“Such a widespread mistake is unusual, but it does make one wonder: How much trust should one place in the critic?”
So asks Joanna Prisco, the reporter who penned this article for ABC News. And to be quite honest, it’s a great question. How much should we listen to someone else’s opinion of the literature we are choosing to read. Isn’t personal interest enough to judge whether or not to pick a book up? Why else would the publishers put a blurb on the back or inside pockets of the book’s jacket?
To Read or Not to Read? It’s always a pertinent question.
Let’s be honest, there are so many things that could draw us to a book. The old adage that we shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover is a crock. At least to some extent. We’re supposed to judge the books by their covers, initially, and cover artists often work really hard to imbue a cover with some insight into the story or the information being given. It’s meant to draw you in and entice you to take a closer look. Once your there, the jacket copy is supposed to make you feel something; curious, intrigued, maybe even angry. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. If you’re an avid reader like me, this is often enough for you to formulate an opinion. You either want to read it, or you don’t. Nine times out of ten, I don’t want or need anyone else’s opinion to make me interested in reading a book. I could care less if the critics who read it hated it, or were indifferent to it, because if I like it, that’s all that matters to me. I don’t want someone trying to change my opinion before I even give it a try.
But for other people, that might not be enough.
There are a lot of readers who do rely on the opinions of “experts” or critics in order to deem a book worthy of their time and attention. So when these professionals mess up the details or mistake actions of the characters or the plot of the book they are reviewing, you have to wonder, did they make a mistake, or did they just not care enough to be thorough? Because, to my way of thinking, if you are getting paid for a review, you should probably be paying better attention to the text.
Now, I do understand that there are some reviewers who are doing this in addition to other jobs, and sometimes people make mistakes. Life happens. And there is the question of how often the public actually reads professional reviews from sources like Publisher’s Weekly, or Kirkus, which are more industry specific. But often, these are the reviews that librarians and booksellers use in order to decide whether or not to add a book to their collection. So when the reviewer gets things wrong, it could be affecting other people’s work. And when magazines and newspapers print incorrect information the damage can be more immediate and widespread. I think it might also be helpful for them to think about or remember why they are reviewing the book in the first place.
What About Blogs?
And then there’s the land of blogging, where I do extensive travelling, myself. What I enjoy about bloggers reviews, which is often not found in editorial reviews, is the level of enjoyment these readers are getting out of their reading, and there is a level of honesty that I think often gets covered up in professional reviewing situations. They don’t need to be polite. There’s no need to see blogger reviews as anything other than one person’s opinion. If you agree with them, great, if not, no big deal, or harm done, and you just move on to the next source of information. If they get something wrong, it seems easier to forgive their mistakes. There’s an understanding that the people reviewing on blogs aren’t bogged down by what their editors, publishers, and endorsers might want them to say. There’s a greater level of freedom inherent in this type of reviewing. I find it to be a breath of fresh air.
A Final Thought or Two
Now, from everything I’ve said, I sound pretty down on professional reviewing. Probably more than I meant to. But in fact, I know a lot of people who review professionally who I think are pretty great at what they do, and I know they care about what they read. It’s hard to think of them as making the blunders we read about in ABC News’s article. And on the whole, I don’t think every reviewer is making these mistakes. I’m sure it’s a small batch of bad seeds in a larger crop. As a librarian, and I’m sure this goes for booksellers and perhaps even teachers too, it’s impossible to read every single book that’s published ourselves. We have to rely on the accuracy and honesty of reviewers to tell us what’s good, what’s bad, and what falls somewhere in between. No matter where they are reviewing from, these men and women see a lot of books crossing their desks. Just because an occasional wire gets crossed doesn’t mean the whole profession should be discounted. I think the most important thing to remember after reading an article like this is that no one is infallible, and we should be taking every review, regardless of where it comes from, with a grain of salt.