As various scandals have erupted in the SF/F and romance reviewing world over the last months, I’ve been (re) thinking what I believe about reviews.
In particular, I’ve been noticing that I read a lot of books, and I talk about books with friends and colleagues in person, on chat and email, and out on Twitter. So I may as well do it here.
Starting tomorrow, I’m going to post at least one book review a week.
In some cases, I know the authors personally. In others, I picked up their books either because someone else had talked about them, or because I saw commentary from the authors themselves. I’m a reader, a writer, and part of a community of writers, so there’s no escaping some kind of relationship to each and every writer.
I’m going to begin each review by talking about how I first heard of the author or book, and what my relationship is both to them and to the subject matter.
I’m going to write reviews on this blog both as reader and writer. The flaws and glories of other folks’ work teach me how to do my own, or give me ideas, and that’s an important part of what I bring to reviewing. I also post reviews on Amazon and other reader-focused spaces; there, I write as a reader for the most part.
The place I begin with both kinds of reviews is the first step of Liz Lerman’s Critical Response framework. I talk about the details of a story that resonate with me, what they bring up for me in feeling and association, and how I experience the work as a reader.
Years ago, I had a very fine reviewer who said, “I’m an English guy, so I’m supposed to be stiff upper lip and all, but this part here made me cry.”
Reviewing in our full humanity as readers is a vulnerable place, yet it’s the place where one reader can speak to another. It’s the place where readers can say, “Wow, this is very specifically what I loved, and how I connected to these characters.” It’s the beginning of literary community.
One of the things I love about fannish spaces is the unabashed feeling for characters, worlds, and stories. I’ve learned a lot as a writer from listening to fans: what they watch in character arcs, relationship arcs, and world-building. Watching fan theorists take a work apart and find its flaws is illuminating; it made me resolve to put my craft on the firmest possible foundation out of respect for readers.
Oh, and let’s not forget fear of embarrassment. 😉
Reaction to stereotypes, to unexamined assumptions, to the punch-in-the-face a reader gets from a writer that doesn’t see them as human, that’s legitimate too. That’s something I do in beta reading, and I consider it well within the scope of ethical reviewing.
The thing that’s not legitimate is attacking the writer personally. Books don’t change; they are artifacts. Writers are people.
Even if I might not like what they wrote, and say so.
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