Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Random musings on writing reviews

Although I'm hardly a professional reviewer, just some guy with a blog who likes to clarify his opinions to himself by putting them in a form others can read, I do worry about how my reviews look to readers.  One thing I keep thinking is that I'm too positive, too enthusiastic, too much like one of those standards-free praise factories with whom publishers work out a mutually-convenient relationship.  (I should note that, apart from my Amazon Vine reviews, nothing that has appeared here has been based on a review copy.  I would say if it was.)  In part, this is because the models on which I've unconsciously based my reviews have been the chatty review columns you see in some magazines, but the larger "problem" is that I like most of what I read.

There are reasons for that.  I find reading books I don't like so dispiriting that I've gotten very good at working out what I will and won't enjoy.  I limit myself to a small group of writers, editors, and publishers who I know produce what I consider quality work.  This is especially important since a lot of what I read is expensive limited editions; if I'm paying $50-$100 for a book, I want to be damn sure I'm going to appreciate it.  The last time I read a supernatural fiction title that I genuinely disliked was April 2010, when I forced myself through two horror anthologies I thought were uneven and generally dull.  The last time I read one that I was even lukewarm toward was The Mammoth Book of Zombie Apocalypse!, which I reviewed here, and which, as you can see, I wasn't exactly scathing about.

It's not that I think, as some people seem to, that negativity is better, or cleverer, than positivity.  But I do think that your enthusiasm carries more weight if you can demonstrate that some things don't earn it.  I could write out a long list of writers and books I don't think much of, but it would hardly be fair to knock them about just to prove I can.  I could start doing reviews of those books, but that would be a dispiriting experience for me (I don't enjoy being negative, except about politicians), and again, not what the authors involved deserve.  So I suppose I'll just stick to what I've been doing, reviewing what I read, and being honest about what I think.  I am making an ongoing effort to make some of my reviews a little more formal and less bloggish (my review of Embassytown is a case in point), but that doesn't quite come naturally either; I tried with Morbid Tales, and it just wouldn't work.  I think my niche as a reviewer may be a passionate one, the equivalent of the guy who sits next to you at the bar and raves about this writer you've never heard of.  I guess I can live with that.

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