Reviews and reviewing. Why do we do it? Who is it for?
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Paul Di Filippo
I personally review for two reasons: 1) to keep abreast of the field and to keep my own fiction-writing skills sharp, by critically examining the skills of other writers; and 2) as a kind of pay-forward gesture in thanks for all the great fiction I’ve read which has shaped me. If I can alert other readers to good stuff, I’m spreading the joy. Oh, yeah, and a paycheck doesn’t hurt either!
Speaking as a bookseller (and being honest), the biggest reason I review is to sell books. Which is not to say that I’ll positively review a book that I don’t think is a worthwhile read. Given my position and audience, a positive review is a de facto recommendation and so I’m not going to suggest that people read something that I don’t think is good. By extension, I don’t write bad reviews because it’s not a productive use of my time.
A secondary reason that I write reviews are to draw attention to an author or work that I think is worthy of note and may be a bit under the radar.
Finally, I write reviews to draw attention to my business by adding content that interests people (I hope) to our blog and website.
In terms of what reviews do for me — again, being honest, they allow me to talk about books that I haven’t had time to read. There are so many books out there that it’s simply not possible for me to even read all the ones that get a lot of attention, let alone all the ones we stock. Reviews give me a fair idea of what a book is about and help me know what books to suggest to what customers. It’s certainly more accurate than publisher’s catalogs or, gods help me, back cover blurbs and flap-copy.
All my reviewing (and my editing) is an attempt to impose my taste onto readers. Let me clarify.
I write mini-reviews in my Best Horror of the Year. Some of those go into my Cemetery Dance column: “The Last Ten Books I’ve Read.” When I started co-editing The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror I was way more negative about the books I thought were awful. After a few years, (and some negative feedback from those whose works I obviously disliked, the packager of that series (Jim Frenkel) asked me to reconsider what I was doing. His point was that 1) I was editing a “best” of the year so why include works I thought were awful in my limited space and 2) –note that this was before everything appeared and was saved on the web–that unlike a magazine, a book will last forever and that those negative reviews would be accessible for a very long time. I took his words to heart and don’t write killer reviews any more.
I’ve also come to realize that I enjoy pushing what I consider great work on readers rather than even mention the work I hope will die the death of obscurity.
When I began to review books, I did so absolutely for the money, such as it was. Later, I did it for two reasons: to draw attention to a book or writer I loved and wished to support; and to continue to take part in the ongoing cultural discussion, to add my voice to the endless argument.
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