Monday, January 11, 2010

Should Writers Review Books?

I read a review of a book on a blog recently and the owner explained that she often gets asked to write reviews of books on her blog but rarely does since she doesn't want to bash other writers' books and doesn't want to write a lot of fluff about friends' books she's not so sure about.

I review books occasionally here, mostly when I'm blown away by a book or it touched me in an important way. I also occasionally give books a miss. I implement my father's advice when it comes to book reviews on this blog- if I have nothing good to say, I keep quiet. Something I don't often do in my real life, usually to my own detriment.

I read this great article as The Rumpus about the problematic position of writers writing reviews of other writers' books. The author is Joshua Mohr and he says-

Yes, I like to read book reviews, and in the past I’ve enjoyed writing them. Right now, though—and who knows if it will change—it feels like a violation, a petty way to throw a wrench into someone else’s artistic career. A publishing career is hard enough without people who should be on the same team wielding criticism like a weapon.

What do you think? Should writers review books? What about a writer on a mission to bash the competitor? The world is not all rainbows and puppies, even in the writing world. Should we leave book reviews to non-writers only to stop any conflict of interest?


Elizabeth Bradley said...

What a great topic. I am not so sure, I'm on the fence. I can see where writer's writing reviews could be beneficial, or problematic.I have been to some writer's conferences where some writers literally rip another's work to shreds, and not in a good way, (as if there could be a good way to do such a thing.) And it's done all in the name of being helpful, balderdash!

bonita said...

In a review you can say a lot about a book without trashing the work or being insincere. However, if I really feel the book is lacking, I may want to tell the writer directly that it's just not the kind of book I'd be comfortable reviewing. I think I can sum up my feelings about this in one word:

Lauri said...

I agree. There are so many writers who have assisted me and I've been lucky. But there are writers out there with other agendas. You don't need to tear someone apart to give them a bit of helpful advice. And too Bonita, you're right about karma. Ha!

Anonymous said...

It depends on who the review is for. Writers (agents and publishers as well) have such a different view of books, that their personal reviews often mean nothing to people who are only readers.

Perhaps reviews should be made by a variety - both readers in the target audience, and writers, so that readers will recognize someone who communicates to them on a level they recognize within the review.

To a reader, writing jargon in a review means very little (unless they are an English teacher). To a writer, the things in the story that matter to readers may be glossed over, or not mentioned.

Personally, I rarely read reviews, as my experience of a book is no where near what another person's might be.

Sue Guiney said...

A great topic and something I've worried about a lot, actually. I would rather not write reviews at all, for fear of upsetting someone. I would never say anything bad - I agree that the publishing world is hard enough as it is.Plus, there's always something that can be said that isn't bad. So I do write them if I am moved to do so, and try to ignore the subject if I'm not wholeheartedly positive about something. It's a toughie, though.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Yes. And IF they review, they should be honest. We will expect honest reviews of our own work, so why not?

Lauri said...

Yes, Vanessa, I would want an honest review. Nevertheless I won't lie- I'd feel hurt if a friend bashed my writing in public.

I feel on my blog, since no one is sifting through and editing waht I write perhaps I need to be a bit mroe careful sometimes.

Vanessa Gebbie said...


am having trouble getting emails through to you.

Tania Hershman said...

Very very interesting topic, Lauri. Most of my reviewers for The Short review are also writers and although we have a strict policy of people not reviewing acquaintances, let alone friends, many of them express concern to me about what I would consider a "fair and honest" review. They feel for the writer, of course, as do I when I review. But I also know how much I appreciate an honest and balanced review, rather than my friends saying glowing things. That is lovely, of course, but to hear a stranger's honest opinion is refreshing. It takes a bit of getting used to.

However, a personal blog and an online journal are two different animals. I wouldn't spend time on my own blog talking about a book I didn't really like. But if I agree to review a book for TSR and then find aspects that don't speak to me as well as aspects that do, then I think every book deserves a review and it is worth saying rather than not reviewing at all. Quite a number of the short story collections we review get few others reviews - that's why I set up TSR in the first place. I wonder how many authors would prefer not have a review at all rather than a fair and balanced review?

Just to clarify - I would never condone (or publish) a review that said only negative things, that in some way was an attack on the writer rather than a subjective view of the writing. Nope. Not on.

Sorry, I am rambling!