Banning Negative Book Reviews
When someone sent me this New York Times link over the weekend about banning negative book reviews I thought I might have misread it, so I read it again. And then again. The article stems from another article about the new books editor at BuzzFeed, Isaac Fitzgerald. One quote from Fiztgerald about negative book reviews seems to have started another interesting discussion about book reviews.
BuzzFeed will do book reviews, Fitzgerald said, but he hasn’t figured out yet what form they’ll take. It won’t do negative reviews: “Why waste breath talking smack about something?” he said. “You see it in so many old media-type places, the scathing takedown rip.” Fitzgerald said people in the online books community “understand that about books, that it is something that people have worked incredibly hard on, and they respect that. The overwhelming online books community is a positive place.”
Looking at this as a blogger, and speaking in terms of “old media-type places,” I recently reviewed James Franco’s most recent novel and I was amazed at how many old media types slammed his novel and talked smack. And it wasn’t just slamming his novel, they were slamming him as an author. In other words, because they didn’t “get” his book they decided to comment on his fame as a celebrity. And books reviews are not about authors, they are about books. Period. If they were about authors they would be called author reviews, not book reviews. And even though I do know of one web site in particular that gears all of its reviews toward authors…even the title of the blog is about authors, not books…the fact remains the best book reviewers know how to separate themselves from the author and focus only on the books. You can read more here about Fitzgerald.
In any event, Fitzgerald’s comment sparked this next piece in the New York Times, which you can read here. It’s an op-ed piece that I guess you could say “discusses” what Fitzgerald said about no more negative book reviews. Keep in mind, the New York Times is an old media-type place that some claim has lost a good deal of readership because it’s been slow to keep up with what readers want. Fitzgerald is a new breed of editor who sounds like he isn’t buying into the old time BS old media outlets shoved down readers throats.
The New York Times piece seems to suggest there is money lurking in the background behind the no negative review theory:
Let’s think about the click-through rate for that item: How much commission do you think the referrer — BuzzFeed in our hypothetical case — would earn for its brutal takedown of a book by “a brittle little dominatrix?” Actually, don’t answer that question, answer this one: How meaningless does a five-star review seem now?
I have no strong comments on either article, but I do have a few comments on book reviews. When you start discussing book reviews you often get into freedom of speech issues, too. I know that’s taking this to a different level, but it can’t be avoided. So if negative book reviews are banned from a given web site, what is that saying about freedom of speech? Or, even better, how could you trust a web site that only gives good reviews? Or, for that matter, only gives bad reviews? Shouldn’t there be a balance? The very core of book reviewing is about subjectivity, not objectivity.
The issue with book reviews in general shouldn’t be about negative or positive. It should be more about authenticity. There is one very well known web site reviewing books that has been linked to a public relations firm that represents a nice little handful of bestselling authors. This web site tends to review all the bestselling authors repped by the PR firm with rave reviews, and then slams and makes fools out of unknown authors just for pure sport. They not only garner hits from the good reviews, they garner even more hits from bad reviews by attracting every wing nut in cyberspace. And what happens is no one is getting an honest review about any of the books on the web site…only most people don’t know about this. It’s all kept so quiet you have to do more than just a simple search to find the details. Who has time for that? And the person running the web site knows it.
And then there are the authors who are paying for five star book reviews in large quantities. I’m not talking about Mary S. Jones, Young Adult author who gets her husband to fake one or two good reviews for her book, that doesn’t even count anymore…or make one bit of difference in the grand scheme of book reviewing corruption. Poor Mary’s feeling guilty about it and no one even cares. I’m talking about those cutthroat authors who run to fivver.com and other places with an aggressive marketing strategy geared toward giving them (and their books, although I think it’s usually more about them) the best possible reviews at the lowest cost. The places that write these five star reviews are making small fortunes in the old Wild West days of the Internet. This is so common you don’t need to do an in-depth search on the topic. I’m not even linking because there have been so many allegations. We all know it happens. It’s part of life nowadays. Look both ways before you cross the street.
So the problem isn’t about five star rave book reviews or one star smack book reviews. It’s more about the corruption within book reviewing in general nowadays that not only mocks the concept of freedom of speech, but also the very essence of reader perception. As a reader and blogger, I like to know that I can review a book honestly, whether I like it or not. I don’t see that changing anytime soon and I think honest book reviewers will all agree with me. There are many honest book reviews out there, both good and bad. In the meantime, it’s just getting harder and harder for readers to vet books according to reviews. But once you figure out how the corruption works it does get easier. You just have to know it’s there and you have to be aware of it when you’re making a book purchase.
Both articles I linked to above are worth reading. Not so much for the opinions, but more so for the content in a general sense because neither one presents any great or profound arguments. It will just give you a better example of how we’re being manipulated on all sides as readers, authors, and bloggers these days. And we all are affected by it…even authors. I know as an author I would rather have an honest review, good or bad, than one with a hidden agenda.
Maria Bello Comes Out
The best part about this next piece is that I’m not all that excited. I don’t mean that in a snarky way either. So many high profile people have been coming out it’s becoming so commonplace I think we’re headed toward a time when it’s not even going to be news anymore.
Maria Bello has come out as gay and has a girlfriend.
The “A History of Violence” actress wrote about telling her 12-year-old son Jackson that she was romantically involved with a woman he knew, Clare.
Notice how they say she “came out as gay.” Am I the only one who finds that entertaining? What else would she come out as? A cocker spaniel?
Tom Daley Comes Out
Sorry for this little bit of snark, but to be honest, I wouldn’t know who Tom Daley even was if I hadn’t seen this link. But he’s also just come out (as gay) and he did it with an “emotional” youtube video. For those like me who don’t know, he’s a British Olympic diver.
Daley, 19, says in the video, “Come spring this year, my life changed massively when I met someone and it made me feel so happy, so safe and everything just feels great. And that someone is a guy.”
Stay tuned for upcoming posts on celebrity gardeners coming out (as gay).