The OF Blog: Blogger reviewing writers reviewing bloggers reviewing writers who may or may not be writing about bloggers

Monday, February 08, 2010

Blogger reviewing writers reviewing bloggers reviewing writers who may or may not be writing about bloggers

I like to think that the overly-long title captures the essence of what's been transpiring over the past week or so on a relatively new spec fic blog, The Speculative Scotsman.  Although the subject matter (negative reviews and the possible impact they could have, as well as writers who value/discount such reviews, among other things) is rather well-trod, I found the wit and humor contained in not just the original review (of Paul Hoffman's The Left Hand of God), but also in the follow-up and in author Sam Sykes' response to be entertaining reads. 

But I cannot help but to think that something is missing from all this.  Perhaps what is needed is another blogger grading the review and its, wait, that would make it sound as though the blogger proposing to do this would have megalomaniac tendencies and/or may be a frustrated English teacher.  Not that there's anything wrong with being a frustrated English (or History, Geography, and US Government/Civics) teacher, mind you, but some might find some fault in all this and choose to focus on the real and perceived faults of said reviewer of another blogger's review of a writer who may or may not be funky in a totally non-George Clinton sense and whose prose may be as ripe as that of the hobo who swore off bathing during the Reagan administration.

Humor (or its failed attempt at such) aside, I suppose some of the issues hinted at or half-raised in this latest round-robin affair of Reviewer/Author Tag would be those of how well does the reviewer establish his/her "voice" for the audience to consider and how little shrift the "essay" part of a review essay gets in these times and locales.  Voice is very important.  Just as authors are judged on narrative voice and how coherent and noticeable this said "voice" might be, so too are reviewers judged, at least those who post regular reviews.  Voice is what makes the reviewer distinguishable from the crowd, something that provides that X factor that allows for the audience to presume that they can gain not only some insight into the work being reviewed, but also into the person who has decided to spend some time interpreting just what that tome might have meant to them. 

Although I'll cop to not being that familiar with Niall Alexander's blog (although he's commented here on occasion and always has interesting things to add - the fault is purely mine, which I'll correct in the near future), based on that review (and later on the follow-up posts) I believe I have a greater feel for his "voice" and I find it to be distinctive, even if I don't have a large enough "sample size" yet to determine just how much insight he brings to all of his reviews.  Certainly is promising so far and the way he approached reviewing a book that did not appeal to him definitely is a good one in my opinion:  gentle skewering with humor more than with raw invective.  Hopefully, that "voice" will continue to develop with time and not atrophy, like certain bloggers who changed their color scheme in the past year to refer to the 2009 Iranian protests might have done...

An important element that often is overlooked when considering reviews is the essay form itself.  Perhaps I'm too much of a language nut now, but "essay" used to carry two meanings in English (just as it still does in most Romance languages today), that not just of the writing form, but of the attempt to establish/create something.  In particular, I am thinking of the attempt to write a short narrative that not only analyzes, but also compares, contrasts, and ultimately judges a work/idea on the basis of pre-determined criteria (although these criteria may vary from work to work being considered).  A well-written essay that essays to transliterate the reviewer's thoughts into a cogent written piece can have a value worth more than whether or not someone agrees or disagrees with that reviewer's tastes in literature (or other matters).  A well-constructed review essay can give insight not just into that particular reviewer's mindset, but also into how that reviewers and perhaps others understand and apply concepts related to the art of writing itself.

Jorge Luis Borges is one of my favorite writers but, along with H.L. Mencken, he is also one of my favorite reviewers/critics to read.  Although most of his ensayos are not able in English translation, in reading his thought on Martín Fierro and other novels of the 19th and 20th centuries (all these I read in Spanish) I gained valuable insight not just into how Borges approached writing a review essay, but also in how the review essay could be utilized as a tool to help the reviewer and others to devise more interpretative measures for gauging a story's worth.

So perhaps in the debate (friendly, bantering as it has been) these issues ought to be raised.  It isn't just how in tune a reader might be with a reviewer's review (positive or negative), but perhaps it is (or at least should be) more about how well such thoughts are conveyed and how willing the reader is to process and to question what is transpiring in hopes of garnering more insight into book, reviewer, and (ultimately) one's own self.


Neth said...

yes, voice - it's all about voice. It's ironic, but since I've become a reviewer and gotton more involved in it, I actually read far fewer reviews. They bore me. I find that I want something more - and generally that equates to voice from the reviewer. I want to see that they have invested something of themselves into the review. It gives me context with which to judge their thoughts and opinions versus my own. And when done well, it's entertaining and informative reading all on its own.

Likewise, this is what I strive for in my own reviewing. I really can't say how successful I am (I certainly know that I'm better than I was when I started reviewing) but I do know that it feels to me like I'm fairly successful (and since I'm a blogger, it really is all about me anyway ;).

Lsrry said...

Yes, those are fun, although I'll admit that I tend to use "voice" a bit differently in my own reviews, as I try to limit the use of first-person pronouns as much as possible. But then again, that can be used to create a more formal sense of "authority" as well, which is something different...

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