Amongst all the debate about Kathleen Hale’s piece in the Guardian and the Goodreads reviewer allegedly* hit over the head with a bottle by an enraged author, I want to put my emphasis on the positive aspects of reading and reviewing.
*it is under police investigation at present
10 reasons to review – with examples
- Finding works and writers you never expected – Gail Carriger’s Etiquette & Espionage, China Mieville’s Railsea, Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne Trilogy, Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who …series
- Seeing authors grow and change over time – Frances Hardinge, Chris Priestley, Celia Rees, Jonathan Stroud
- Developing relationships within the community – readers, writers, publicists, editors. Chutzpah pays off. My experience so far has been overwhelmingly good. I love it when I tweet or comment and make someone’s day – or I get hold of a book I really wanted.
- Improving your understanding of the book market. I’ve much more idea of age-ranges, the style of different imprints and the likely readership than I had before.
- Matching the right book with the right reader. I cannot emphasise this enough. A reviewer’s purpose is to unite the people who like that-sort-of-thing with their preferred reading material. It’s not for me to judge – the thing’s been written. I know what love and care goes into the vast majority of writing for young people that I read – what earthly good could come of me slagging it off?
- Investigating good and sometimes great writing. How does it work? What can I steal? [ Please don’t take that too literally] Even with works that really aren’t my thing, I have learned a lot by thinking about why.
- Inspiring me to write. We’re all ‘just adding pebbles to the cairn’ as Maeve Binchy put it so beautifully. Not rivals – fellow creators.
- Receiving books for free – how wonderful is that? If I can bear to, I pass appropriate ones to my local library – doubly pleasing.
- Occasionally getting books well before they come out. I feel so honoured when that happens. Hint hint publishers!
…or why I continue to review other people’s books.
I found Jane Friedman’s piece: How Long Should You Keep Trying to Get Published? convincing and useful. As you do, I read other articles on Writing on the Ether and came across this one written by journalist and critic Porter Anderson:
I put up with the annoying adverts and read it. I thought about what he said a lot:
Maybe it’s because many authors are only now beginning to grapple with the realities of a business world.
That struck home. And:
And vendors — in this case, authors — can never be seen as unbiased and fair if they’re evaluating and holding forth on each other’s work.
But then I thought longer.
I thought of the lovely Maeve Binchy . She saw us writers as all putting another stone on the cairn, building up our collective work.
We are not rivals – we’re fellow workers.
I am comfortable reviewing Candy Gourlay’s work because I will never write like her. People looking for work like hers won’t switch to mine no matter what I said.
And it wouldn’t even matter if I comment on someone sort-of similar, Frances Hardinge say. She will probably produce a book a year – and so will I. Fans of either us will read more than one book a year I think – so they might like both. No conflict of interest – real or perceived – in my view.
Another way of looking at this: I want a knee surgeon to comment on the effectiveness of a recent eye operation. I’m more than happy for the owner of a fish-and-chip shop to give her evaluation of Jamie Oliver’s 15. Especially if they tell me what they do as part of that review.
It’s what Joanne Harris said – we know what we’re talking about. You can chat to Joanne on Twitter – and I do – and there is no agenda. She has no need or wish to hide, dissimulate or do anyone else’s writing down.
Of course, I was shocked and saddened by the sock-puppetry scandal. I wrote about this and Roger Ellory in a previous article. It genuinely made me cry. But it’s like No Cycling signs: the beggars who are going to knock old ladies over will ignore the signs – and the ones that obey would take care anyway.
On a more philosophical note, I have another objection to his stand –
Politicians, the smart ones, learn to do all they can to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest, even if they have no such actual conflict.
I hate the concept ‘seen to be doing the right thing’. Just do the right thing.
Concern about appearances leads to tick box sheets and checking up on them – not the thing itself. It’s how we get nurses so busy filling in forms they haven’t time to care. It’s how we get teachers so busy planning by day, week and term they are too tired to respond and adapt to changing circumstances – and marked down if they do.
That would be why you’d get mealy-mouthed comments – more concerned with appearance than honesty.
So I stand by my reviews.
I will continue to do the right thing.