Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Book Reviews

OK....maybe it's just me. But every since I started blogging about books, I've noticed a lot of animosity over the so-called book review. With the announcement last week of the Man Booker Prize winner, Sir Howard Davies, the director of the London School of Economics AND the chairman of the Man Booker Prize selection committee, blasted Book Reviewers. (at least this time, book bloggers were NOT fired upon. Maybe he thinks we are too inconsequential!)

In this article found at The Bookseller.com, Davies pretty much launched an attack of all professional book reviewers, and novelists in particular. He said, "I think a little more distance, and critical scepticism, is required by our reviewers, together with greater readiness to notice new names." He stopped short of accusing authors of back-scratching, though he said he was well aware that such practices went on, and he called for "more diversity in the sort of people who review novels".

I have myself wondered sometimes about author reviews of books. I think it would be hard to give an unbiased review for a book that was written by someone you know. Even so, that is hardly a reason to give a blanket statement saying that all author reviews are biased. For example, Stephen King(who you all know is my very favorite author) writes for EW, and I LOVE to get his take on books. I figure, if Uncle Steve like them and I like Uncle Steve, then I'll probably like the books.

The Bookseller article did print a response by Erika Wagner, literary editor of The Times. She was trying to defend her occupation by saying, "It is very difficult, I have found over the years, to offer any coherent defence of how and why novels are reviewed. What a strange business! Novels, I believe, exist to move the reader, to change the way a reader looks at the world; the trouble is, and ever was, that every reader (and so, every reviewer and literary editor) is different." There. Isn't that really the heart of it all? Every reader is different. No matter how hard you try, not every person is going to agree with you. Not everyone is going to like the books I read. I don't expect them to.

I think this is why I rely so heavily on reviews by book bloggers. In this strange little "world" we occupy, I feel like I have gotten to know a lot of you a little more personally than I know the book reviewers for the New York Times. In that sense, I feel like I can trust your reviews. And if I in turn disagree, I certainly have that right, just as all you have the right to disagree with me. People are different....it would be a very boring world if we were all the same.

I do realize all of this was prompted by this year's Man Booker Prize selections. Books that most of us have never even heard of. The Gathering by Anne Enright won the coveted prize. It is described as "Exileratingly Bleak". Maybe it's just me again. But when I read, I'm trying to escape and enjoy myself. Do I really want to read something bleak?? Probably not. I want to be entertained. That is the main reason I read. I have to be in the mood to enjoy something that is going to be hard to process. If one of my book-blogging friends recommend it, then I may indeed pick up The Gathering one day.


jenclair said...

I have some big questions about the numerous "prizes" -- including The Booker. Like you, I want to be entertained. Or I want to learn something. "Exhilaratingly bleak" is not high on my list. Which doesn't exclude tragedy...just not tragedy, misery, depression, or dysfunction celebrated as such.

Unknown said...

I have to say that professional book reviews mean so little to me. Like you, I find book bloggers' reviews much more relevant to me. I'm much more interested in the opion of another 'average joe' reader just like me than a professional book person.

I do read Orson Scott Card regularly though. If he likes it I know it's worth checking out.

Bookfool said...

That Erika Wagner quote was perfect. I've found people I consider my "reading twins", who have very similar taste to my own, still disagree with me on some books and I think that's terrific. It's a part of what makes us human, the fact that we can still have differences of opinion regardless of how close our tastes run.

Like Jenclair, I question how people judge prize-winning novels. In fact, I tend to avoid them because many of the prize winners are heavy, depressing literature. I will never understand why anyone considers tragic works better than novels that make a reader smile. To me, the best are a blend of laughter and tears. Lottery by Patricia Wood is a fine example.

Having said that, I'm a big fan of the Newbery award. It seems to be based on excellent writing, regardless of content.

Stephanie said...

Jenclair - Oh, I agree with you on some of the prize winners. The last Booker I read was The Sea by John Banville. Most boring darn thing I think I've ever read!!

Nicola - I'm with you on reviews. Same goes for movies as well. I take them with a grain of salt. I prefer to read Blogger reviews as well.

Bookfool - I love the idea of a "reading twin"! I think that perfectly describes how I feel about certain bloggers. If they like a book, I'm sure I will too! And you are right about Prize winners too. A lot of them seem to be tragic and depressing. Not usually what I like my reading to be!!

As far as the Newberry's go, I don't think I've read a winner that I disliked. So far, so good!!

Ana S. said...

I suppose that not all authors reviewing books are unbiased, but, like you, I do like them, because if an author I love recommends a book, then there's a chance I will like it too.

I also prefer blogger reviews to professional reviews, and for the same reasons you stated: I feel like I've come to know quite a few bloggers, so they feel like recommendations from friends.

raidergirl3 said...

Great article you wrote. And I love bookfool's idea of "reading twins", because it is true. You can also have reading opposites. I have a good friend, and we seldom agree on a book, we give each other the books we don't like!
I've never seen a good review of The Sea, and when I was looking at Booker lists, it beat Never Let Me Go and Arthur and George, two really good books I read this year.
I have The Gathering to read, but haven't got to it yet. I'll keep you informed.

Chris said...

I totally agree. That quote is on the money. Every reader is different. At least, bloggers are honest.

I have heard bloggers wonder if the blurbs on the books are real. Some of them seem like they're written for other books!

Melody said...

I agree with you on this, Stephanie!

And I think I can relate more to bloggers' reviews as compared to those professional reviews... and on top of that I will get to know more about my bloggie friends this way. :)

kookie said...

And besides that (jumping in headlong, as I am wont to do) Uncle Steve goes out of his way to promote authors who aren't that well know, if they are good.

Ron McLarty ("The Memory of Running") couldn't even get his book published until Uncle Steve started raving about his book. And he was right, it is a great book.

I agree with you, we small-time book bloggers are the best resource for book reviews. We know our stuff.

Anonymous said...

Browse our video book reviews and find out what real readers like you have to say about the books we read :)