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Friday, 30 March 2018


When an author presents his newly published book to the reading public, he is invariably taking a risk. He is leaving himself vulnerable to the whims and vagaries of the reviewing cadre. Many writers also write reviews and they generally understand the psychological niceties. But many reviewers are not writers. Nevertheless, for the most part they tend to responsible and fair-minded. Criticism from these, positive or negative, is tolerable even to the most thin-skinned writer.

There is that small coterie of reviewers, however, who believe that their job is to find a weakness in a work and spend the bulk of their review focussed on that. It may well be that such negative reviewing is in some way related to the reviewer’s ego, but I cannot be sure about that. To my mind, however, it is a very poor way to review a whole book.

Having written something in the region of 120 reviews, I have unconsciously developed an approach to reviewing which might well be something reviewers should consider. Some books, of course, are so badly written, so poorly structured, so lacking in plot or coherence, that the only approach is simply not to review them. But if a book passes muster and is worth reviewing, then the following points should be part of a reviewer’s thinking:
1. The writer has expended a lot of time and energy on his work. Respect that and offer positive feedback where possible.

2. The writer will have written this book with a specific intention. Figure out what that is and assess the extent to which he has achieved his purpose

3. To achieve his aims, the writer will have set his book in a specific milieu. Don’t complain about this milieu, arguing that you don’t like it. Review what’s there, and it’s relationship to the author’s purpose. You own preferences are irrelevant.

4. The writer will have established a set of values for his characters. If you find these diametrically opposed to your own values, don’t sneer or mock them. You must put your own predilections on hold and review what’s there. You can question their relevance, but if they are part of the fabric of the story, do not criticise or belittle them.

5. Then, of course, there are the standard areas that might find mention in a good review – the quality of the writing, characterisation, complexity of plot, structure, story-telling ability, originality, coherence. All of these areas do merit examination by a reviewer and, should there are genuine weaknesses here, then by all means, they should be pointed out.

These few thoughts were prompted by a comment I read in a review a few days ago.

“.... was not exactly the right book for me. It is a much better book for someone who is more religiously inclined ... While I do feel like the elements, its rituals and beliefs, felt real enough, I had trouble taking them seriously. There were several times during the book, with earnest dialogue between characters, that I found myself giggling and scolding myself with a firm "Yep, yep, you're definitely going to Hell." (The bold lines are the reviewer’s)

This is a perfect example of the kind of comment reviewers should avoid. It is clearly snide, panders to the reviewer’s own ego, and attempts to impose values that are irrelevant to those of the story. It offers nothing constructive for the author to consider and, indeed, seeks to present the story in a very poor light.

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