One of many observations I’ve made since I began blogging is the circular nature of so much of the discussion. A topic gets hot, is talked about endlessly, dies for a while, and is resurrected again to begin the whole process anew. One such topic (and one that seems to always inspire a reaction from me) is that on reviewing in general, and specifically the quality of on-line reviews and on-line versus print reviews. I most recently mentioned this only yesterday, but dig deep enough and you’ll fine a lot of discussion around the time preceding Scalpel’s ill-fated launch, and another round some months prior, etc. Each of these incarnations may have a slightly different focus, but it all seems to be part of the same on-going discussion.
The latest entries in the newest round (which has been building in response to a panel at Readercon) are actually somewhat anomalous – these most interesting contributions seem to be voices of reason (at least from my admittedly biased view). Paul Kincaid dissects the argument that on-line and print reviews are fundamentally different, and then explains in detail what he feels makes a good review. Jonathan McCalmont follows up with a very good discussion on the quality of on-line reviews.
Really, I shouldn’t even be jumping in here – I don’t write the type of reviews that these guys want. I’m not a critic and I don’t even pretend that I offer criticism – I just offer my opinion on books. I go into detail in this explanation on my reviews, but it really boils down to me wanting to write a review for the average fan, a review that I would want to read. I’ve always just wanted a short idea of what the book is about (i.e. short plot summary), some commentary that says what’s good and/or bad about the book, and what makes it so. The ideal review length for me tends to be in the 600-900 word range. I do love the longer, in-depth reviews/criticisms, but not until after I’ve read the book.
From many discussions that I’ve had on various message boards and blogs, I found that there is a real demand for this type of review (as can be seen by the relative success of this blog and those like it). The more academic-minded reviewers out there chafe at this, but as I see it, it’s a simple fact. A large audience is really craving this, and there are a number people like me who provide. That doesn’t mean that there’s not audience for longer, more ‘professional’ type reviews – a street-level criticism to bring up a term that’s been bandied about. Of course there is – there’s room for all of us, and this is a point that is so often overlooked, especially when extreme, or at least narrowly focused opinions tend to get all the attention. However, one thing that will continue to annoy me (well piss me off may be more correct here) is the derogatory elitism and disdain shown to those like me by some out there (particularly old-school print reviewers).
Before I ramble on too far, I think I’ll sign off until the next time this all comes around…
On a side note – Jonathan McCalmont is looking to keep the idea behind Scalpel alive with a new (Gabe-free) project. My reaction: Excellent!