Fuse #8

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

When Critics Snuggle Up To Authors (And When Authors Snuggle Back)

I tell you, I just love Critical Mass. Today Jennifer Reese had a rather thought-provoking post on what happens when critics and authors get a touch too friendly.

Because I live far from a publishing hub, I don't mingle with authors much, but I'm wondering this: How could it NOT affect your work as a critic if you do? And far from introducing a problematic conflict of interest, doesn't it make you more careful and thoughtful knowing you might run into the author you're writing about? Assuming you're not a complete sociopath, is there a better way to assure integrity and accountability?

Amen to that. She even provides a link to a fascinating Slate article from last year entitled The Case For Hiring Biased Book Reviewers. Definitely a bit of head-scratching to be done. As someone who has a penchant for the authorial types, I know exactly what she's saying. I sit at this reference desk in the best children's library in the country knowing full well that if Robert Munsch wanted to come in here and box my ears he could easily do so (though I could probably lie about my name). And heck, today I received a bit of authorial dribble from a perfectly nice publisher. I'd love to tear it the book to itty-bitty shreads on this blog, but common courtesy (I mean, they paid for shipping and everything) means I'll probably just not review it at all. So what happens if someone like Mo Willems or Brian Selznick or Jackie Woodson writes something bad? Should I be honest? Guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Fortunately, the authors I tend to meet are by-and-large uniquely talented and will never ever write anything bad. GOT IT AUTHORS?? NEVER!


At 5:39 PM , Blogger Liz B said...

When nice people write bad books. sigh. It's sad when it happens.

While I've never posted a manifesto of my reviewing, what I decided to do was to post about those books I liked; figuring, I don't have enough time to post about all the books that I read. So I only post about the books I love, or at least like. And when publishers etc send me stuff, that doesn't change.

There are a few times I've been driven to post negatively (I was disappointed with the Dr Seuss winners, for example).

What I will do (and this may be splitting hairs) is to post when I don't like something on the comments to someone else's blog or in conversation (either RL or email or listserv).

Why the difference? Well -- I'm not going to lie about liking a book I didn't, and I'm not going to keep quiet about something I didn't like. But I don't have the time to blog about bad books -- and, to be honest, part of me feels guilty, knowing that even a bad book has an author who is nice, and funny, and who put time and work into the book.

At 6:28 PM , Blogger Kelly said...

I'm with Liz. I don't review books I don't like.

Just recently I received a book I hated (suicide/dyslexia/etc.) and I wrote back to the agency who sent it and just told them. I didn't like the book. I'm not going to review it.

Their response? Thanks. No review is better than a bad review.

We're bloggers and, like Liz, I don't want to waste time finishing a reviewing books I think are lame.

At 10:11 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kelly handled it well. While we authors want honest feedback, we are only human. I'd appreciate the negative feedback in a personal email rather than a public forum. All feedback leads to growth.

At 7:50 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

And then there's "more in sorrow than in anger..."

At 10:31 AM , Blogger Kelly said...

Also, I wanted to add, Fuse, that with reading and writing, there is a lot of subjectivity.

The book in question I didn't want to review was a YA title that dealt with Issues I deal with on a daily basis as a college teacher. So, some things didn't ring true to me. Also, I'm more of a fan of Middle Grade, so I'm already biased to some degree against YA.

That being said, I could easily see how others would like the book. It was well written, the main character was interesting, etc.

So my negative review could impact negatively on the admitedly small number of people who read me daily (150 or so), when I'm not sure it should. Does that make sense?


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