The endless discussion concerning the worth or lack thereof of online book reviews has been resuscitated yet again. Gabe Chouinard wrote a post on the subject while reviewing Sean Williams' The Crooked Letter. If you frequent most of the big fantasy message boards, you are probably aware of this ongoing debate. But since many people here are not active members of any message boards, I thought that this could be of interest.
Ken (The Neth Space) has done a good job coming up with all the links. If you are interested in learning more, check it out here. As for me, this thing was old months ago. So I feel no urge to jump in and add my two cents.
Personally, I review books based on a set of criteria that make or break novels for me. Am I better than anyone else? You tell me. I have no pretention to be. I do my own thing, that's all. And considering the number of people stopping by every week, I believe it's safe to assume that a vast number of readers have come to enjoy my style and trust my judgement. To me, a review should tell me if the book is good or not, and elaborate on exactly why that's the case. I understand Gabe Chouinard and Larry's (Dylanfanatic) point of view. They would like reviews to go beyond the novel, beyond the story. They want reviews to explore the underlying themes, reviews that break down the plot and put its components under the microscope. Finally, after undergoing that process, reviewers should write an eloquent piece that will expose what they have unearthed. A worthwhile endeavor, no doubt. Why can't there be more reviews like this? they wonder.
The truth is quite simple. Because 99% of readers basically don't give a fuck. It's all about the books and their stories. It's about the characters that come alive. It's about tales that capture our imagination. It's about the reading experience. I think that some reviewers suffer from self-delusion when it comes to their apparent self-importance.
At heart, although publishers consider me an "official" book reviewer, I'm still just a fan of the genre. I've been a fan for more than two decades, so applying a new label on my person won't change that. I'm still one of the guys. And as such, I write reviews for the fans. This blog's objective has always been to spread the word about all that's good in the fantasy/scifi/speculative fiction genres, and to raise awareness in books and authors that deserve to get more exposure. It's never been about me. Who am I, anyway? It's the books and the authors who write them that matter.
What do I consider a good review? Something that let's me know the strengths and weaknesses of a novel, for one thing. Something that will hopefully pique my curiosity. Something that let's me know if this book is worth buying or not, or if I should just wait for the paperback. Reviewers who ramble on about underlying themes and write a piece that is akin to a philosophical essay lose me by the second paragraph. This stuff just makes me want to commit suicide. If you read my book reviews, you are aware that I always attempt to break down a book based on worldbuilding, characterization, pace, prose, storylines, and overall quality. It might not be the case for everyone, but that's what I look for in a book.
I can't stand John Clute. Sue me. Also, I can't read a review by Harriet Klausner without feeling nauseous. In the end, I think that it's the readers who decide what they're looking for in a reviewer. I'm persuaded that it's all about the style of his or her reviews and, more importantly, in the trust they have in his or her judgement. I enjoy Rob Bedford and William Lexner's styles and I have come to rely on their opinion. Because they're better reviewers than the others out there? No. Simply because we have similar tastes in books and because their reviews scratch my itch.
As for "fan" reviews having no credibility, I beg to differ. While it's true that a majority of them are not necessarily well-written and could be a little more concise, I always enjoy discovering what people have to say about books I've reviewed. Why? Because these guys and gals didn't get a free copy or an ARC from the publisher. They don't have access to the author or his or her editors. What gives them a credibility that no "official" reviewer possesses is the fact that they have paid 30$ and more of their hard-earned money to purchase a book, oft-times based on one of our "official" reviews. Book reviewers don't move books. Fans, however, do. Some of us would like to think that we play a major role in the process, but do you sincerely believe that people like Jay Tomio and I created that enormous buzz surrounding Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora on Westeros? Sure, along with Ran we got the ball rolling. But it's when the fans got on the bandwagon that things began to snowball. Hence, fan reviews have their place, and I encourage fans to keep posting their reviews on every message board. Just a suggestion: you might want to run a spelling and grammar check before posting it, though!;-)
Hmmm. . . I did say I wasn't going to say anything about this debate. . . So I figure I better shut up now! Click on the link at the beginning of this mini-rant to see what the noise is all about!:-)