Conversational Reading: Negative Reviews, And the Virtues of Writing Short Reviews
The publication Kirkus Reviews
has folded and at the internet funeral everyone is discussing Kirkus' penchant for publishing negative reviews. Basically they told it as it is. If a book was bad, they said so. This made them nearly unique as no one else these days publishes bad reviews of books.
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I've never really agreed with the idea of only publishing positive reviews. I know the arguments in favor of it, but I don't find them persuasive, especially since if you happen to be in the position of finding out you don't like the book you're reviewing, you're out of luck.
Still, though I can understand how positive-only reviews make sense for certain venues. But where said idea moves from simply something I disagree with to blatant idiocy would be in the case of something like a Kirkus, which sought to be as comprehensive as possible in its coverage. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if the majority of Kirkus's reviews weren't either so-so or outright negative, I'd be looking for fraud somewhere. Or to put it another way, I have no idea why anyone would expect anything other than for Kirkus to publish a lot of negative reviews. But I guess in today's book reviewing climate, the fact that a publication that reviews a sizable fraction of everything published in a year would go negative with some regularity is surprising.
To digress briefly, I think the preponderance of positive reviews is a real liability of our incipient non-mainstream book review culture. There's a definite sense of honoring the effort, and of giving points simply for the sake of being a small publisher and trying to do something different. And all-too-often I get the sense that a reviewer wants to interpret the book more than critique it (i.e. coming to the text with the expectation that it will be good.) Granted, reviewers should keep an open mind, and it's certainly worthy of respect that a publisher is trying to upend the dominant culture, but letting this goodwill cross over into brownie points on a review is a bad thing.
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