Friday, October 15, 2010

Author Rants

I recently published a book review in a new online magazine. It was a mostly positive review but pointed to one significant flaw. The editor of the magazine asked me to consider a change that would soften my criticism, but I opted not to go that route. I didn't think it was possible to overlook the problem.

I learned last night that the author of the book I reviewed contacted the editor, with whom he is acquainted, and was angry about being "misunderstood." He seemed to be under the impression that SHE had written the review and she correctly pointed out that in fact an outside reviewer had done the work. I gather that he didn't get the point and continued his rant. (Other reviewers have pointed out the exact same problem with this book, so I'm hardly alone in my reading; others have also pointed out, which I chose not to mention, the clunky dialogue and other thematic problems with the novel.)

The writer should consider himself lucky to be reviewed. As I was writing that review, I very nearly contacted the editor to say that I couldn't do a review that wouldn't be overly negative, because I didn't think the book was very good. On reflection, though, I thought there was enough redeeming value that I could recommend the book to some readers--it's just not for everyone.

One more point on this review. The magazine has chosen to include a "disclaimer" with its book reviews which states that the reviewers have discretion and the magazine doesn't always agree with what they write. This sort of disclaimer is wholly unnecessary and I've not seen it before. I felt that the editors were, in fact, anticipating the reaction they got on my review and wanted to preserve their ties to the author, even thought my review was spot on. That apparently didn't work, and in the meantime they annoyed a reviewer.

4 comments:

Leslie said...

Ugh. My books somtimes have gotten less-than-stellar comments and have been "misunderstood," but that's the chance anyone takes when sending a book into the world. As a reader, I'm grateful for reviewers who offer solid opinions--and don't just give every book an A for effort. I think you're right to feel a put-out as the reviewer here. You were asked to do a job and you did.

Ravi Mangla said...

Very interesting story, Cliff. We had a discussion at Big Other last week on this same topic (http://bigother.com/2010/10/11/a-call-for-honesty-guest-post-by-ravi-mangla/).

Clifford Garstang said...

Great discussion, Ravi. Thanks for the link.

I do think that many magazines--blogs being a different story--feel compelled to be primarily positive. I actually follow a "one-negative rule" in reviews that I do. If I have too much that's negative to say about a book by an emerging writer, I generally keep my mouth shut. (Thomas Pynchon, for example, is a whole other story; I didn't like his last book and I said so.)

Pete said...

When I finally publish a book, I'll just be thrilled that a reviewer read the book closely enough to generate a negative opinion.