Sunday, February 01, 2009

Reviewing Books

There's been a lot of talk on ERWA writer's list about some rather snarky reviews (and a few more)of erotic literature in British media lately. Review may be the wrong term as the articles were more opinion pieces condemning erotica rather than reviews of the books.

A review is a personal opinion. Theoretically, it's an informed opinion. But anyone can put an opinion out there. Writers often sniff at reviewers (if the review was bad) as failed authors. A few reviewers strike me as failed readers instead.

Its impossible to review a book subjectively. The plot either grabbed you or it didn't. The characters either seemed distinctive and real, or you had to keep flipping back pages to remember who they were. The prose kept you riveted, or it made you roll your eyes. And of course there's middle ground. There are great storytellers who put out clunky prose. That's more forgivable to me than beautiful words surrounding two dimensional characters.

What to do if a book is well written, and the plot is okay, but a few things about it make my teeth grind? I say it's well written, and the plot is okay, but the misogynistic, homophobic, and borderline racist asides ruined it for me. That warns readers while giving the writer due respect for what s/he did right. Because while I might be deeply offended by that kind of thing, a reader who has lived under a rock since the 1970s might think it's perfectly okay.

I know that some reviews I've written have upset the authors. I don't like doing that, but as a reviewer, my duty is to the reader, not to the writer. Ultimately, I have to call 'em as I see 'em. There are writers I don't care for on a personal level, but if the story is good, I'll say so. Likewise, friendship doesn't mean a free pass for anyone. The book's the thing, to paraphrase Shakespeare. If it isn't in the book, it doesn't come into my review. That's a bit of advice I'd like those British reviewers to take to heart. No personal crusades. Just the work.

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