The Dark Side of Reviewing

What happens when a book comes in and proves to be (a) badly written, (b) boring, (c) error-ridden, (d) all of the above? Often it’s just tossed aside. There are far too many fine books that will never get reviewed due to space limitations, and there’s no point in wasting needed space.

Frankly, it’s easier and better to ignore them. Our goal at BiblioBuffet is to provide you, our readers, with our honest thoughts on the books we read so that you have the information you need to make a buying decision. Books are no longer inexpensive, and you want to be sure that what you are buying is worth your spending hard-earned dollars on them.

But sometimes, as Pete Croatto once pointed out, for a reviewer “there’s nothing quite so cathartic as writing a review full of vitriol, something that gets agents nervous and fans riled up. It’s like working over a punching bag for two hours. Plus, those reviews are easy to write, rage being an easily identifiable, uncomplicated emotion.”

Pete hit the reviewer’s nail ont the head. Such writing is cathartic but it should never be malicious. In a civilized world there would not be nasty reviews. There would be critical reviews. And there would be negative reviews. But meanness really has no place in the world of reviewing. Even if a reviewer hates the book because it is poorly written, the professional reviewer is morally obligated to tackle the review with strength and grace.

One of BiblioBuffet’s reviewers, for example, is currently struggling with an upcoming review of a “bad” book. Here is a brief excerpt from our  e-mail correspondence concerning why and how:

If a work is bad enough from beginning to end, I may savage it. I start off, you see, being really angry at all the things a book could have been. All my first notes are negative. It would be dead easy to turn into a kind of Dorothy Parker. Except that’s not who I am. The anger stems from concepts or abilities that are wasted, or writers who aren’t quite educated enough to pull off their magnificent plan. This means I spend a lot of time working out what the writer was trying to achieve and who their audience is and measuring them against that, or considering their work in the light of a broader concept. I still put the worries it . . . but I will very, very seldom (and then only with outstanding reason) go apply all those negatives I thought of at first. When I read reviews that do that, I always wonder why the reviewer bothered.

I’m always honest, but I also try to be pleasant.  So there is criticism in the article, but it’s worded as pleasantly as possible—and besides, the idea is to find the right readers for the right books, not to tear careers to pieces!

As far as I am concerned, this is the perfect description of a good book review regardless of what it says about the book. Its focus is the audience of the book. There are no personal attacks, no viciousness, no anger. Because there is no need for that. The work we at BiblioBuffet do—from the reviews that our reviewers write to the brilliant editing that Nicki Leone provides—is geared to and focused toward providing insightful, thoughtful, critical reviews of books we believe are “reading worth writing about.”

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