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So a few weeks ago I was in the audience as a panel of writers spoke, and one of them made a grumbly comment about reviewers and critics which has been in my mind ever since, so I thought I'd write a bit about it.

I've been a book and film reviewer for the best part of a decade; almost all of my reviews stay here on my lj, but a lot of them get published elsewhere too. I'll be blunt and say this up front: book reviews are hard work. It takes time to really read a book, time that seems even longer when you come to the conclusion that it's not a good book and that you would ordinarily put down, but you have to keep going because you agreed to do the review. The other sticky whicket is that most places don't even pay for book reviews: your "payment" is the free copy of the book you got from the publisher, so you've put several hours into reading the book and then a couple more into writing about it.

Writing about books isn't easy, either; depending on the audience of the publication, it can be difficult and frustrating. When reviewing for academic publications, you have to check that the writer did the research on their material (which sounds like it should be assumed, but nope--nope nope nope. Some editors are lazy and inattentive, or just plain don't care. Ditto writers for that matter.); you have to think about how useful the book would be for students, for teachers, for librarians. Strangely, fiction reviews are even harder because you have to OWN the fact that you like or dislike it, and then sort out why that is and what others would think about it.

As an example, I read The Very Best of Kate Elliot recently for The SFRA Review, and that was a case where I didn't like the book and I had to push through to finish it. I thought that a lot of the stories were just simply boring--nothing much happened in them. Worse, I have Editor's Brain, so I kept thinking "if you moved this scene up," "if you deleted this bit," "WHY?" etc. The thing is, that's exactly the sort of commentary you don't want in a professional review: the story is done, not workshopped. But nonetheless, how to communicate its weaknesses while keeping in mind that what does it for me does not necessarily do it for others? What I ended up doing was discussing the strongest of the pieces at length and then talking about trends in fantasy reading and publishing right now. I also gave a shorter review than I usually do, simply because I didn't think the material merited much filler.

In contrast, I just sent in a review of Eva Darrows' The Awesome to The Future Fire last night. That was a book I had a lot of FEELS about because it was YA lit with an awesome heroine and a negligible romance plot. (I am old and cranky; the current surfeit of stories where young women meet their ~one true love~ in freaking high school just appalls my sensibilities.) I flailed at length about it, and will share the review here when it's out, but that brings me to another reason why I love to review books, which is:

If a book is AWESOME I have a platform to valorize it. Maybe it's the librarian in me, or only the geek, but when I love something, I want **everyone** to know of its awesome. I love signalboosting new authors, or authors who don't get enough press, because I want them to get more recognition. One of the things I really love about The Future Fire is how they specifically try to signalboost minority writers and independent presses, which is exactly the sort of people and material who need more attention paid to them.

In short: I review things because I want to champion writers and the conversations about genre. I don't believe in reviewing to be a dick (although that is certainly the case with some reviewers, but oy), I believe in reviewing to help readers AND writers.


( 2 comments — Add your .02 )
Jun. 5th, 2015 02:24 pm (UTC)
I just finished reading your review of The Awesome! I thought you did a great job analyzing it for both the great and the mundane; it makes it much easier to tell if it's something you really want to read--if it's "your cup of tea." I don't read YA, not because I dislike it, but I have so much other stuff to read (Sherlock/John) that I don't have time, or I'd be reading it for sure. Heck, I don't even read adult original fiction anymore (I've got a number of books languishing on my Kindle--freebies from Amazon.) Still, I appreciate the fact that you're out there, pimping the YA. It was overlooked completely when I was growing up. It was either children's books or adult books. A lot of what would have been considered YA wasn't labeled as such, so it was hard to weed it out of either section. I'm pretty sure I found Podkayne of Mars in the adult section. I think I was in my late-20s, early-30s before YA even became something to look for in bookstores. Keep up the good work!
Jun. 5th, 2015 04:51 pm (UTC)
I don't always pimp YA, but I try to do an honest job of books the editor sends me. And occasionally I have to be honest and say "this isn't good" and then I feel horribly guilty.
( 2 comments — Add your .02 )

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