Thursday, February 09, 2006

An author's view of reviews...

Ben Peek wrote an article for Strange Horizons about the Australian Aurealis Awards and the short fiction that was short-listed this year. The article has earned him a lot of flak, especially on his live journal and that of fellow Australian, Ben Payne. I am not going to comment on the administration of the Awards themselves because I really don’t know enough about it – except to say that I am grateful to anyone who volunteers their time to do all the work, administrators and judges, without any remuneration except free books! As Ben Payne commented on his LJ blog:

“But take it from me, as a local author, I'd *love* to be told by *four strangers* that something I had written was good. Do you know how rare that kind of feedback is? … To be told that by four strangers who know the genre, well that's even better. To be told that by four strangers who know the genre and had read, you know, shitloads of other stuff. Well, you know. To me, that's cool.”

It’s pretty cool to me, too. Hey, I even read the Amazon reviews of my books and appreciate the fact that people have taken the trouble to write them in the first place. Hell, I even go through the online reviews in German. If I could, I’d read the Russian ones too.

It seems to me that no one should ever attack a reviewer because he says he doesn’t like a particular work. In other words Ben Peek should not be criticised for saying he didn’t think much of the standard of this year’s Aurealis short fiction – that’s his opinion and he has every right to hold it, and to tell us he holds it.

The only issue that counts is whether or not it is a good review. And a good review should do one major thing: it should give a reader who hasn’t read the work an idea whether he would like it or not (or alternatively give a reader who has read it something more to think about).

It is not enough to retell the story, obviously. And it is certainly not enough to criticise the work – favourably or otherwise – without saying, coherently, why. There are three kinds of reviews which particularly bug me: the one that is dismissive from the start, e.g. the snide reviewer given a science fiction book to review by a newspaper editor when he loathes the genre, and who then has fun ridiculing it for being science fiction; secondly, the reviewer who attacks the author rather than the work, e.g. on his or her politics; and thirdly the reviewer who slams (or praises) a work but never gives a thoughtful reason.

As an author, I look upon all reviews as a chance for me to learn. What worked, at least as far as this particular reviewer is concerned? What didn’t? And why? If the reviewer can tell me any of that, I am pathetically grateful. Mind you, I’ve never actually had a really terrible view – even on Amazon. If I had, maybe I would feel differently. But, so far - reviews? I love them!

I am not going to say here whether I think Ben Peek wrote a good or a poor review. I will leave that up to everyone to judge for themselves. But please, don't slam a reviewer for disliking something. I would really, really hate to be able to read only sweetness and light. And if an artist (in the broadest sense of the word) cannot take criticism and either learn from it or ignore it, then they are in the wrong business.

Weird Stuff:

My husband was asked - many, many months ago - if he would be interested in a temporary post at an institution. He said yes, sure. And after that we heard nothing. No letter of appointment, no phone call, nothing. But the other day someone visited said institution, and noted an office door bearing my husband's name ...

Huh?

3 comments:

trudi said...

As a collection of reviews of short stories, nothing bothered me expecially. But as a review of the Award shortlist it had shortcomings - and I think that's what people are unhappy about.

Glenda Larke said...

Yes, partly. But any awards are such a subjective thing anyway that they always lead to some kind of backbiting! As for the Aurealis, I think the shortlist is a better indicator (usually) of what's out there than the winner, which can often only be a compromise. Is Tambour an Ozzie? I see she's up for a Campbell - but not mentioned in the Aurealis shortlist?

eyeris said...

most of MY reviews are simple: If I liked the book, I'll give it a good review. :)