am a writer who also reviews books. I am going to tread on
an unstable plank here and suggest that most reviewers think
of themselves as writers first, reviewers second. Many of
us feel the conflict every time we pick up a book with intent
(gasp!) to critique someone else's work.
& Writers reports that the famous, writerly John
Updike worries that reviewing "drains him of
the time and energy needed to write fiction." That should
not be news--at least to any writer who reviews. Sometimes
we review when we should be focusing on our poetry or our
latest novel or even meet a deadline for an anthology of short
stories. He frets that he might be "spreading myself
too thin or turning my brain into one kind of muscle when
it ought to be another kind of muscle…"
is one reason readers should be grateful for the sacrifice
-- for it truly may be a sacrifice -- reviewers make to help
them make the best choices for their reading time.
are other problems, too. As writers we understand the psyches
of writers. It certainly may not be evident, but most reviewers
do not want to shred a fellow writer's efforts. In fact, some
-- like me -- will return what we feel is a bad book rather
than do so. This respects both the author (who would be devastated
at what they would see as a spiteful review) and the reader,
who really doesn't need to know about a book that is that
awful, anyway. Or at least, that's my rational.
a review that glows -- literally radiates praise -- is often
not trusted by its readers. Recently an organization conducted
a study on Amazon reviews and found that readers put more
stock in reviews that are not rated five-star. Readers and
we reviewers want our reviews to be credible; at the same
time we authors are aware than even the slightest criticism
may cause the author extreme pain even while the same author
ignores all the positive things that we said.
of these pushes and tugs to a reviewer's psyche, writing a
review can be laborious. Even when we sound flip, we may be
only trying for a light voice in keeping with the tone of
the book or in an effort to dilute our criticism.
books. I also review film and theater for The Glendale News-Press.
I find the former much more difficult than the latter, probably
because I am an author and am not a playwright or actor. I
also select a few of the best unheralded books for my Noble
(Not Nobel!) Prize each January for this website. I do it
because I am a writer, because I know that that much talent
exists that doesn't get applauded. I want to help.
upshot of all this? The more you, as a reader, know about
the reviewing process, the easier it will be for you to evaluate
a review, ascertain what it may mean to your reading choices.
Oh, and -- while we're on the subject, it wouldn't hurt to
shoot off a thank you or a little praise to a favorite reviewer
now and then. After all, we're only sensitive authors at heart.