The OF Blog: Reviewing pitfalls

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Reviewing pitfalls

The past three days have been rather "educational" ones for me as a reviewer.  I posted Friday afternoon that I had received an autographed review copy of the thirteenth The Wheel of Time book, Towers of Midnight.  In addition to being the main blogger here, I am active at two forums and I have been asked several dozen questions, visible and via private messages alike, things about the book.  I am not by nature someone who thinks much about "spoilers," but I do respect things to the point that I won't reveal anything even as specific as what I would say in my formal reviews before a book's release date.

Yet even mentioning my thoughts on the book's style (which says nothing about the plot developments) or making the vaguest of hints (not to read the Glossary before finishing the story, due to an unfortunate entry that spoils all sorts of things, at least for the most common definitions of "spoilers," is one of a few examples) seems to have fanned a few sparks.  This morning, I discovered that there were on two other sites posts about my comments that supposedly support this or that view of plot guessing.  This is despite me saying anything much beyond something like "there also could have been something from the third book that could have been alluded to as an 'overlooked event'" (or however I worded it when I wrote that allusion).  What have I taken from this?  That hardcore WoT fans will even try to postulate things from the remarks Sanderson wrote on the review copies.  Next time there is a high-profile release, I don't know if I'll even bother mentioning anything, since it's become quite wearisome seeing not just all the proddings to try and get me to support any of a dozen particular "theories" on 'future' events, but also reading those who seem to think that I wanted to "spoil" things (despite taking great pains to say much less than what I would in a review) or that I was "playing games" with fans.

In addition, I've seen a few comments, both on forums and in my Twitter feed questioning my motivations for reviewing the book in the first place.  It appears some people (most of them WoT fans, but not necessarily all of the ones whose comments I've seen) seem to think that someone who "is not a WoT fan" somehow "cannot do justice to the books" in a review.  It is a very odd complaint, one that seems to be tied in self-defense.  I would think that it might make for a better review if the reviewer weren't necessarily a "fan" of the reviewed work's author.  This is not to say that a "fan" of an author's previous works cannot be honest and write a good review (I like to think that I've been able to do so in the past with certain authors), but rather that if a reviewer who has an open mind and yet is not afraid to be critical of a work were to write a review.  Certainly there would be points of emphasis that would differ from a fannish review of any particular work, which is far from a bad thing in my opinion.

It is not easy, though, writing reviews or discussing books or anything that comes under the purview of being a reviewer, online or print.  I am not one who believes dogmatically in objective distance, yet it is rather annoying to keep having to deny all sorts of statements because so much is becoming twisted.  It's almost as if I had read the New Testament before anyone else and I said "oh, there's some resolution to Isaiah 53" and someone then proclaims that the Messiah has kicked Roman ass and the Jews are going to par-tay!  Best to remember that some people are just going to miss the point of doing a review in the first place and that it might be best to say to yourself, "I really need to STFU, as some are going all Foucault's Pendulum on me!"  Come and think of it, there might be some reading this who will take this as being a cryptic reference to all of the previous statements being misleading ones done on purpose, done just for nefarious shits and giggles.  Who knows?

All I know is that reviewing is much more than praising or condemning elements of a book.  It seems to be an emphatic avoidance of "fans" of all stripes if the subject matter strays anywhere near to their object of fanaticism.  Otherwise, a reviewer can wake up and find people outside her window, one group proclaiming to follow The Way of the Gourd and others The Path of the Shoe.  Now if only I can figure out a polite way to tell them to "fuck off"...

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Larry--I'm a little confused. This Wheel of Time thing. Is it a relatively obscure, cult thing? I don't think I've heard of it before. JeffV

Larry said...

It's something that mostly those who suffer from Poetic Lassitude or Chrono-Unific Deficiency Syndrome have been drawn toward. I'm just merely studying these poor souls.

Harry said...

Goddamn it, Larry. I just bought Foucalt's Pendulum at a second-hand bookstore. I am going to take that obscure little allusion that I do not understand as ruining the whole plot. Grrrrr. You bastard, going all spoiler on me! ;)

By the way is it good? Foucalt's Pendulum, that is? (I know I'll enjoy Towers of Midnight, but that'll be my dirty little secret:) I assume Foucalt's Pendulum is good, but just checking, because it is what I'm reading just after I finish my exams.

Gerard said...

@ Harry: Foucault's Pendulum is Briljant! Don't be put of by the first few pages and you'll be in for a great story.

Adam Whitehead said...

For a reviewer who is often characterised as someone who is solely into 'literary' books, I think your previous analysis of the WHEEL OF TIME series has been even-handed and fair, pointing out the good and the bad. As such, your views on the books are worth considerably more than, for example, the only review published so far of the book (which comes from a very biased source, although they freely admit that).

Larry said...

Harry,

What I alluded to is usually found on the back covers of American editions :P

Adam,

Thanks for the compliment! There certainly will be discussion of both the good and the bad in my review. It's one of those "interesting" books in not just content, but also in structure and writing.

Neth said...

Larry,

If you didn't want the sort of reaction you got from WOT fandom, then why did you post a bunch of stuff in a WOT forum that is notorious for that sort thinking. You encouraged the reaction you got, so I'm really confused why you seem upset about it.

I agree with Adam on your reviews of WOT - while I often don't agree with you thoughts, I do consider them fair evaluations. But from the perspective of the mega-fans on forums, your reviews are not what they are looking for and they consider them unfair and out of touch. While that level of fandom is a minority, when dealing with book 13 of a series that's been around for 20 years, you're going to have a lot more of that than some debut trilogy by fantasy author x.

So, really, while I see your point here, I think its a bit disingeneous for your get upset about something that you openly envited.

Larry said...

Not really upset, more like a mixture of confused bemusement and slight irritation at myself over not thinking that such a thing might happen. No anger at all toward anyone else.

As for reviews and hardcore fans, my attitude generally is a non-personal "fuck 'em" :P

Neth said...

Larry, I understand your attitude there, but don't you think when your dealing with the 13th book in a series that an attitude like that isn't all that productive?

People who read this book will be fans - it's not going to be something picked up unless you've read the previous 12. It seems that a different reviewing perspective would be a good thing, no?

Kevin said...

Larry, as I haven't read the book yet there isn't much basis for me to argue with the opinion of someone who has. Actually I suspect that your review makes some good points however the attitude you've thrown around post review sucks. And now I see you've told a population that I count myself a member of to fuck off. I just wanted to say, fuck you, you pretentious asshole. Have a pleasant day :)

Larry said...

I disagree, Ken. But I'll save that for the actual review.

Umm...Kevin...ever heard of "tongue in cheek"? I was quoting Monty Python's The Life of Brian, after all...

And please learn how to use the word "pretentious" correctly the next time you cavalierly toss it about. Some might wonder if you have pretensions to an actual education otherwise...

Amy said...

Say what? Some people are crazy. A review is a review. I'd rather see an objective review than a raving one from a hard-core fan any day thanks!

P Authier said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Philip said...

Hmmm now I feel bad about sending you the PM about the mess up with the autographed copy. I think the root of the problem is starvation. The fans have been waiting for years and they seem to be like men lost in a desert. They will grasp at anything if they think it will quench their thirst (I seem to be one of them). I want to say that I appreciate your reviews and I always keep an open mind. If you enjoy or like the books are not don't mean you are giving them a bad review. I believe in an open mind. Mandrag

Larry said...

So I'm learning, Philip. Apparently I'm "classless", among other things because I slipped up and said more than I originally meant and trying to redress that led to even more foul-ups. Next time, I think I won't even acknowledge receiving any review copy of any higher profile release until after the review is posted.

Esq said...

Thought the review was good. Don't take the voraciousness of the internet too seriously. It is behavior best ignored.

I once worked as a moderator on a tech forum, and after I deleted a post comparing African-Americans to monkeys, the author of the post flamed me endlessly for weeks (he went right back to the well, unsurprisingly, and called me a "monkey," amongst other things).

In sum, people are batshit crazy and behavior over the internet must be ignored ;)

Philip said...

I think I need to check my grammar before I post. I don't think you should keep any ARCs a secret. If you ask me it would be more fun telling everyone you have one and watching (or reading I guess) them squirm!

Larry said...

The squirming isn't the fun part. The fun part is getting people interested in less high-profile works that I think are worthy of attention.

Shortly, I'm going to be posting a series of pics of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy books I've managed to collect. Something like 31 books in that specific edition, most with some very cool late 60s/early 70s cover art. Just don't make covers like these anymore, it seems.

 
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