Thursday, January 13, 2005

Those Who Can't Write Become Critics

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....



Anonymous said...

My favorite negative review was by Salman Rushdie for a book by Umberto Eco (can't remember the name of the book! It does fall into that catergory of a normally great writer who falls short), in which all he did was use quotes from the book for the entire length of the review, showing how poorly it was written. Brillantly devious!


LadyLitBlitzin said...

Damn, I'm about to go buy that Kiedis bio and you're getting it for free! Lucky. ;) In all seriousness, I've heard it's good.

I think there's definitely a place for a bad review. I mean, in the end it is all opinion (like my decision to see White Noise despite the crappy reviews -- which ended up being correct, ha), but really, I guess I'd like a heads up if something sucks. I mean, The Da Vinci Code could have used a heads up. Haha. I always have to harp on that book but I truly hate it that much.

Opinion is a funny thing, though. I'm sure I could go further with that one... but I'm not sure where to go with it. ;) I tend to take reviews with a grain of salt.

Hebdomeros said...

The wonderful thing, though, is to find critics you like. Dirda's reviews are wonderful, and have often pushed me to read things I never would have otherwise. And I've almost always been pleased. I also like Paul Di Fillipo's reviews for sci fi and fantasy (and he can get quite scathing when he wants to).

On the opposite, if Jonathan Yardley in the Post really hates something, I usually check it out!

Hebdomeros said...

Oh yeah...and it's nice to get books for free. :)

Jen said...

I usually read negative reviews rather than positive ones. If something pleases you, usually it does not need defending; it's more difficult to ascertain (and then coherently defend) what has failed about something.

I coincidently did check out The Mothman Prophecies from the library last night and read a few chapters before bed. Then, I rushed to turn the light off and cowered underneath the sheets. :)

Hebdomeros said...

Cool! Let me know if it's worth reading.