Friday, March 14, 2008

Ethics of book reviewing

Well, I know that someone reads my book reviews. They may not be happy about what I wrote...but I do know that they read them. It was a review of an Enochian Chess book that I did a couple months ago. Or at least, I think it was my review that the comment was aimed at.

I could be wrong about that. After all, I seriously doubt that I am the only person that reviews Golden Dawn books. Nevertheless, one of the author's comments (yes, it is the author that commented on the review) will get a response from me on my Golden Dawn blog.

But that comment is not what I want to talk about here. Today, I want to talk about the ethics of reviewing books.

There are some authors who believe that any critic or book reviewer that does not give their work a favorable review is a fraud. Alexander Pope wrote an entire essay on it--you might be familiar with a lifted line from it, "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing." (Though to be fair to Pope, his work is about more than just bad book reviews--he was talking about the tendency of those who can't accomplish great works belittling the accomplishments of others.)

Now, I understand the urge to call people who give you bad reviews--frauds, imposters, idiots, etc. I also suffer from that urge. It also shows up with college instructors who do not think that my work is the height of sheer brilliance. But just because someone thinks that you failed in your task, and fall short of inspiring them, does not make them a fraud.

Ask yourself this after you recieve your next bad review, bad grade, or rejection slip (after you calm down enough to stop stabbing the poppet of the person in question), "What if they are right?" I know it hard, but occasionally I must admit that my critics are right.

In my case, not only do I recieve bad reviews, I write them also. I ask myself what would I tell my best friend about the book (work) that I am reviewing. Would I actually recommend it, or tell them to save their money. And that is what gets the authors I review upset--I tell the truth.

With this particular review, I must admit that I had an ethical dilemma. I know the author, or at least as much as you can know someone from just contact on the internet. I wished that I could have given him a better review. But in the end, I didn't because I had to think about who I was writing the review for.

Do the reviewers serve the authors, or do they serve the readers? That is the big question that hangs over book reviewers. In my case, I believe that I am serving the readers.

Now, I do know that there are some outlets that only publish favorable reviews. They are serving not the authors, or the readers, but rather their own bottom line. They get paid to write favorable reviews.

The catch of doing so is that the readers eventually get stung, and cease to trust that source for their book reviews. A reviewer's reputation depends upon telling the truth. If you write nothing but glowing book reviews in pursuit of the happy buck, sooner or later your readers will figure it out. And there is already enough advertising blogs and sites on the internet already; I do not need to add to that pile, nor do you.

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