A recent post, and the comments that followed, on Nathan Bransford's blog reminded me of an article by David Ropeik that I'd also recently come across via The Huffington Post regarding the professionality (is that even a word?) of today's book reviewing culture.
Basically, book reviews have turned into something that Just Anyone Can Do. GASP!
Being an active member of the Goodreads site, and having posted quite a few of those same reviews here on this blog, I thought this was a fascinating topic.
Sites like Goodreads and the ability to review items on sites like Amazon and Barnes and Noble have inundated the web with lots of opinions. I'm not surprised that professional critics take a certain amount of umbrage at the ease in which the populace can speak out on literature...and the amount of opinion expressed at pieces of "non-literature" as well. And I agree with them to a certain extent. Critics and literature professors have worked and studied in the written word much longer than the average joe. Gotta give them their due. They have dedicated their lives and work to the study and understanding of this portion of the world: the book portion. These guys have spent countless hours, countless more words, and countless amounts of money trying to figure out what makes literature tick. That's nothing something to be tossed away slightly.
However, I am not an uneducated buffoon. I do think about my reviews and I do try to create an argument for why I may or may not have enjoyed a piece. And I am not alone. the majority of people who take the trouble to write a review, take trouble. Sure, there are quite a few people out there who use the comments section of blogs and review space to lambast the writers with unfair diatribes that often contain grammatical errors, spelling errors, and rhetorical holes that you can drive a truck through, but these are not the majority. In fact, I think most people understand to ignore this kind of behavior. A well-written review, whether in favor of a piece or whether unfavorable, stands out. So, I am definitely in favor of bloggers, Goodreads reviewers, Amazon reviewers, Barnes and Noble reviewers, talking about books.
I'm also in favor of authors encouraging readers to talk about the books they have written. After all, they spent lots of time creating those pieces for our reading pleasure...it's only fair to let them know whether or not we did get any pleasure from the work. Bransford's current contest (full disclaimer: I was the winner of Bransford's Teen Diary Contest and have had my work critiqued by him...so I like the guy)--with the promise of an Amazon gift card redacted after several commenters felt uncomfortable with the idea of potential 'payment'--is now a common contest: a signed copy of the book. While I think that this is a legitimate way to promote a book, it does raise the question of reviewers' veracity.
Can the book world be saturated with manipulative or false reviews?
Of course it can. But will it happen because of contests? I don't think so. This is such a tiny portion of the reviewing world. I think that reviewers react strongly, and negatively--and review more--when the opinion of the general population is loud (I'm sure Stephenie Meyer gets blasted a lot harder than she would if everyone didn't scoff at shiny vampires), or the opinions of immediate friends are strong, or they take a personal exception to the author rather than focus on the work.
What do you guys think? Do contests for reviewers negate the effect of reviews? Is it a good way to build an audience? Do you use review sites or do reviews on your blog? Why? What do you get out of doing the review?