Or so the saying goes.
Last night I attended the monthly meeting for the mag for which I review books. I came away with a nice little haul. The Comic Book Encyclopedia and Al Williamson: Hidden Lands should be good, informative fun for an old comic book geek like me. The Resurrected Man looks like solid classic SF by an Australian. Strangely, I'm hard pressed to think of anything I've read by an Australian. But I'm sure I'm just forgetting someone. The Anthony Kiedis bio Scar Tissue and the novel The Bones look fun, too.
After picking, all us "critics" went around the table to pontificate on what we liked and did not like for the next issue. Things we don't like are automatically not reviewed, with some limited exceptions made for a work by a normally well regarded author who churns out a piece of garbage. This is not unusual for magazines; in fact most mags won't accept freelance negative reviews.
Which got me thinking. What are the purpose of reviews? Michael Dirda, Washington Bookworld critic, once said he only reviews books he likes because he can't see taking up space just to slam something he didn't care for. Ok, I can understand that view. But I do think negative reviews serve a purpose.
Personally, I enjoy reading negative reviews. Often times they are the most revealing of the critics tastes and perspective, and I know I have more fun writing negative reviews than a luke-warm one. They can also serve as an interesting record for the artistic taste for the time. And, as an author of sorts, I hope to receive fair and inightful reviews, be they positive or negative. Reviews can be a chance for that author to improve on his/her mistakes the next time around.
But as I finally read through the most recent issue of Book World, I see it's filled with luke-warm reviews of all types of books. Am I off on this? Is there something wrong with simply stating a book is not good, and why? Maybe it's just me, but I just think a critic should say what they think. It can come off a little like a beginning critique group: "I like your characters, I'm just not sure who they are." Wishy-washy comments tell us nothing. Stand up and scream out your hatred to the world!
Ah well. When I create my own utopia....