It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible


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The following comment appeared during a discussion on a literary mailing list:

“And please remember that anyone who is a professional reviewer, i.e. who earns a significant part of his/her income from reviewing, as I myself have done, does not in fact read the whole book – how could they, if they reviewed 2-3 books per week and held down a ‘day job’?”

I find this comment… horrifying. I used to review books for Vector, the critical journal of the British Science Fiction Association. I would never have dreamt of writing a review without reading the entire book. Admittedly, I wasn’t reviewing two or three books a week – more like two or three every couple of months. But to not read the book, to cobble together a review from a quick skim… That’s unfair to the book and its author, and it’s unfair to those who buy the book based on the review.

But then you have the likes of Harriet Klausner. As I write this, she has reviewed 14,022 books on Amazon (no doubt it will be more by the time you read this). Given that Jeff Bezos launched his on-line book shop in 1995, then Klausner has read an average of 1,167 books a year, or 3.2 books a day each and every day. Of course, that assumes she began reviewing the day Amazon went on-line. Which is unlikely. She could be posting reviews written prior to 1995 – according to her profile on Amazon, she was a librarian and “wrote a monthly review column of recommended reads”. I have neither the time nor the inclination to trawl through her 14,000 reviews to discover which books were published prior to 1995, however.

Is Klausner providing a useful service? Personally, I think her Amazon reviews are next to useless. She gives every book 4 or 5 stars – and some patently don’t deserve that. Her review of Hunters of Dune, a book – sadly – I have read myself, inaccurately summarises the plot, and then finishes on the nonsense line: “Still this is a fine entry that adds to the mythos while paying tribute to its founding father as the scientific techno concerns involving genetic engineering that Frank Herbert voiced years ago seems so valid now.” I’ve no idea what this means, or how it relates to Frank Herbert’s oeuvre. Certainly, he discussed genetic engineering in several of his novels – most notably in The Eyes of Heisenberg – but to some extent all of his novels were cautionary tales.

There are, of course, many good reviewers out there – both amateur and professional. Genre magazines such as Interzone and Locus (to pick two titles at random) have run book reviews since their first issues. It’s a standard component of any science fiction or fantasy magazine. In recent years, litblogging has also become an important resource. Like reviews in magazines, you soon learn which ones point you towards books and authors you would enjoy. It’s a shame some of the more traditional elements of publishing have yet to realise the usefulness of blogs. Actually, it’s not a shame – it’s just another indication of their blinkered snobbery.

Still, if they don’t read the books they review, why should they read blogs?

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