Saturday, July 26, 2008

Negative Reviews Redux

OK, so now I've got three at least mildly negative reviews queued up to write -- all by writers I like, all I somewhat enjoyed, but all that have what look to me like serious flaws. (I've also got two mostly positive reviews I need to write; I've gotten far behind on the non-comics part of my reading.) And I'm not going to say what any of those books are, before I write them, since one of the reasons I write about books is to work out precisely what I do think about them.

I said a lot of what I wanted to say about negativity in On Bad Reviews, so I won't repeat that here. But I do think I am being more critical (in public, at least) than I used to be -- I don't have a professional connection to the field at the moment (but if anyone wants to drag me back in, just call me) and so only honesty and common human decency is restraining me now.

So there might be an element of bounceback here -- I spent a decade just saying nice things about SFF books in public, at the SFBC, and now I have a chance to be somewhat more critical outside of discussions in the office and at conventions. It's like when someone pushes down on your outstretched arm for a few minutes; when they stop, your arm rises without conscious thought.

But every book I review is a book I read all the way to the end, and every book I argue with is a book that made me think, and made me want to argue with it. I'm a strong believer in the old saw that a novel is a long piece of prose with something wrong with it; every novel has a flaw. Some flaws are bigger than others, and some are more important than others. But there are no perfect novels in this world, so every honest review of a novel will have some criticism in it.

Book reviewing is a weird world, polarized between attacks and slavish praise without all that much in between. The SF end of it is generally polite and pleasant, but it also slides into the "slavish praise" on occasion. (We haven't seen all that much in the way of attacks in recent years; we don't have a James Wood in our area.) And I'm not claiming to be better or more pure than anybody; I'm just a guy with a blog who reads books and then thinks too much about them.

I guess what I'm saying is that writing at length about a book means that it's being taken seriously, and that's something that should be noted, even if the attention isn't entirely laudatory.

Anyway, I hope I can get to some of those before I have to head off on another business trip next weekend. And I hope no one will take it personally if any of them get more critical than I expect them to.

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