Sunday, February 17, 2008

Positive Reviewing: a Cultural Error

Daniel Green at The Reading Experience responds to my post on positive/negative blog reviewing by stating that he too (even he) tends to avoid reviewing small press publications negatively and those authors he thinks 'vulnerable' (although he says that if enough writers tell him that they agree with me that they'd prefer a negative review to none at all, then he'll consider changing his reviewing policy).

Well, here are my thoughts on the matter after these last few days' discussions:

Firstly, in my opinion a concern with the 'author' and the author's feelings is quite misplaced in any serious literary debate (and is in danger of playing into the cult of personality). Any serious critic should be concerned foremost with literature, with books and with the more general issues of literary culture, and serious writers worth their salt know that the books they have written, once they are published, are entities separate from themselves, indeed no longer their personal properties but the property of others and components of a wider literary culture.

Perhaps some reviewers are not so concerned with an authors' feelings but worry rather that a bad review will stop a book selling. This concern is founded on the assumption that anyone reading a bad review will be put off even looking at a book. But it's a breathtaking patronization of readers to assume that they'll swallow wholesale a blogger's views. As some commenters have said, they are often prompted by a bad review to read a book and are not only pleasantly surprised but provoked to write a contradictory, positive review. Susan Hill however has stated that she has noted 'lemming' behaviour among bloggers - I hope she's not right. Someone somewhere during this week's discussion (can't find it at the moment, I'm sorry) quoted an American study which showed that while negative reviews do not push up the sales of books as much as positive reviews, they do nevertheless push them up.

Clearly, as I have said, bloggers have every right to set their own agendas, but it seems to me that litblogging can only be a creative force in literary culture (and not just a handmaiden to publishing marketing departments) if it embraces for discussion all aspects of that culture, and I cannot but think that suppressing books and withholding information (for an author's or a book's so-called 'good') is not only too dangerously like benign dictatorship for comfort but culturally pretty well mistaken.
Post a Comment