The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Book Reviewers.

I’m happy that newspapers are cutting back on book reviews. Most of them are unnecessary and just take up space. Long ago, I stopped believing the majority of them.

No, I don’t mean every reviewer ought to be cashiered. I know a handful of book reviewers who are objective, insightful and truthful, and who can get you to run, breathlessly, to the book store and leap eagerly into bed with a book on Saturday night. (“Hands off! Can’t you see I’m reading?”) For the most part, however, I find reviewers just steal copy from the book jacket and promotional materials, glance at the first few pages of the book (maybe), turn in their column, collect a few measly shekels and move on to the next book, whoops, few bucks.

If I am tempted to buy a book based on a reviewer whom I don’t know, 99% of the time I get a second and third opinion before actually making the purchase.

Reviewers Who Delight in Maiming or Killing

When I was working at the book publishing arm of Barnes & Noble, Inc., I plucked an advance reader’s copy (ARC) from among the stacks of free ARCs tossed on a long table for us to take if we wanted them. The book was The Know It All—One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World, by A. J. Jacobs. It’s the true story of a middle-aged man who feels he has become a dolt and forgotten everything he ever learned. So he takes it upon himself to read the Encyclopedia Britannica from A to Z.   Of course, as he pushes through one volume after another, his brain overflows with esoterica, which he dispenses ad nauseum at every opportunity in EVERY conversation. You can only imagine with what his wife, friends and colleagues have to contend. As Jacobs becomes the repository of the history of the world, no, the universe, he and his wife are struggling with a serious family issue that, because you grow to like him and his wife so much, makes this book much more than just a yuck a minute. (My review, thank you.)

A more honest woman would have given back the money she billed for that workday. I drove my fellow cubicle dwellers crazy with my insane laughter. I actually sent the editor an email telling him how much I enjoyed this book, and got a nice email in return.

Then a review came out in The New York Times Book Review. What a cruel, unfunny, outright nasty review. The kicker, of course, was that The New York Times, in its infinite wisdom, had selected Joe Queenan, a “contemporary humorist and critic,” with an ostensibly funny (and perhaps competing) book coming out later in the year.

A. J. Jacob’s book eventually made the New York Times Best Seller List in paperback. (I note that Queenan is slurping the blood of more authors in “Why Not the Worst?” his essay about bad books that make good reading in the May 6th   edition of The New York Times Book Review.) I don’t remember seeing Queenan’s book on The New York Times Best Seller List. Perhaps I missed it.

Just Because You Are John Updike Doesn’t Mean You Should Review a Book About Einstein or that I Should Buy That Book Based on Your Review.

In his review of Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Albert Einstein, The Valiant Swabian, John Updike, of all people, wrote that after Einstein won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921, “he never again made a significant contribution to the ongoing life of the physical sciences.” (The New Yorker, April 2nd, 2007.) Funny, I didn’t know John Updike was qualified to review a book about Einstein.  In fact, in a letter to the editor on April 23, 2007, Paul F. Zweifel, University Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, said it wasn’t so, and went on to talk about Bose-Einstein statistics and Bose-Einstein condensation. “Einstein did so much, and created so many new concepts in physics, that he easily could have been awarded seven or eight Nobel Prizes….”

Shut-up already if you don’t know what you are talking about.  And don’t write reviews that are so lengthy and detailed that they synopsize the entire book, Mr. Updike. If those types of book reviews aren’t outlawed, they should be.

Anonymous Review Equals Suspect Review.

“I was told to be encouraging.” That’s what one book reviewer told me. I stumbled across another comment online in which the reviewer, who had written over 100 reviews, said that on occasion he would turn in his review only to find it had been completely rewritten from positive to negative or negative to positive when published. Spiked or rewritten reviews are all about fear of loss of advertising dollars and/or shameless cronyism, and I believe those reviews are everywhere in every media—newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, the Internet.

I want to know who the reviewer is, how much he or she is paid for a review, how often he writes reviews, and whether he is sneaking off to have mimosas at the bar at The Algonquin Hotel with his buddy, the author, or perhaps the editor. In other words, I want to know the reviewer by name so I can compliment him or her on his review or draw and quarter him, personally. No name, no accountability.

Are Book Reviews from Bloggers Bunk?

The New York Times had an article entitled “Are Book Reviewers Out of Print?” by Motoko Rich on May 2nd. The lead paragraph reported that Dan Wickett, “a former quality control manager for a car parts maker,” reviewed 95 books on his blog last year. Ninety-five!!! Is he kidding? How thorough a read did those books get? Who cares what he has to say about a book anyhow? And has such fawning reviews that I suspect they are just a means of acquiring ARC’s that they can then sell at the local bookstore.

When I read the literary bloggers, I ask myself: who do you think you are to tell me what to read? Are these self-serving, safe book reviews designed to curry favor with advertisers or have the reviewers got the guts to write more than pap? Some of them have guts, most of them do not. I give them the BS sniff test.

Three References for Kitchen Renovation and Three References for a Book Purchase.

Since I already know book jackets are a crock (Book Jackets Sink or Sell a Book! Editors Should Not Write Jacket Copy! What’s With Those Bogus Book Reviews? Rate the Jacket Copy!); reviewers can have personal vendettas, allegiances, and agendas; the most luminary of authors can’t always get his facts straight while he is flappin’ his erudite gums; and anonymous hacks from a stable of hacks can’t be trusted, I tend to shop around to see what other sources are saying about the same book before I buy. If Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, and Borders Books, as well as the independent bookstores and libraries would do the same, there would be a lot more good books and many fewer bad books on the shelves of bookstores, libraries and bedside tables across the country.

35 Responses to “The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Book Reviewers.”

  1. Ayun Says:

    The best and perhaps only defense is writing positive amazon customer reviews for books we love, especially if they are the work of first time authors, or were put out by small publishers.

    Reviews are a necessary evil, but good lord, every time I get a bad one, even if it’s from someone named Grandma Reader who gave five stars to the Twinkle Twinkle Little Musical Mobile, and but one to my second book, complaining that there was no option to give me less, my Wheaties have been peed in for the whole damn day.

    Sometimes I take the loose cannon approach, but only when I have lots of time to craft a response, so that perhaps some of those who hear my thunder will recognize that cannonball as the proud defense of a wounded but mighty warrior, rather than a peevish and sour grape.

    My next loose cannonball may take the form of a one person show… or perhaps a You Tube film. Or maybe I’ll just use that time writing another book for someone who hasn’t written a book to bash around Amazon.

    It’s all a bracing reminder to resist the labels others smack on us, and to keep our noses to the grindstone until they’re ground into a shape that pleases our own badselves.

    Cover Image  Cover Image Cover Image Cover Image Cover Image

  2. The Curmudgeon Says:

    The ideal would be to find a reviewer whose tastes and inclinations match your own. Alas, for me, that person either does not exist, or has not yet been found by me. I regularly read the reviews in the NYT, The Guardian, WaPo, and the London Times. The variations in the reviews of the same book can be daunting, although sometimes one will find unanimity.

    Another method is to follow the awards. For years I enjoyed almost all the books shortlisted for the Booker Prize. That has not been the case in the past few years. Other awards such as the NBA, NBCC, Whitbread (now Costa), Orange, seem to me to be equally inconsistent. And some, like the Pulitzer and Nobel, seem to have more to do with political than literary merit. So much is subjective and there are some very acclaimed authors whom I find difficult to read and enjoy, while other less esteemed authors are very enjoyable to me.

    However, in some other areas I have been able to find critics/reviewers whose taste conincides with mine. Michael Jackson (not the one-gloved child molester) in beer and whiskey, and Steve Jenkins in cheeses. Other reviewers of beer and cheese do not seem to have the same tastes that I have.

  3. Andy O'Hara Says:

    Odd. Updike is quoted as once saying, “Critics are like pigs at the pastry cart.”

    Not being in the intellectual elite, or the literary elite, or any elite for that matter, far be it for me to understand what motivates critics. I think Her Wickedness is right on track to suggest that advertising dollars and cronyism play a huge role. I love hearing success stories and glowing reviews only to find, upon examination, that full-page spreads and greased palms probably had more to do with it than serendipity and talent.

    And of course there are always those delightful little gremlins of jealousy, cynicism and competition that can turn the best of friends into the most delightful enemies.

    Her Wickedness is most passionate on this one—you go, me lady!

  4. V.S. Says:

    A little twist on The Bard’s ”The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Such a clever witch.

  5. Antoine Wilson Says:

    As far as I can tell, Wickett is doing it for the love of literature–he’s a tireless supporter of so-called emerging writers. His Emerging Writers Network provides valuable info about new writers who would otherwise be well-under the book biz radar. As does the Lit Blog Co Op, of which he is a member.

    Every book I’ve ever reviewed for the LA Times has gotten at least two readings, a zillion pages of notes, and multiple drafts. Maybe that’s why I don’t review books for a living.

    Then again, I’ve seen plenty o’ inaccurate and/or totally wacko reviews of late, too…

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing ™: Antoine’s new novel is The Interloper: A Novel. Check out his site and you will see his short stories have appeared in A Public Space, The Paris Review, Blue Mesa Review, Gutcult….

  6. Anonymous Says:

    I like Joe Queenan; I think he is almost as funny as George W. Bush.

  7. Bonnie Calhoun Says:

    *she ducks* Yikes…I’m a book reviewer…LOL…never fear, I only do Christian fiction. And because I’m the organization director, I never actually review the books, I give an introduction.

    I do find that it is very hard to give a review of a book that is not in the genre that I enjoy. LOL…I’m an action, adventure kinda person and most of the books we do are womens fiction *snore*.

    It is easy to see why “Paid” reviewers sometimes trash books, because even when they’re well written it gets tedious to read something that I have no interest in. And let’s not even talk about something that would complete with your own novel. There aughta be a law against conflict of interest like that!

    Thank goodness I don’t get paid to do reviews!

  8. Bernita Says:

    Wicked, you’re wicked.

    Cronyism also is reflected in some blog reviews, in a scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours form, and BIG discussions in romance forums on not dissing the genre, other authors, etc.

    Think I have reviewed only one book from an ARC, but for the life of me I can’t see anything unusual about reading and reviewing 95 books in a year. People have different reading speeds – and fast readers do not automatically absorb less of a narrative.

    Furthermore, he’s giving an opinion, an impression, not a thesis.

  9. Lynne Says:

    I’ve written very few reviews myself, but I agree with Ayun that if we like a book, we should say something on Amazon or Barnes & Noble’s Web site. Here’s a review I wrote spontaneously after reading blogger pal DC Stanfa’s book, The Art of Table Dancing–Escapades of an Irreverent Woman, which she sent to me unsolicited as a gift, not an ARC:

    If You Read “Rambler” and Think “Car,” this Book is for You!

    April 7, 2007
    Yes, this book is very, very funny, but it is also poignant. The Art of Table Dancing is not just a shallow, frothy, beach-read about the madcap adventures of DC Stanfa, man-crazy, liquor-swilling, table-dancing, Ohio-girl gone wild. It’s about DC Stanfa–daughter, friend, wife, mom, Catholic. Stanfa has a uncanny ability to see the humor (sometimes knee-slappingly funny and sometimes achingly sad) in almost every situation, but it is her life journey that holds the reader’s interest from the book’s “Dedication” to the very last page. The Art of Table Dancing is a very brave book.

  10. marydell Says:

    Very well said, Lynne.

    Recently, I was in a bookstore with a friend who was being slow about picking out a book. In my impatience, I plopped myself down on a step stool at the end of the career aisle and happened on 100 Bullshit Jobs …And How to Get Them. Of course, the list includes The Critic. According to the author, the job involves little actual work and requires no qualifications other than coherent writing, an overly inflated sense of self, and the desire to make one’s opinion known.

    Before buying a book, I tend to scan reviews to quickly determine if the story is something I’d want to read. What the reviewer liked or didn’t like or knows about the subject is inconsequential to my decision to purchase. However, I do often go back and more thoroughly read reviews after finishing a book, especially when I hated it. My curiosity for a critic’s opinion at this stage comes from a desire to know if I missed the point in what I just read. Unfortunately, I too often discover that the critic either didn’t actually read the book or used the review to show off how much s/he knows about literature.

  11. DC Stanfa Says:

    My publicist was recently talking with a book reviewer about one of her other client’s new books. Somehow my book came up in conversation. The book reviewer said he’d written a review for a local magazine last year, when in fact there was no coverage in the magazine.

    Good review, bad review, or imaginary review—I say kill all the critics, except my cronies.

    Lynne, thanks for the excellent Amazon review. Long live the Wicked Witch!


  12. Bridget Says:

    I’ve read some truly fawning book reviews that make it transparently obvious there’s a reciprocal “crique arrangement” going on between two authors. Other instances (as described above) reveal the not-so-hidden agendas of publishing rivals. The key is to know and trust the source, just as you said.

  13. Edward Champion’s Return of the Reluctant » Roundup (Been Caught Stealing Edition) Says:

    […] Lynne Scanlon invokes an infamous line from Henry VI in her appraisal of book reviewing. […]

  14. Maxine Says:

    I’m a book reviewer, too, but would not review a book I hadn’t read, cover to cover.

    I do buy books based on reviewer recommendations, usually a small select few crime-fiction reader blogs that I trust, or the Times weekly book supplement, or Amazon recommendations. I also buy books based on browsing in bookshops, and found via the unwanted review copy shelves of the journal for which I work, and at our owner publishing company book sales. I’m not proud!

    If I find a reviewer I like and whose taste seems to match mine, all to the good. I don’t think blurbs are a bad thing, necessarily, either. Once you are a reader of certain genres, you get pretty good at seeing a blurb for what it is — useful or useless.

    I do agree, Lynne, that some reviewers are worse than useless because you feel that they have not read the book or put any of their personal judgement into it. Actually, quite a few Amazon reviews are like that ;-) (publisher blurbs or interested parties, in disguise).

    There is no generally reliable source, the reader just has to cherry pick the sources of advice and information that suit his or her reading habits, I guess.

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing ™: Maxine Clarke is a mega-blogger. She authors seven blogs, mostly about her love of books, publishing, and the writing world. Petrona is her personal blog, which shares the life and thoughts of a mother of two living in the South of England. Maxine has been a science journal editor for most of her working life.

  15. Kelsey E. Johnson Defatte Says:

    I’ve done my share of reviews, but having not received a single penny, I’d say you could trust my opinions were my own.

    And hey—you know what I like best about writing reviews?

    Spoutin’ off my opinion! Ooo! I feel so important! So smart! ;-D (But I admit, if I don’t like a book, I don’t review it. I suppose I’m suffering from a hard case of nice-itis.) ;-D

    And I definitely review what I know best–kid’s and young adult fiction. :-)

  16. Lynne Says:

    From Kreepie Kats at Gawker…


  17. Brian Hadd Says:

    Reviews condition a culture about anything, tech/movies/books, whatever, so I like knowing something about what I’ll expect. I doubt they’re very legit.

  18. Gina Burgess Says:

    Well, I’m a book reviewer. I don’t get paid for it either, except in the course of doing my job at the paper. I don’t get paid for staying up all night reading, I just get paid for my time at my desk… so that might count as being paid for it.

    Most, in fact all the ARCs I’ve received have been from first time authors trying to get some free publicity. One vanity published book was so bad I had to read it in short bursts.

    If a book reviewer gets paid cash for reviewing a book, how honest can the reviewer be? Really. I’m all for paying the person who will critique a book before it’s published. In fact, there should be many, many more people who do that, then perhaps there wouldn’t be so many really bad books out there on the bookshelves just waiting to part a reader from her hard earned money.

    If you don’t like a movie within the first 15 minutes of it, then it won’t get better. The same is true of a book. If the first chapter leaves you yawning, then it won’t get any better.

    Who has the time to read the first chapter of every book on the shelf? Book reviewers do a great job of pulling out the weeds. At least from a book review, you know what the book is about and what is available. Don’t kill us. We deserve a medal because we have to read a lot of drival before we find the good stuff… when we find it, we shout it from the roof tops.

  19. Tom Clavin Says:

    I was thinking about this blog this morning as I read the review in The New York Times of the new novel by Don DeLillo. It was a negative one. As a writer whose books have been reviewed, I always feel bad for a writer as I read a negative review of his/her work because presumably no writer sets out to write poorly, and it must be especially tough to take when one writes something as personal as fiction or a memoir.

    However, as Dante once said, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Responsible reviewing — just one example is The Atlantic Monthly — helps us separate what we can spend out time and money on and what is best avoided. Each of us can choose where to go for reviews that are done honestly, and we have a pretty good idea of what publications and sites offer silly, dishonest, or self-serving reviews.

    The internet is becoming more of a force in providing opinions on books and on all of the products of our culture, and we have to understand that it is a huge community bulletin board in which anyone can pin something up, even if it’s total crap. Let’s eliminate just some of the reviewers — the ones who we can’t trust — by not giving their publications and sites our attention.

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  20. Arthur Durkee Says:

    Interesting. I find myself agreeing with a lot of your rant, having worked as a production artist, typographer, book designer, etc., in the book and magazine publishing biz for a couple of decades. Anybody who works in marketing or advertising, or has to paste up blurbs on book-cover backs, can get cynical about the whole enterprise. I even used to work on what they call magalogs, or catazines, essentially product catalogs with extra features like articles. Usually that’s all marketing puffery, but sometimes it’s value-added puffery, so can be fun to read.

    It’s interesting to follow who wrote which blurb on which book. One reason reviewing has veered towards puffery is the mutual back-scratching going on in the publishing establishment. “I’d better not say anything negative about this book, or I won’t get a positive review that I can use as a blurb on my own.” It’s even worse in academia, where mutual back-scratching has long since crossed the line into the murder of reviewing by incestuous literary copulation.

    Well, pfui.

    I write occasional reviews of whatever I feel like reviewing, which includes books, CDs, artwork, whatever. I panned Kooser’s poetry how-to book, but I praised Pinsky’s. The longest review I wrote in 2005 was in praise of Kate Bush’s CD “Aerial.” I admit I usually write reviews of things I like, to spread the word. I also sometimes write rebuttal reviews, in response to someone else’s opinion I disagree with. Sometimes these are in defense of a classic; sometimes they’re anti-puffery. But I can truly say that I always read what I review, usually more than once.

    I can afford to be an independent, honest reviewer because I don’t make a living at it, and don’t ever expect to. I think there is plenty of room for independent reviewing, especially online. I can afford to be honest because it’s just my opinion, no more than that.

    The key is always honesty. An honest response is always worth reading, even if it is a minority response, or a pan. I’ve been involved in a minor contretemps lately, where I agreed with a review panning Cormac MacCarthy’s “The Road,” which I thought was an essentially nihilistic, sadistic read.

    Where I strongly agree with your rant is in exposing the hidden motives and subterfuges of marketing. Most reviewing is crap, I agree, because it’s merely repeating the spin given by the publisher.

    But there are honest reviewers out there, and they’re worth seeking out. They can inspire, as well as repel.

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Welcome first-time commentor, Arthur Durkee. Thanks for leaving such a thoughtful comment. [Art is a “wandering musician, artist, and writer…traveling across the face of the USA….”]

  21. ed Says:

    For the record, for any review I write, like Maxine, I too read a book cover to cover and take copious pages of notes (the 200 page novel that I last reviewed has no less than seven pages of notes composed entirely of tiny chicken-scratch observations), so that I always have specific examples from the text to base my judgment on. From what I can tell, this is somewhat more arduous than the norm. Many critics don’t even bother to support their arguments. I think it’s professionally irresponsible for any critic to write a review for a book she has not read.

    The other troublesome thing about book reviewing: most critics, particularly the Joe Queenans of our world, seem resolutely bitter about books, as if reading a book is the last thing they wish to do. I start off wanting to love a book — and I don’t care what it is or who it’s written by — and, if it disappoints based upon my own sensibilities and my quite high standards, then it saddens me and affects my mood. I want to understand why I had this emotional reaction; I want to do my damnedest to understand an author; hence, the notes, which reflect a record of my reading experience.

    As for Dan Wickett, I don’t think he would consider himself a reviewer. He’s simply enthusiastic about books and expresses this on his blog. While I agree in part with your post and can see where you’re coming from on the points I disagree with, I think it’s unfair to throw Dan into the same taxonomy with an ostensible thug like Joe Queenan. If the world were a just place, Queenan would be pumping gas instead of scowling for his supper.

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Thanks, Ed, for linking up to this posting from Edward Champion’s Return of the Reluctant blog, and for leaving a comment. I agree that Dan Wickett is no Joe Queenan, and I mean that as a compliment! [Ed is a San Francisco playwright, author, and writer whose work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago-Sun Times, The Philly Inquirer and Newsday. He is a member of the National Book Critic’s Circle.]

  22. David Thayer Says:

    If you read one of my reviews, a feeling of euphoria will engulf you and anyone within six ( 6) car lengths of you. You’ll lose weight, and I mean fast, three or four pounds per paragraph. After you’ve read the piece you’ll be whisked aboard the crystal ship for a tour of the Greek Islands! Well, okay, a tour of Sheepshead Bay and all because you read the damned book review.

    Then dinner at Alice’s Restaurant followed by drinks at Elaine’s and then you’ll have to read another review because that’s a lot of calories…

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Wow. Fantastical. [David Thayer is a book reviewer for January Magazine and The Philadelphia Inquirer.]  

  23. Walter Haan Says:

    If you publish nonfiction history books, as I do, the worst thing of all is to have a reviewer call your author a liar in print. They don’t use the word liar, they dance around that word but everyone gets what they’re saying. This kind of judgment effects sales and the reviewer may be just as wrong as an author. One reviewer emailed me when he was preparing a positive review of one of our books to ask whether we had given the author a lie detector test. Imagine an editor doing that to an author in the editorial offices!

    Bad reviews from mainline media can assist in putting a publisher out of business, whether their products deserve bad reviews or not. Publishers or PR people need to weed the lists of reviewers to eliminate those who can’t be trusted to write a fair, impartial review.


    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): From Walter’s blog: “For the last 23 years I’ve published military history nonfiction books. I have worked in the publishing industry since 1967. Prior to that, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in India from 1962 to 1964 and a soldier in the US Army in Germany in 1965 and 1966 during the Vietnam War. I was discharged on New Years Eve, 1966, and dropped off in my uniform at Grand Central Station in New York City. As I was going down the aisle of the train to find a seat, a suit lowered his newspaper to ask how many babies I had killed.” Walter lives in Connecticut. Go to War, Books, News and Opinions,  if you want a free bumper sticker: 


  24. Peter Riva Says:

    Dear Lynne,
    Reviewers serve a purpose – of sorts – helping readers of, say historical biographies of the 19th century, find possible next book purchases. It goes like this, if you liked this, read this one. Amazon does something similar (very sloppily) and new computer capabilities will refine this linking (and no doubt turn it into targeting, which I do not support).
    Critics serve a purpose only as a means to helping authors improve their craft. The problem with ALL reviewer-critics is that they meld the former (valuable to readers) with the latter (only useful to authors). There should always be critics (after all Pen or Nobel awards are a critical assesment of sorts) but they should be for the author’s eyes only. The difficulty is that authors don’t want to pay for the service (they should) and the critics want to boost fragile egos and use their bully-pulpit to engender respect for themselves more than serve the public.
    It’s coming down to movie-like reviews, a two liner to describe the value of reading a book. The publishers’ new web promotion sites are exactly like movie previews – often just as misleading.
    And where is the reader going to know what he or she wants to read next? Where’s the bookstore salesperson who reads or knows all the books carried? Gone with the epic novel and true illustrated books. Honestly, currently, Amazon may offer the best resource for readers (and that’s not saying much).

  25. Susan Balée Says:

    Ouch. I’m a book reviewer and I read books cover-to-cover before I review them; my notes are throughout. I don’t know *any* reviewers who write a review without reading the book.

    No doubt writers don’t like negative reviews, but we’re not writing them for the authors, but for the readers. Last year I wrote a review of Lisa Tucker’s latest and I didn’t much like it. However, I had loved “The Song Reader,” so I made sure to encourage readers to buy that novel to see her writing at its best. This last month I reviewed T. Chevalier’s “Burning Bright” (called it “history lite” and encouraged readers to find other, better historical novels by writers such as Maria McCann and Rose Tremain). I feel like I’m able to use all of the books I have read to help readers find the ones they will love and avoid the ones that aren’t worth the dough people spend on them.

    I too have seen snarky, savage reviews (Dale Peck, the hatchet man, comes instantly to mind), but those are usually recognizable as the reviewer’s desire to elevate himself. Joe Queenan is a very funny, snarky guy (I reviewed one of his books a few years ago) and he’s definitely a self-aggrandizer. He doubtless reviewed the book about the guy who read the Britannica in order to have a straight man for his own jokes. (And, btw, someone gave us that book and it’s on my TBR shelf.)

    By the way, I don’t get paid much for my reviews, though I am a regular reviewer for The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Hudson Review. I review because I read and I have strong opinions — I want to share them. I read reviews for the same reason.

    Don’t diss reviewers, Lynne!

  26. Phil W Says:

    All of this makes me question the negative book reviews I’ve written. I remember disliking a novel from a popular Christian suspense writer. A strong start, weak finish, and my wife accurately predicted the bad guy by noticing he was the only character presented in a bad light. All of the other characters were essentially the same, male and female. I expected better than this, which is what I said on my blog and on Amazon. Would it better for everyone if I had held my tongue?

  27. Susan Balée Says:

    If a book is really bad, I won’t review it. To me, that’s like shooting fish in a barrel. On the other hand, if a well-known (and respected) author writes a lousy book, they’re fair game. (I hated Alice Walker’s “The Way Forward is with a Broken Heart” and had no problem enumerating its many problems — including a pretty mean-spirited rendering of her ex-husband.) My rationale: Such authors should know better. Indeed, I’m sure they do, but they’re being pressured by agents and editors to get something out or, worse, they have an axe they’re dying to grind.

  28. Lynne Says:

    Internationally acclaimed blogger, Michael Allen, has also posted about this situation, and he has linked to other postings as well. VERY interesting.

    Grumpy Old Bookman 


  29. Marilyn Barnicke Belleghem Says:

    I can determine a lot about a reviewer by how they reveal themselves in the review. If the reviewer has a bias or two or three it usually peeks or snarls out between the lines they write.

    As an author looking for, of course, good reviews, finding reviewers who are open to hearing about my work and making a decision to actually read and review my book is a blessing.

    I have had reviews where I know the reviewer never read the book. I have also had reviews where my writing touched a nerve and while the reviewer didn’t agree with my ideas they were thoughtful and respectful.

    I agree that reviewers in mass marketed media could build trust in their words if the readers knew more about the reviewer.

    Is the a review of reviewers? Just a thought.


  30. dorothy_parka Says:

    Aww. I swear _some_ of us read the whole book. Although it was hard with “Special Topics in Calamity Physics.”

    I try to be pretty objective when I review, but even if I am not digging something I can usually recognize something that may appeal to others’ tastes.

    Overall, us book reviews are getting little to nothing for our work. PW, for example, pays $30 per review. If a book takes you 4 hours to read, and then at least another hour to write an informative review, that’s $6/hour. A person makes more at Starbucks.

    I review because I love to read, and I love to gush about the books I like. But I learned quickly from my editors that I’m not the only person in the world and I need to think about the other people reading the reviews. If you’re a good reviewer, you’re reviewing genres you know well, offering valid literary criticism and giving the review reader a good idea of whether or not a book may appeal to them. Most of us are not writing for the NY Times, where they get to act out their personal dramas and destroy perfectly fine books. So, I see your point, but, I’d like a pass ;)

    But, yeah, that Updike review of the Einstein book was a waste of paper!

  31. Jakob Says:

    This is exactly what I expected to find out after reading the title First, Let’s Kill All the Book Reviewers.. Thanks for informative article

  32. Big Bad Book Blog » Blog Archive » Big Bad Book Blog Newsfeed::8-14-07 Says:

    […] :: The Publishing Contrarian: The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Book Reviewers […]

  33. News of a sort - World Class Ebooks Says:

    […] Crumbs. Read Lynne Scanlon’s beat-up on book reviewers and you will never dare to write a review again. Not till next week, anyway. (Hands off — Saturday night? What kind of book is that?) […]

  34. New York Times Bestseller List Says:

    If you’re a true book lover, and a speed reader, you will not only believe that 95 books in a year is possible, but 365 are as well.

    It’s said Roosevelt finished a book a day before breakfast.

  35. Descartes Says:

    I’m one of those bloggers that reviews a lot of books in a year’s time. My real job often has me traveling, where I listen a lot of books on CD that I would not otherwise have the time to read. I also read a lot-and I don’t review everything I read. There is no pay for this work, with exception of the occasional Amazon affiliate payment for a few cents.

    I love books and I to talk about them on my blog. Some books I hate, some I love, and some I am indifferent about. I tend to blog about the ones I feel strongly about.

    I didn’t read The Know It All, but I did read The Year of Living Biblically-it was fun and also filled with a world of useless information.

    Book and Movie reviews used to mean a lot more than they do now. There are millions of people writing reviews about anything and everything that comes down the pike. Back in the day when there we two or three newspapers in town you had some choice of which review to believe and which book to pick up next. The internet changed all that-it’s that democratization you keep hearing so much about.

    The fact of the matter is that I seldom, if ever, agree 100% with any review I have ever read. We all take our own personal baggage with us, and that makes each book a personal experience. It doesn’t help me decide on a book to read a review written by someone with a two doctorates in literature or one written by a third grade drop out. But they can both be fun to read.

    There is never going to a perfect reviewer for each reader. When I find a reviewed that I hate, I don’t necessarily want to kill them, but I will try not to read them again.

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