The OF Blog: Coda to review philosophies

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Coda to review philosophies

Meant to post this earlier, but over the past 36 hours or so, there have been no less than three separate posts on reviewing and what constitutes a good review that have made that reference my recent posts on the subject. Just in case there are a few people living under a rock who visit my blog and not these other fine blogs, here are a few links.

Matthew Cheney writes a very well-argued piece on reviewing that covers a wide range of topics.

Jay Tomio touches upon the issue of how different reviewers have different reviewing goals. While I agree with much of what Jay says, part of me still can't help but to wonder if online reviewers ought to be challenging themselves more if they want to perfect the "craft" part of their blogging hobby.

And finally, Jeff VanderMeer gives his thoughts on what constitutes a good review and things that a conscientious reviewer ought to avoid when writing a review.

Good stuff here in all three links, and I'm not just saying that because I got referred to in all three of them. What I'd give to be linked to a well-argued post about how some of my reviews are weak and to advice that points out ways of strengthening those reviews. Never above wanting to improve and to push myself in pursuing this mostly unpaid hobby of mine.

Edit: Abigail Nussbaum and Cheryl Morgan also have interesting comments and links related to this discussion.

9 comments:

Jay Tomio said...

Larry I just think that it may be a mistake to assume that credibility is an issue that many people confront consciously. We see it online all the time. This is comments in general and a lot of it is perception. Am I the only one who wakes up and doesn't think "damn I got to be credible today" or let me edit this line to add some more credible chunks to that" - it all strikes me as rather ridiculous to me and indeed the exact opposite of being credible (by whomever wants to believe has a definition of that quality).

I think the implication that their is a uniform hierarchy - a universal ideal method of reviewing beyond basic very ideas is if nothing else very boring and leads to the exact uniformity you are railing against. It's asking people to be 'more like" yet being 'themselves' when all they were being was themselves (to the best of their abilities) in the first place.

What is the challenge and why is it just online reviews? I read my newspaper, look at some magazines and see crap reviews everywhere that people apparently enjoy. Hell, something like IGN is based on the very fact - and probably could afford to hire us all for a nice salary and bankroll a club house for us. I don't find it challenging at all to share my thoughts.

In many ways I sometimes feel like we have a bunch of a wise men fighting for a couple of hills in the middle of nowhere that offer no view in the first place.

Larry said...

Jay, I think we're much closer in agreement than what it appears at first. I'm reminded of that discussion a couple of years ago between VanderMeer and Bakker that really was a difference of degree and not of kind. Which should the writer/reviewer focus more on: his/her own needs/desires, or on the audience's expectations?

I see it thusly: I have an audience here, albeit not as large as some (but larger than the majority of non-author SFF blogs). With that audience comes a few expectations, expectations that I am free to ignore or to challenge (which reviews shall I write and when, for example). But for myself (and I would hope for others), the center of it all is myself. What do I want from all of this?

That is a question that bears consideration. Matt Cheney addresses that near the beginning of his post, as part of the arrogance versus insecurity issue. It's something I agree with for the most part. I'm usually quite self-confident. I have to be with my job history (not many people are called "motherfucker" to their faces on a regular basis). When I write something, most of the time (and I'm aiming for all of the time as a goal) I'm writing something of value...to myself.

But just as I have to consider my audience at my job (if they are getting frustrated/pissed off, I have to take measures to quell that), so here I believe I have to consider just why am I writing. People don't tend to hang around asshats if they have nothing to say or to contribute. That's fine. But if I am not challenging myself (again, I am the center of this reviewing circle), then why in the hell ought I be wanting to blog/review in the first place?

I agree that there is no one single "correct" style. But I'd argue that those who do not continue to challenge themselves, asking themselves the tougher questions - those people are not going to be improving themselves and (unless they truly just don't give a shit and are just throwing shit on the brick wall to see what sticks) their reviews will begin to suffer.

Until lately, I was of the mindset that this blog was just a passing fancy, to be used as an occasional lure to wotmania's Other Fantasy section. But I grew dissatisfied with that, feeling that I needed to push myself harder, to see what could be done. That is the challenge that I presented myself - not to garner X page views a day or to have a Technorati rating of Y or to receive Z number of ARCs a month. Those things came as a result of challenging myself.

But I'm not satisfied with where I am now. I can do better. And as a sometimes-good teacher, I'm so used to challenging my students to improve themselves within their own learning styles that I often see the urging of others to improve their game/themselves as being much the same thing.

"Credibility" is a self-centered thing; it doesn't revolve around others, but the Self alone. And since self-improvement is a global thing and not a local one, I hope you understand that my comments were meant to cover much more than just online reviewing, although that was the surface focus at times.

Jay Tomio said...

Larry I think it is too often thought of that people who aren't doing something at a level another feel is sufficient isn't doing what 'they want' and I think it's ridiculous. If Reviewer X isn't reviewing in a manner I enjoy it doesn't mean they have different motivations than the one you illustrate with "What do I want from all of this?". Maybe it's all they want, and it doesn't mean it's mediocre.

I don't get the impression we have people just bumbling around with no clue - I think they are doing exactly what they want, because what we are questioning are people's hearts, which is way too difficult to do online (and silly when it's done anyway).

The simple fact is that if they (me?) were not empowered with review copies - we wouldn't be having this discussion. The fact that there is publisher patronage is the real issue. Now, I have always said publishers have been way to quick in allocating review copies to anyone who can find blogspot and sign up for an account - essentially creating reviewers not supplying them - but since they have done so it's hard to be condescending about a business decision that doesn't involve me. How do you solve it? They can pull the plug - you'll see a dramatic reduction after time.

I think people do challenge themselves and ask questions and they do it without the net police telling them to do it. You do it in life and eventually that'll show in whatever anyone does including reviews

Larry said...

I don't know if I can agree completely with that, as I think it's one of those matters of perception that is hard to explore via this medium. But I'll try to elaborate a little bit (I'm very much under the weather today, so if this is brief, it meant that I'm emptying myself):

We can't address the hypothetical (pulling the plug), only the realizable, that of whether or not any "critiques" ought to be applied. It's a tricky thing, I know, but sometimes just presenting a question can be of some benefit. If reviewers are getting review copies, then it certainly wouldn't hurt if there were a bit of a "push" every now and then to aim higher. After all, only the most sensitive of people would take it personally (or so I'd hope, but fear that wouldn't be the case) and in most cases, it'd either be rightly ignored or the person might find encouragement to do something better.

Jonathan said...

It's taken a month to mature but this was a fine blogstorm. My compliments sir ;-)

Credibility is an interesting issue as I'm very aware that some reviewers are far more "careerist" than others. I'm at one end of the spectrum as I pull no punches and don't really mind who I piss off in the process, even if it's over an idea I walk away from a week later. This attitude was forged at graduate school, a process you evidently went through yourself.

Conversely, there are reviewers who don't like to produce a negative review and who will carefully build and maintain a network of contacts in the industry and fandom.

Credibility isn't a universal currency as I think people have enough nous to realise that different critics and reviewers have different agendas and goals.

Larry said...

Yeah, it sure does seem to be have a long-brewing one, even if my intent wasn't for that. Oh well, blogosphere debates, like shit, happens and at least (so far) it's been quite civil, but also with people elaborating on their points. What more could one ask but that?

Jay Tomio said...

We could ask for a case of Shriek brew to take it all in and kick back.

Anonymous said...

Alas, it don't travel--not if I don't want to avoid being arrested!

JeffV

Larry said...

Stupid state laws! I guess I'd have to settle for a Cuba Libre instead...

 
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