Not an Easy Job!
Carolyn Gives Readers an Inside Look
at What Drives Reviewers
I 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
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…"
That 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.
There 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
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.
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.
I review 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.
So, the 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.
Each month in this box, Carolyn lists
a writing or promotion tidbit that will help authors and a
tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books
or a sapphire among the newly-published.
should never be without a journal. I co-edited a lovely little
journal called The Complete Writer's Journal, that
includes more than 100 quotations from young writers, emerging
writers and even some old publishing industry pros. I and
my fellow editors, Joyce Faulkner and Pat Avery, carefully
selected each of them. We wanted them to inspire a writer
of any ilk (journalers, poets, novelists) as well as prod
them to keep writing and to keep promoting.
would be pleased to send "Back to Literature" readers
an autographed journal, postage free. They are $14.95. Reach
me by sending an e-mail with "JOURNAL" in the subject
line to HoJoNews@aol.com.
Or you can order unautographed copies using PayPal at http://redenginepress.com.
Tip: Amazon.com includes on its pages something called
Listmanias. I have written more than 80 of them. They are
really mini-reviews, sort of one-line suggestions for reading.
The good Listmanias have a theme, meaning they group books
by a subject and that helps you find a book with a theme or
premise that interests you. Here is the URL for the list of
my lists. When you find one that fits your reading taste,
click. There should be enough good books on whatever list
you choose to keep you reading through the summer! http://www.amazon.com/gp/richpub/listmania/byauthor/
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