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View Full Version : Literary Feud about Blogs and On-line Reviews



AnneMarble
11-28-2006, 06:00 PM
According to this article (http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/11/the_blogosphere_takes_on_the_p.html.printer.friend ly), British novelist Susan Hill has been banned from the pages of a newspaper's book review section for coming to the defense of on-line reviewers.

It looks like a good old-fashioned literary feud, with critic John Sutherland attacking the bloggers (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml;?xml=/arts/2006/11/19/bolists12.xml) and Susan Hill defending them. (And author Rachel Cooke attacking Susan Hill for defending the bloggers.) The problem with Sutherland's article is that he has some good points about certain Amazon reviewers (I agree with his stance on a certain reviewer), but instead of following those thoughts, he starts to make sweeping statements about all on-line reviewers. For example, "Why do the web-reviewers allow themselves to be recruited as unpaid hacks? Partly for freebies. But more because they enjoy shooting off their mouths. And they enjoy the power." Brrrr. Not only is that snarky and misinformed; it also makes me wonder if he has read any on-line reviewers other than the ones on Amazon. If he has, why didn't he criticize them? Hmm.

Cooke and Sutherland are arguing that on-line reviewers are harming the ethics of reviewing, and even insinuating that it will harm literary tastes. Riiight. I have written reviews for an on-line review site, so my reaction to this is, "How do you know what my ethics are? How do you know what my literary tastes are?" (Of course, they would probably heap me with scorn me anyway because I wrote mostly (gasp!) romance novel reviews.) Anyway, Cooke's article made me want to buy her some Meow Mix. Whatever she was defending had little to do with literary tastes.

Here is some more coverage of this train wreck:
Rachel Cooke defends Sutherland's arguments and carps on Susan Hill
http://observer.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,1956873,00.html

Susan Hill's blog entry:
http://blog.susan-hill.com/blog/_archives/2006/11/13/2496064.html

More recent criticism of Rachel Cooke's article (very nice take on some of her, uhm, more baseless "points"):
http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/11/in_defence_of_the_blogerati.html

And even more coverage:
http://normblog.typepad.com/normblog/2006/11/literary_civili.html

Popcorn anybody?
:popcorn:

Momento Mori
11-28-2006, 06:49 PM
Oh dear Lord - please save us from the tasteless masses for otherwise our literature will be cheapened by their scummish opinions! The only review worth reading is a review that's been paid for by our oh-so-independent press! </sarcasm>

I've never really been a fan of Susan Hill's work, but I do agree with her on this. At least on-line reviewers are more likely to have paid for a book - newspaper reviewers tend to get freebies (jammy so and sos!)

AnneMarble
11-28-2006, 08:28 PM
Oh dear Lord - please save us from the tasteless masses for otherwise our literature will be cheapened by their scummish opinions! The only review worth reading is a review that's been paid for by our oh-so-independent press! </sarcasm>
Yes, exactly. :D When Patricia Gaffney's first woman's fiction book came out, the Baltimore Sun posted a review (nationally syndicated, I think) that said little about the book. Instead, it quoted a few phrases and then went into paragraphs crying about the fact that this book got all sorts of promotion by the publisher, while lots of "more deserving" books got ignored. This tripe deserves more credit because it was in print while better written on-line reviews should be ignored? I don't think so!
:tongue

I respect Publisher's Weekly, and generally trust their reviews. But sometimes, I wonder... I'll read a review that talks about how original and exciting a new thriller (or fantasy novel or whatever) is, and yet the fans of the genre often point out that it's trite and dull. Sometimes I'll trust the PW review, but if the fans write detailed reviewers pointing out real flaws, I might listen to them instead. The fans are often better read. ;)


I've never really been a fan of Susan Hill's work, but I do agree with her on this. At least on-line reviewers are more likely to have paid for a book - newspaper reviewers tend to get freebies (jammy so and sos!)
That's true. Many on-line reviews are posted because someone paid for a book and then just had to share their opinion. Sometimes because the reader wanted to warn other people away, sometimse because the reviewer didn't want a deserving book to get ignored. Sure, sometimes the reviews hinge on some personal "issue" (such as "This books sucks because the heroine is an evil slut..."). But they are not all like that. Besides, readers can tell the good reviews from the bias-laden ones.

Momento Mori
11-28-2006, 09:06 PM
AnneMarble:
Many on-line reviews are posted because someone paid for a book and then just had to share their opinion. Sometimes because the reader wanted to warn other people away, sometimse because the reviewer didn't want a deserving book to get ignored.

Absolutely! Anyone working in publicity will tell you that word-of-mouth publicity is the best you can have - and it can only be achieved through people sharing the opinions. Look at the success it's helped generate for authors like Lionel Shriver and Dan Brown ... Actually, let's not look at Dan Brown ... (just kidding - Dan Brown fans please contain your ire!)

I read the reviews in The Times and Sunday Times, and whilst some of the non fiction reviews are entertaining (particularly in the history section), there will often only be a couple of fiction books that get significant reviews, with other books maybe getting a paragraph. Unfortunately, it's the other books that tend to interest me the most ...

Silverhand
11-28-2006, 11:10 PM
If I want honest reviews for fantasy at least, I go to one website these days: Fantasybookspot.com These guys are honest and seem to do a good job at actually reviewing a book.

Saying that, I tend to agree that most reviews these days seem...biased to some degree.

Lucizzz
11-29-2006, 06:30 AM
A lot of paid reviews are written by published authors, who will in turn be reviewed by the authors they're reviewing. In Australia the publishing industry is very small, so is a professional really going to write a critical review of an author they'll be bumping into next week?

And some genres are just about never reviewed in newspapers or literary journals. They figure that the "type" of people who read fantasy etc don't read reviews, so why bother?

Online is free of that kind of snobbery - and you can access the reviews of people on the other side of the world, with no connection to the author. (Though there are at times very obvious PR reviews).