Friday, October 15, 2010

Some Reviewers Suck: Will this be a Progressive Tendency?

It seems as though these days it's a reviewer-smash-reviewer-with-a-keyboard world as posts have been cropping up, questioning the quality behind reviews. Okay, I'm referencing to just two posts, but the timing is perfect to discuss crap reviewers/reviewing.

Stomping on Yeti reacts to a review, which to him sounds as if it's a book summary and not a review. To illustrate his point, Patrick even color-coded the review, which confirms his story. I know I'm biased, but I think that he is right about this one. He says:

Now, I typically wouldn't quote whole articles verbatim but it's necessary to illustrate my point. By color coding for Opinions/Reviews, Facts about the book/author, Summary of the book, and Quotes it should be very easy to see the breakdown of this so-called review. And this is being extremely generous when labeling review statements. And I understand why Tor is promoting the article - it's basically an elevator pitch stapled to an outline of the first five chapters. But to call it a review?

Jonah, the owner of Worlds of If, has accused several of the more recognizable SFF reviewers of poorly doing their job, because he felt as if their reviews of "Way of Kings" is more about the plot rather than anything else. Though I am surprised that Larry got involved in that one as Larry is one of the outside-the-box guys, although he quotes a lot. Anyway, Jonah says:

A book review should give me something more than brief plot synopsis or some personal reaction to the selected book. If you’re going to give me a novel review, give me some specifics from the book, tell me something about other related novels in the genre, and make sure that the arc of your piece goes beyond the novel currently under review.

Whether Jonah is right or not about the book reviewers he lists, is debatable, but what he's saying is fundamentally true. This question of what reviewing should be and what a reviewer should focus on has come up, discussed until we have all turned blue and forgotten until it pops up again.

I'm not headed that way. It's not why I'm raising this. The question is whether even after all the talk, we still fall in this trap. Do we let the summary dominate and high-jack the review, thus making us suck at what we do?

Yes, we do.

I also think that we over-generalize as well. We summarize our thoughts and to a certain degree we all sound the same, because we approach reviews from the same angle. I admit to thinking the same of my work [if I was exceptional, then I would have been listed somewhere along the way], though I'm trying to think outside the box.

Just to avoid accusations that I'm senselessly trying to aggravate people. Here are the reasons behind my statement:

1) We are busy. Check Twitter to see how many books we read and how many reviews we post and how regular we are, given our stressful daily background. Relying on the summary is one heck of a coping mechanism to meet the daily quota.

[I also think that we want to stay busy, because running a blog right now is competitive and we all fight for the attention of the publishers. I have done that. I try not to do it, but it does happen from time to time. Bloggers are getting pushier and that affects the quality of what we do. We have a saying in Bulgaria to illustrate that: 'the fast bitch bears a blind brood'.]

2) We believe readers have a maximum of words, after which we lose them. The too long, didn't read syndrome. So we downsize to keep it manageable for readers, because we want to have readers to discuss the book with. Keeping the wordcount low means that we have a lot less space for a lot of the things we want to say and we over-generalize.

3) We have a cult towards the brand spanking new and another one for getting to the bran spanking new as fast as possible.

Seriously, I think that the big boom of review blogs has lead to this. We're too many and we tend to tackle the same books.

It will take a serious revolution in the way things are done, in order for complaints like these to stop coming up. Until then the majority of us, myself included, will suck.

Of course I'm speaking in overgeneralizations. I am not resorting to name calling other than to quote the two posts. Most importantly I'm theorizing as to WHY people [readers, other reviewers] accuse us of sucking and why that is probably right. Hopefully, there will be no hard feelings. I doubt it, though.


cj said...

How does a book review go beyond the book that is being reviewed?

I prefer my reviews to be short and to the point - a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the book and whether or not the person reviewing it liked it.

Anything else gets scanned for the most part.

I'll be the first one to admit my reviews, when I've been motivated to do them of late, haven't been top-notch. Part of that is due to the fact that I'm reading simple books, no grand 'literature', nothing with over-reaching aims or goals. Just plan stories of the type I enjoy. What is there to say about stories like that, beyond the fact that I enjoyed it?


serenitywomble said...

As someone just starting out reviewing, I find this very interesting. I had noticed that other reviewers tended to give more of a summary of the book/TV show/Film than I had been, and that their reviews tended to be a lot shorter. I had begun to think about whether I should adapt myself to be more like them. In some ways, I think I should. People who haven't read the book need to know what it's about, editing to omit needless words is always worth while, and I possibly needed to watch how hard I slammed someone. But, on the other hand, cookie-cutter summary reviews that are 100% positive tell teh reader nothing.

Thanks for the food for thought!

Harry Markov said...

Excellent points. To answer the question: author information and it's relevance to the novel, also how it can be compared to another, genre movements. Trivia.

Taste here is important. Jonah, in the second post, wants a long and very in-depth analysis, so my post is really irrelevant for the people who prefer their reviews short.

As far as your last comment. Mhm, it gives me food for thought. So far I'm leaning over to say that we like to play 'critics'. I am thrilled to hand out verdicts and pronounce myself on works [bad, but I do enjoy it], so the whole 'we are the critics of the future' thing has spawned this attitude.


Harry Markov said...

Nice to meet you brand spanking new reviewer. :) Pleasure to meet you. I have to say that being different and lengthy will result in better conversations with your readers and not going for the obvious is a plus.

Yes, adapting is part of why so many blogs are similar sounding. Newer blogs follow older blogs' example and see what is popular and try to emulate it.

serenitywomble said...

Heh, I suppose I'm more new to reviewing by blog than reviewing per se. But I think reviewing on a blog is definitely different. You're right that the comments facility definitely changes things. There's a temptation to not be too controversial, so as to avoid attack, I guess. Then again, it doesn't seem as though being bland avoids all forms of attack anyway!
(Over here from a Twitter retweet from @jrobertking.)

Sarah said...

I don't know.

I guess I get sick of these "quality of book reviewing" discussions that keep going around. Some reviews suck, some don't. We all have our flaws and etc. As you stated, it's a dog-eat-dog world out there but a lot of these discussions turn from interesting to petty really fast. Yes, we are trying to get noticed by people, and yes we are all fighting for an audience, but some of these discussions I've seen happen in the SFF blogosphere have been incredibly childish. (I'm not talking about you, or this post here... just a general rant).

Personally, in my reviews I strive (and always have) to not summarize the book I'm reviewing. That really is a huge pet peeve of mine. I can read the flap of the book for the summary, thank you very much. I like reviews that really get in depth with plot, characterization, world building and writing style. The reviews that summarize and insert a few points in here and there seem like space wasters to me.

Now, I may or may not succeed with my goal, but I'm learning. I have, however, learned that not getting involved in these ridiculous "my blog is better than yours" discussions that keep seeming to go on in twitter and other places has helped me keep reviewing fun. I think the drama is ridiculous.

Anyway, this is a thought provoking post. Sorry for turning my comment into a rant.

Harry Markov said...

@ Serenity,

Knowing that you have a public to engage is a different challenge. To be honest we don't get much comments top our reviews, unless we spike them with some flavor and well it is a real complicated manner.

Harry Markov said...

You know, I don't usually respond to the these discussions, too, mainly because I don't take whatever is going on personally. These things gain momentum only, when you think that whatever is discussed is implied to you.

Now, when name flinging starts I can get involvement.

With my post, I try to explain why book bloggers tend to summarize books en masse [which as the two posts, which I linked, say that is a very poor reviewing job] and what else happens along the way and why that will continue to happen.

It's the attitude of people like you and CJ [though she likes short reviews, she wants them well argued] and really weird individuals as well that will change things.

What bloggers need is to finally diversify and go beyond the obvious.

Mieneke said...

Being still pretty new at the reviewing thing, I'm still trying to find my stride.

I do tend to start off with the blurb of the book I'm reviewing, precisely because that way I remind myself not to summarise in the body of the text, or at least keep it to a minimum. Partly because I agree that's not what a review should do and partly because I'm afraid to give spoilers.

And sure, I'd love to get new shinies to review, but I plan on reviewing older series I've got on my shelves too. Some because I still need to finish them, others because I think they deserve attention.

Harry Markov said...

Mieneke, oh yes, I do that as well, because I am too lazy to sum up the plot as well. :)

AND that is commendable! I plan on doing that as well. :)

I am not a series guy since I keep forgetting what's happening in the former novels. :D

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