The irony of the book world is that everybody writes about it, but hardly anyone pays attention to it. Most Americans will read less than five books this year, (many of which will be written by right wing talk-show hosts)
and literate book reviews, even glowing ones, wonâ€™t have much of an effect of consumer sales. Reviews have some influence on the people who make decisions about what books appear where in a bookstore, but for the most part, book sales are a result of national television hits, blurbs in magazines, half-baked marketing plans, and word of mouth. For all the piss and vinegar, literary book reviews are the equivalent of academic papers about â€œothernessâ€ from midwestern American Studies departments. They really donâ€™t matter. They donâ€™t have a cultural impact, and they donâ€™t affect the economics of the business.
So knowing this, what should we expect from a book reviewer? I think Heidiâ€™s right — we should expect them to engage the book. And considering how few books we are reading to begin with, it might be better for them to spend less time attacking earnest writers and more time explaining to us exactly why a book is worth seeking out.
Yes, that’s probably true. But I’d still like to see a review of a book that’s highly critical — one that points out serious flaws in the book — but that is also respectful of the writer’s intent. Something negative that doesn’t qualify as snark. I’m sure there are lots out there. So if anyone can think of a good bad review, please drop me a line at stephka at eastlink dot ca.