The OF Blog: Reviewing Epistemology, or a Struggle to Self-Define Relevance

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Reviewing Epistemology, or a Struggle to Self-Define Relevance

Seems that in the past few days on a couple of the blogs that I have listed in my Blogroll, there has been a bit of a chatter about what constitutes a review and if there ought to be some sort of "standards" involved for blog reviews. Since my name has been evoked in passing, I shall endeavor to weigh in with the appropriate gravitas that this deserves.





Yep, that pretty much covers all that needs to be said. But to elaborate a bit, here goes:

1. Having "standards" does not equate to "communism" (frankly, that was a ridiculous comment and should have been thought out before being posted). A set of "standards," "codes," or whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-it is nothing more than a framework from which the writer can then develop his/her approach. The "standards" would be nothing else but a minimal set of criteria that the audience can use to judge the worthiness of a writer's review (or other things).

2. If you half-ass it, you half-assed it, so don't argue about it. Tired of some using excuses such as "it wasn't meant to be a real review" or "I'm not wanting to be a critic." If you don't want others to rip into you (or at least rip into you with some justification), then just stop half-assing it and put effort into what you're doing.

3. For a great many people, a "review" involves much more than giving one's personal reaction to something. Sure, on certain levels it'll work as a personal recommendation, but don't be dismayed if others reading such posts end up concluding that you couldn't write a "proper review" if your life depended upon it. For many, a "review" is a much more narrowly-defined entity, one that involves a lot of thought and awareness of a writing's themes, structure, and how its basic elements play out and how such elements compare to other works. If the reviewer doesn't come to "own" the review and to demonstrate some sense of "authority" in what he/she is talking about, then why in the world would that review be a decent one?

4. As for the "can you call it a 'review' if you don't finish the book" question, see point #3. If you don't meet at least some of those criteria, then how would someone like myself gain any real insight into the work, other than you don't like it?

5. I really could care less what you do with your personal blogs. If you want the respect accorded to a "professional," then browse through their writings and see what works best and incorporate elements of that while maintaining something of "you" in the writing process. For example, take this The New Republic book review. There are things in here, for example, that I could use to help me get over a stumbling block I've had whenever I've wanted to review multiple works. Doesn't mean I have to ape the style completely; but noting how it flows and how the reviewer has come to "own" the review provides a valuable perspective for me.

And that's about it for this edition of keeping the teacup waters oscillating.


ThRiNiDiR said...

Hey Larry; if you have spare time and a pinch of willingness please check out my review of Dragonscarpe and give me your thoughts on it please; It'd mean a lot.


Camilla said...

Larry, have you ever read Battlefield Earth? While I agree that reaching the end is a prerequisite for properly judging a book (in fact, that is what my dissertation is all about -- currently, at any rate), there are a number of things that can be judged on the way. Language is one.

There is of course the possibility that the end will turn the whole thing around and what was bad writing will become an integral part of a postmodern masterpiece. But how often does that happen?

I am not sure I subscribe to the "feelings and emotions" bit of the first blog you linked to. I may also be too brainwashed by academia to really accept that "all honest reviews are equally valid". But I do generally agree that it does not need to hinge on whether the whole book has been read. Did I mention Battlefield Earth? There comes a time when a girl cannot take it anymore; but that does not void my right to warn others.

(I must confess myself rather sad that there are people in the world who could not finish Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, though.)

There is of course a difference between reading a book that will make your brain implode and one that will merely make you a little bored. And if you are going to pretend to be serious about reviewing, finishing a mediocre book is not that much of a sacrifice. (It would seem I agree with Paul Kearney, here.)

Two cents, four cents ... who's counting?

Now, as for communism...



I could hardly believe I was reading that. And the writer seemed to have such good control of language, too. What utter tripe.

First of all, communism? A reference to fascism, I could get. It would be completely of the wall, but it would make sense as an insane hyperbole. The reference to communism boggled my mind, however. It is a bit like a stranger coming up to you in the street to tell you "banana!" or "blue boats": complete and utter nonsense.

It may have been a calculated move to draw attention away from the more coherent nonsense that followed of course. Saying that one needs standards is not the same as saying you will not be allowed to write a blog about books if you do not follow them. Just that you will not be taken as seriously. Which is what is happening now.

Meh. This became a long reply. I do not know whether it is coherent at all. There is hope.

Aidan Moher said...

Camilla - As the author of the article, I just wanted to say thanks for the commentary.

Also, the statement was supposed to be an insane hyperbole, and you're absolutely right that 'fascism' would have been a more accurate descriptor. I honestly didn't think people would pick out that one line from the whole article, though. In my mind is was a bit of a tongue-in-cheek throwaway. But I guess I was wrong!

A Dribble of Ink

Larry said...

Don't know when I'll have the time, Uroš, as today will be spent getting ready for Freshman Orientation tomorrow morning at my school. Maybe later in the week, if I remember?


No, never read it, never plan on doing it. All I needed was the L. Ron Hubbard name to know that I'd rather re-read Mein Kampf :P

As for finishing a book, I generally do because of the possibilities you mention. And I've read plenty of mediocre books - I just rarely mention them here or anywhere else, preferring that they die an ignominious death.


Consider the "communism" reaction to be a lesson that people actually do read one's posts very carefully and if there is a weak point, invariably it'll be found :P

Camilla said...

Regarding L.Ron Hubbard, that is a very wise attitude (curiosity got the better of me, but it is after all known for killing cats and suchlike).

Larry said...

It is always wise to learn one's limits and not to push them too much, too fast. Hitler's prose is my limit; I dare not push further.

Aidan Moher said...

Lesson certainly learned, Larry!

To be honest, the whole thing was written as a way to get me through a boring day at work, and another lesson I learned from it all is that maybe I should have sat on the controversial statements for a day or two before publishing!

Ahh well, anytime I get a bit of discussion going (whether people agree with me or not), I'm happy. And hey, if I can learn to be a better blogger in the long run, even better.

Take it easy,

A Dribble of Ink

Larry said...

Have a great rest of the weekend! My vacation ends at 5:15 AM CDT Monday. I'm dreading waking up only 1-2 hours after the time I've been falling asleep for the past few weeks :(

ThRiNiDiR said...

Ofc Larry, no problem.

Mike said...

Larry, good post. After my curiosity on how some of you go about reading/reviewing, this was a nice followup for me.

I think the worst sort of reviewer -professional or not- is one who bounces between formats. You can't give a 5 page review of one work only to half ass a review with a blanket statement and a C- to the next.

...on second thought, yes you can. Just accept that you're gonna get called on it when you do.

Larry said...

True, which is part of the reason why I've evolved my review style slowly towards more of a formal review essay. Numbers/stars/letters - those are gimmicks to me. If I'm going to review a book these days, I better have something to say about that book.

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