I’ve always assumed that the reviews voted most helpful on Amazon are positive reviews. And it’s also true that among amateur book reviewers, a critical review is unlikely. Just like some politicians think that the town meeting questions that they field from average citizens are likely to be easier to answer than questions from professional journalists. I know…that isn’t always true.
Most bloggers who write reviews don’t have a lot of time to spend reading and writing up books they don’t like. And unlike many professional reviewers, they’re not assigned books to review by their editors. So wouldn’t they select the books to cover that they think they might like? And negative reviews are harder to make interesting. Bloggers who feel they’ve been saddled into reading a poor book may want to vent. Reviews where the blogger is blowing off steam aren’t interesting. It’s not your steam. So why should you read it?
Writers who review writers also present problems. They’re probably reviewing their friends or reviewing other writers who they wish were their friends. If as a writer you trash a book, then I figure you would have to worry about retaliation direct, from the writer, or revenge taken by his circle. Nearly all writers have circles. See Emerson’s essay on circles to appreciate their effectiveness. And I’m afraid that the publishing world is not especially known for its forbearance. They may not vet the books they are publishing. But they have little patience for anyone who is not supportive. Offhand, I’m guessing that there are very few critical evaluations of literature coming from writers of literature.
I once had a coworker who would frequently emplsoy the phrase: “You’re 100% right.” In the years that I knew that person, they never uttered the phrase: “You’re 100% wrong.” But what is your praise worth if you never censure anything? The funny thing is, it’s worth a great deal. The opinions of those who praise almost everything are highly coveted. This is called publishing politics….or writerly politics if you’re a writer. File under: how to get published.
In book clubs, a story with disliked characters will probably be put down like a rabid dog. But in literature or film, the personal appeal of the characters has nothing to do with the quality of the work. Do you like Charles Foster Kane? Does that make Citizen Kane a bad movie?
Bloggers aren’t writing marketing copy unless that’s their job. I once wrote a glowing review of a book I loved. But the review was considered negative by the publisher’s marketing department because I didn’t explicitly say: “This is a great book.” I was too absorbed in trying to figure out how the story worked. I got the retort: “I need something I can quote. That’s a great review.”
Nope. A great review is parallel-text writing that gives the reader a good impression of what it’s like to read that book. “This is a great book.” doesn’t do it for me. I believe in anti-marketing marketing. Make them want to read the book, to talk about the book. Sound bites don’t work for that.
My best praise consists of writing a review in the first place. I’m saying this book is worth my full respect, “Respect” means “looking at”. Respect: Origin Late Middle English, from the Latin, respectus, verb respicere, to look back at, regard. So please consider that if I ever criticize a book on Three Guys One Book, I am showing it respect. If you want a feel-good experience, you should confine yourself to reading marketing copy. How I’d love to see marketing copy that I could really respect!