It happens with regularity. A newly published book will receive a negative or even a mixed review in a major newspaper or magazine (the New York Times is the usual culprit). Soon enough, there is outrage among authors — on Twitter, on Facebook, in letters to the editor. How does the outlet choose their reviewers, how dare they have given the assignment to such a terrible person, how could they run such a review?
Yo no escribo libros ni reseñas, pero me muevo en el mundo académico y debo escribir o evaluar artículos, tengo que trabajar en grupo. En estos espacios la crítica y cómo se hace esta es un tema sensible. Necesitamos educarnos para la crítica (para hacerla y para recibirla). Estoy completamente de acuerdo de que uno sí espera un feedback nutrido y justo, porque creo que ahí se construye el diálogo y la construcción en equipo, se camina junto. Y nuevamente, saberlo hacer y saberlo recibir... qué difícil!!
Me encanta leer tus textos, hace poco te descubrí. Qué manera de hablar de la academia y de la creatividad en ella. Gracias :)
Such interesting timing, I listened to a podcast last night where Adam Grant was talking about the reviews for a piece he put out last year on Languishing. (not a book, just an article and a TED talk I think). But what he said was that when he puts out a book, he's looking for those "negative" reviews becuase he can learn a lot from the people that disagree with him. When he put this piece out everyone was just agreeing with it and it made him crazy until Austin Kleon actually wrote a piece on why he was totally wrong.
I've never published a book, so I can't imagine how it feels. But I do always take to heart what Brene Brown says - take feedback from people who are also "in the arena", putting their work out in the world, not just those sitting in the cheap seats and throwing darts.
As a reader, I think I often find anymore when I see something about a book I try to find a podcast or somewhere where the author is intereviewed and then I go from there to the book (unless it's an author i already know). Is this changing the business of book reviews? I don't know - maybe? Anyway, I don't disagree with you. I think a thoughtful review is just that. I think it's most helpful when they say "this is what this book is - and this is what this book isn't" rather than "this is good and this is bad". That tells me a lot more about whether I want to read the book or not.
Thanks for such a great piece! I love your reviews.
As a one-time critic I completely agree about the value of negative and mixed reviews. I remember dishing out these same arguments ("That's what ads are for") to creator friends who felt only positive reviews should be published. And it's very true that a lengthy, thoughtful review is an act of love, or at least of sustained attention so rare it should really be more flattering than flattery. (*Should* be!) My last argument was always that, in marketing terms (which authors do care about even if they pretend they don't), even negative attention in a national outlet is better than none; consumers tend to buy based on name recognition and forget the valence of what is said. From the author's POV, this is less soothing than it should be.
IMO, social media has made the fraught relationship between author and critic especially shitty for everyone. At the Chicago Tribune, I noticed that my positive reviews got boosted by the paper's social media, authors tagged, and shared widely. Negative reviews got tweeted once and allowed to flow quickly downstream. So there was positive upward pressure there, even though it was never stated. (My editor's one direct request was that if I strongly disliked a debut, I choose something else to review. That seems like a fair concession to me.)
One thing I don't see you considering here is that the "many people reviewing" thing is just not true in a meaningful way anymore. The outlets for serious reviews (especially long or mid-length) have been vanishing for a long time. Most critics these days are writing for $50-a-pop websites, or for free. This means fewer reviews with less expertise, and each review with a major outlet counts for much more than it used to. At the same time, authors are *inundated* with non-professional consumer reviews that are not only brutally honest (as they are entitled to be! even the DNFs and otherwise frustratingly ill-informed reviews) but aggressively jockeying for our attention, as in the hilarious "flagged in a three-star review" phenomenon authors talk about constantly. Everyone's got a brand to push. This should make us value the honest, considered opinions of real reviewers more than ever, but in practice it makes authors extra sensitive. We long for validation to salve our Goodreads-inflicted wounds. (Insert high-profile recent example of author exhibiting unflattering degree of touchiness around Goodreads, lol.)
All that said, sometimes I REALLY MISS being able to share my real opinions on books in public. I could say a lot more about the conflicts of interest thing, but this comment is already way too long!..
Such a great piece! Thought-provoking as usual. It makes you want to write a review on it.