposal. I—and all the editors at Kirkus—go to great lengths to assign books to reviewers who are qualified to review particular genres and who are fans of those genres. Perhaps that’s what makes the final line of this review so unfortunate. The reviewer loves romance, especially historical romance, and she holds talented romance authors in high regard. She simply used inappropriate phrasing and I failed to catch it before publishing the review. Our reviewer found the author’s writing to be on the level of Jane Austen—a rare feat for an author of any genre—and she wanted to convey that this book was a standout for that achievement. Did she have to use language that insulted an entire genre of readers and writers? Of course not, and that was not her intention. But we are as appalled as you that we let the line slip through, and we have asked the reviewer to rephrase the line to be a more accurate reflection of her true sentiment.
To Sarah, we do wish you had considered that perhaps we simply made a mistake. That perhaps one poorly phrased sentence does not capture Kirkus’ full intent or expertise. We would have appreciated a more judicious representation of the challenges our business faces in today’s book market, and the unique interest Kirkus has shown in finding innovative ways to shine a light on the romance genre. Nevertheless, we appreciate the vivid conversation you ignited and are grateful for the vital role you play in promoting a fabulous genre that deserves attention.
To romance readers and writers, thank you for caring about how books are covered in the media. Thank you for lighting the torches and standing up for the talented writers in this genre. I offer you my personal apology for the offensive line in the review of The Proposal and my personal assurance that we hear you, respect you and value your passion.

Later today, I'm going out for Shiner Bock (Oh, how I wish) with Kirkus, who I'm told looks like an amalgamation of Kirk Douglas and Captain Kirk (hence KirkUs). (I'm making that up). 

Andrew Sullivan, political commentator, has been discussing 50 Shades, and one comment, from a romance author, was highlighted with a post of its own. The author, who remained nameless, also quoted me, which prompted some very fun email in the inbox. The anonymous author wrote:

These issues of what “good girls” should and shouldn't do obscure the larger problems with the story but feed the sales and media frenzy. Some even write off those issues by claiming that the book is just “smut,” so it shouldn't be held up to any sort of standard, but I disagree. What this book says about men and women in relationships is disturbing – and it has nothing at all to do with the kink and everything to do with consent and women's ability to choose their own fantasies without judgement.

To the author who did a bang up job of explaining why 50 Shades didn't work for her, and how it represents some old skool throwback tropes, well played. Cheers and cold beers to you!

A few weeks back, I reported on Brevard County Library's decision to remove 19 copies of 50 Shades of Grey from circulation on the grounds that it was “porn.”

Thank you to the many, many people who forwarded the news that Brevard County Public Library reversed that decision, and made the 200+ people on the waiting list happy by returning that book to the shelves:

The Brevard County Library System will return “Fifty Shades of Grey” to its library shelves.

The decision is in response to public demand, but also comes after considerable review and consideration by the library system. In all, 19 books from the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy that were previously available will once again be available through the library system, according to Library Services Director Cathy Schweinsberg.

Hooray for reading for all, and beer for Brevard County librarians!

Speaking of 50 Shades, last Friday I was on the CBC's Connect with Mark Kelley talking about 50 Shades of Grey and why it's popular. I think my segment starts at about :45 m in .

A VERY excited reader emailed me about one of her favorite authors:

I came across some news late last night and I was so very excited I had to share immediately – one of my favorite authors stopped writing a few years back due to some personal situations, and she has recently announced that she's back – that's right, Danelle Harmon has updated her website, and has released her De Montfort brothers series on ebook – and she's in the process of releasing her back catalog electronically as well! I was a huge fan of all her books, but most particularly Captain of My Heart and My Lady Pirate.

Anyway just thought I'd share with the greater Bitchin Community, get on these books ladies they are awesome!

Oh, hot damn diggity awesome! I am very excited to see the covers, as Danelle Harmon had what is easily one of my most favorite old skool covers:

The Beloved One: Pillars behind a guy standing while a girl kneels in front of him. He's looking down his mantitty at her!

He's looking down his mantitty at her!

Here's the new cover, from Danelle's website:

At least there's still man titty (boy, is there ever) but I do miss those Very Suggestive Columns of Erectness!

And finally, according to Jim L, this month's issue of Cosmopolitan (with Demi Lovato on the cover) has their own erotic story, “51 Shades of Blonde,” with this assembly of consonants and vowels as the opening line:

“If you owned a vagina, you couldn't help but notice this man as he walked into the restaurant.”

Top that. I mean, figuratively. Not like topping in the literal sense. I'm shutting up now. Have a great weekend! 


The Link-O-Lator

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    SAO says:

    Modern cover: It’s never sexy for a hero to have more cleavage than me.  If I was turned on by C cups, I’d be a lesbian.

  2. 2
    txvoodoo says:

    No kidding. Those manboobs are so swollen, it looks like the heroine is moving in to nurse from them.

  3. 3
    Bnbsrose says:

    “Blow job? Let me see your teeth first.”

  4. 4

    Re: The Cosmo quote from “50 Shades of Blonde”, my first thought was “My lesbian friends would respectfully disagree.”

  5. 5
    Alex says:

    That looks awfully like the side view of Lyme Park (aka Pemberley in the BBC Pride & Prejudice) on the updated version of the cover.  I like it.

  6. 6
    Flo_over says:

    I sense a strong need for a cold one… is this perhaps, a THEME?

    Mantitty: you could motorboat those.  I’m not saying it’s not fun but still…

    Cosmo: If I owned a vagina?  I didn’t know one could lease a vagina, or keep it in slavery.  Wait, wait is there a vagina market where I go pick out my prefered vagina?  And is it because of owning said vagina (which I’m picturing being kept in one of those dog purses with extra vagina frills) that one notices this man?  Does the vagina sit up and beg?  Seriously, what if you don’t own a vagina and you notice him?  WHAT THEN???  WHAT HAPPENS?!?  My God I’m so worried for those that “have not” noticing him and freaking out because they just don’t know WHY.

    Sorry… I lost it a moment there picturing the beginning of that “story”.  I think I’ll go have a cold one and pretend it never happened.

  7. 7

    “To Sarah, we do wish you had considered that perhaps we simply made a mistake. That perhaps one poorly phrased sentence does not capture Kirkus’ full intent or expertise.” 

    Okay, seriously? Why, Kirkus, should Sarah, or any reader (including the librarian who alerted her), grant you any leeway at all? If you are in the business of reviewing books, and it says in your title you are, in fact, the “World’s toughest book critics”, why would any reader not assume that you had printed exactly what the reviewer said, and that the reviewer had said exactly what she meant?

    I get so tired of the excuses: “You know what I meant.” “I was taken out of context.” “I let it slip.” No. NO! If you write, then choose your words. If you edit, then check the words. Otherwise, what is the point of what you are doing? If we can’t trust what you WRITE, then why should we call you a WRITER?

  8. 8
    GHN says:

    Hot diggety damn! That was excellent news about Danielle Harmon!!!
    (And the De Montfort brothers books are now MINE!!) :-D

  9. 9
    DreadPirateRachel says:

    I read that review, and it was no review. It was a plot summary with a steaming pile of condescension heaped at the end. If the reviewer loved the book so much, why didn’t she say so? Why didn’t she tell us what she liked about it?

    She doesn’t say the characters are appealing, or the setting is convincing, or the dialogue is sparkling—in fact, the words “character,” “setting,” and “dialogue” do not even appear in that “review.” All the reviewer does is summarize and then shame.

    Kirkus says, “But we are as appalled as you that we let the line slip through, and we have asked the reviewer to rephrase the line to be a more accurate reflection of her true sentiment.” They should be appalled that they let the entire review slip through, as it in no way reflects the high standards I would expect from a respected and well-established journal. Instead, it sends the message that Kirkus participates so completely in the culture of romance-shaming that they assigned the job of this review to someone who is so incompetent at her job that she doesn’t even understand the nature of a book review.

    Finally, Kirkus’s apology to the romance reading community is worse than insufficient, because they ruined a perfectly good “Oops, we fucked up. Sorry!” by prefacing it with a paragraph chastising Sarah for calling them on their bullshit. So no, I can’t say I’m thrilled with their response.

  10. 10
    ms bookjunkie says:

    I’ve never heard of Danelle Harmon, but my impulse-buy finger could not resist clicking on The Wild One for Kindle (for what I assume is $0.99 for US folks). I don’t know whether to thank you or curse you…

  11. 11
    Rebecca says:

    Kirkus Reviews are a trade publication, for librarians and similar (like PW), not aimed at retail buyers.  Therefore, ALL their reviews are “not reviews.”  Their format runs: tagline, plot summary, one line evaluation at the end.  Read any other review of any other book (fiction or non-fiction) and you’ll see the plot summary + one line evaluation format doesn’t vary.  (Go on their website and check it out with different genres, and with both “positive” and “negative” reviews.)  The point of this is so that bookstores and librarians decide which books to order without having to read them all.  Essentially, they’re an independent catalogue listing. 

    You may object to the way the last line is phrased, but the review as a whole follows an absolutely standard format.  Would it be better for the last line to say “Balogh’s work is far more intelligent than that of most historical romance novelists.”  It’s still a way of saying “she’s better than author X.”  Or are reviewers supposed to not have favorite authors and – by implication – authors they hate?  That seems a little unfair.

  12. 12
    DreadPirateRachel says:

    Hi Rebecca,

    I absolutely respect your right to disagree with me; however, I stand by my assertions. A very quick perusal of the first three reviews I found on Kirkus (two from SF/F and one from horror—I wanted to stay within genre fiction for comparison) shows that Kirkus’s reviewers do, in fact, offer critical insight and evaluative judgment in the main body of their reviews, and not just plot summaries with a “one line evaluation” at the end. As you can see if you care to follow the links below, the quality of review at Kirkus is generally higher than that of the review of Balogh’s book.

  13. 13
    Marissa Fortin says:

    Oh for fuck’s sake.  A clearly written sentence is not a mistake.  A mistake is a typo or an auto-correct issue.  I expect book reviewers to say what they mean and own it.  I’ve no interest in reviewers who either can’t express themselves or refuse to be honest about their views.  I’m not sure which one is worse, really.

  14. 14
    Rainey says:

    I am extremely excited about Danelle Harmon’s return. I picked up one of her books in a clearance section of a used books store and it has become one of my “must re-read at least one a year” and I have wondering if they would ever be available in ebook. “The Defiant One” started my tradition of saying “hey honey, guess what they are doing with fruit!” just to watch him blush. (yes I have since learned that fruit and the girly bits do not mix well). Thank you so much for the update! I am off to the Nook book store.

  15. 15
    Lizabeth S Tucker says:

    When Caroline wore her uniform, every part of him came to attention.

  16. 16
    Beth says:

    I’m not sure if I’m more insulted by the original review or the response from Kirkus.  I purchase materials (including romances) for my library system.  Kirkus reviews few romances, and I certainly don’t look to them to make my purchasing decisions for that collection.  That said, the review that was printed was absurd and unbelievably condescending.  Own it.  We understand that you can’t review everything.  I just wish you did a competent job of what you DO review.  I’m a romance reader, but that doesn’t make me dumb enough to think this is just a “mistake.”

  17. 17
    rhea says:

    I missed Danelle Harmon the first time around. Any chance that there will be post on the best ones so I have some idea where to start?

  18. 18
    Vanessa Ruiz says:

    I, honestly, can’t even begin to describe how happy I am about Danelle Harmon coming back, maybe this comes close: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :D

    Also, this is reason #956 why I love Smart Bitches so much, you bring me the best news lol

  19. 19
    Maritza says:

    Well I’m only goin to comment on the first half of this post.
    Re: Kirkus;
    I can’t quote the publisher because I don’t know how to use copy function on my iPhone. But Sarah, I commend you for the letter that you sent Krikus. 
    They might’ve made a mistake.  sure. But they would’ve never rectified it if someone hadn’t made a big deal about it. Thank you.

  20. 20
    LauraN says:

    The second cover reminded me of this.  Not sexy.

  21. 21
    Manda61882 says:

    Sounds to me like a bullshit apology.

  22. 22
    ann_somerville says:

    “Here’s the new cover, from Danelle’s website”

    Good god, that man could breastfeed without any additional modification!

  23. 23
    Tam B. says:

    Thanks for the intro’ to Danelle Harmon.  I couldn’t resist a 99c bargain and now have downloaded all four books in the series and am making my way through them.  It’s a pity Amazon doesn’t pay you a commission (you’d make a fortune of me alone).

  24. 24
    CG says:

    Can anyone tell me more about Danelle Harmon’s books? I tried to get an idea of her voice / style from the excerpts and plot summaries but I’m not sure if they are for me. Is she similar in style to any other well known authors? Is there a lot more telling than showing (something I find annoying and a lot more common in older romances)?

    I agree with Rhea, a post on the best ones would be great.

  25. 25
    DianeN. says:

    As a library employee I’m very familiar with Kirkus, which is known for the pithy snarkiness of its reviews. It was easy for me to understand why they hired Sarah, who is certainly Romancelandia’s leading lady of snark, to write for their blog. I highly approve of snark myself, though not when it comes from a position of prejudice against the genre being reviewed. I think the real mistake was not made by the reviewer, it was made by Kirkus when they assigned someone who obviously has a low opinion of the romance genre to review the book.

  26. 26
    Elizabeth says:

    What a great interview with Mark Kelley from the CBC!

    I particularly liked that uncomfortable pause that stretched out after he said (I’m paraphrasing) that he couldn’t imagine why someone would want to get that book from a library in the first place, insinuating that it actually was porn, and, well, we can imagine what he meant!

  27. 27
    SB Sarah says:

    My inner monologue at that moment: “0_o?!”

  28. 28
    JohnS says:

    Re: Brevard County Library System

    Perhaps this has already been said, but I wonder if there weren’t simply 19 librarians who didn’t feel like waiting for a copy to free up for them to read!

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