Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Are book reviews going the way of the dinosaur? I'm not talking about the blurb plus excerpts found in the Anchorage Daily News or the friend-enemy-relative customer reviews on Amazon. I'm talking about (dare I say it?) the old-fashioned kind, where an accomplished writer presents a thoughtful analysis that helps you decide whether the book is one you'd like to read.
Some writers hate reviews and refuse to read them. Others embrace them, even though critical reviews are rarely all about praise. I'm among the latter. But the conflicting views of writers have been around for ages, and (if you ask them) no one listens to them anyhow, so that doesn't explain the demise of the review.
The proliferation of ways for Jane Reader to get her opinions before the public surely has something to do with it. Blogs, book shopping web sites, online reading sites like Shelfari and GoodReads - there and elsewhere on the web, everyone gets a shot at being a reviewer. It's a natural result not just of web 2.0 technology but also the reader response theory I embraced as a teacher: readers bring their own experiences to books, and what resonates for one may not resonate for others. Taken to the extreme, it could perhaps be argued there's no such this as a good book - or a bad one.
Another issue for reviewers is the proliferation of self-pubbed books. With so many books to choose from, you'd think we'd need reviews more than ever. But the effect has been the opposite. I've been told the ADN's decision to do excerpts instead of reviews was made in part because they didn't want to have to pick and choose among Alaskan authors, many of whom had laid out not just sweat and tears but also cold hard cash to see their books in print. Big reviewers like Publisher's Weekly and Booklist don't have a problem with picking and choosing what they'll review. But maybe it's tougher up here, where often the author is, if not a friend, then the friend of a friend.
So, does anyone miss reviews? Specifically, would you like to read book reviews here at 49 writers? Authors send us their books, and we like books, but we're not sure what to do with them. I've been fortunate to review for the Washington Post Book World and also Bookforum. I enjoy the intellectual challenge of distilling a book to its essence and crafting an analysis in 600 words or less. But writing reviews takes time. Lots of it.
Talk to us. If you'd like reviews here, reviews that offer a uniquely Northern perspective on Northern books, we'll see if we can assemble a cadre of reviewers to tackle the books authors send us. But if it's time for reviews to go the way of the dinosaur, who are we to stand in the way?
Posted by Deb Vanasse at 6:44 AM