Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Blogging about versus Reviewing the Book

I just read 13 Common Mistakes in Book Reviewing and How to Avoid Them by Jay A. Fernandez, and ran across this item:
So it follows that every statement is an opinion of yours. Trust me, more authority is communicated through a confident omnipotent voice than through narrow personal asides that the reader has no reason to consider.
I laughed and laughed. Wow, thought I, this dude's never, ever been on the internet before! As an opinionated old cuss, I've run afoul of the "HOW DARE YOU" folk many a time, and not one of my friends is innocent of joining in at some point. But the annoyance to me has always been the troublesome assumption that if one disagrees with a point of view, it must be wrong, and the person expressing is therefore Wrong and Must Be Corrected.

Factual errors should be pointed out, preferably politely; but no one is Wrong about their opinion. It's impossible. It's their own opinion. Your disagreement with same is, with the greatest possible respect, irrelevant. An interesting and spirited discussion can be had over the said opinion. But converting others to one's point of view is a side-effect, not a goal, of the spirited discussion.

Unless it's y'all misguided dupes who insist on venerating Chuckles the Dick. That's a failure of intellect and must be rooted out with vigorous and pitiless applications of contumely. But, this being self-evident, it need not be belabored.

Then the author of the piece wrote this:
If it reads as if it’s been written for a blog, then it belongs on a blog.
So...no blogger can be a real critic? I beg to differ, sir! Though on sober reflection I came to the quite simple realization that I was misreading the entire article.

It's not about people reviewing books, it's about Book Reviewers. Those paid to do the job. The pros, the vanishing tiny cadre of them remaining.


That's very different. Never mind.

Careful reading is so often, in my experience, about the willingness to revisit your conclusions. Reread your source material. Re-evaluate the entire focus of your reading...are you reading for analytical reasons or for the experience of the story? Both are valid, of course, and each can lead to wonderful reviews. So can any of the many other prompts to read a story. Too often, I find, I switch reading gears and so lead myself astray by not clarifying in my own mind why I want to write about a book. And this article put my mental finger on the source of the problem for me: Focus.

As always. Focus. I'm a blogger, not a Book Reviewer. I do my best to explain my opinion in such a way as to make it relevant to your search for the next great read from your immense number of choices. I don't think that's Book Criticism. I don't think it's pointless or useless, either, and am always thinking about how to express my opinion in such a way as to make your experience of it helpful and/or useful.

If people keep reading my ideas, I guess I've succeeded.

This BookMarks piece about Gabino Iglesias (follow him on Twitter!) has him making what I consider to be the pithiest distillation of the issues besetting the bookish world:
We have to share the term, but a two-line review on Goodreads and a nuanced deconstruction and analysis of a text that contextualizes a narrative within a genre or genres and the culture at large is not the same thing.
We need a new word for what bloggers do. My aim is to give you some help winnowing the immense and ever-growing choices for your reading pleasure. I assume you're already a reader. Why else would you even have heard of me? I'm not going to pretend I'm anything but an amateur...but the space I occupy is weirdly threatening to professionals:
You need to read, write, and then distribute your criticism. And you have to keep it short and punchy. Write a long review and you will lose your readers because you're competing with Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for their attention. This has sadly led to venues dropping criticism. ... {W}e have the best free platforms and yet can't get people to read criticism as much as we'd like to. I hope we crack that code soon.
My audience isn't large, but y'all are book readers. The audiences Iglesias and other professionals write for are larger, more general-interest readers. The two are intersecting less and less often, and that makes me both sad and worried. The internet has been a boon to me personally; I am painfully aware that's not so for everyone everywhere. It's so new, so unprecedented in human history, that I'm not surprised there are kinks to work out.

It's important to me personally that the old tech of the book and the new tech of the screen play together nicely. There is too much at stake for them not to.

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