Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Writers reviewing writers

An old friend of mine asked me recently why I only write positive book reviews. He said he always thought that that was one of my shortcomings as the editor of Mystery Scene. I guess he forgets a few of the scorchers by other MS reviewers that caused such an uproar.

My belief on the subject is simple. I'm a writer and I don't feel comfortable criticising another writer's book. I speak only for myself. This doesn't mean that I write puff reviews. If I don't enjoy a book, I don't review it.

But when I see one writer tear apart the work of another I always wonder what's really behind the nastiness. Envy? Arrogance? Careering? (One quick way to make a name for yourself in book reviewing is to become a quick-draw artist.)

I'm sure I'm wussy about this but there are so many good books out there why bother reviewing ones I don't care for?


Mystery Dawg said...

Ed, Well said!

I feel the same way. I come at from a differnet angle. I'm not a writer, but if I don't enjoy the book or see the merit in it, I don't review it. My tack is to try to give credit to well written work that might not the see the light of day into today's marketplace and to give first time writers a shot at haveing a positive review, if the work merits it.

Ali Karim said...


I agree 100% with your ethos, reviewing for Shots, DP, Crimespree, January Magazine -

My only caveat is that I give a book 50 - 60 pages to engage, if it doesn't engage to my taste. I ditch it and move on - hence can not therefore do a negative review as a book I didn't like, I never finished.

Many years back I did publish 2 negative reviews and have regretted doing that / even though I made valid points, the expereince was not fun


Anonymous said...

Ed: A long time ago in a life far far away...I co-hosted a local PBS show called "Hear First", it was basically Siskel & Ebert at the record store. My partner and I reviewed/discussed artists as varied as New Kids On The Block, Miles Davis, Black Flag, Metallica...the only "rule" my partner and I had was that at least one of us had to like the record we were reviewing. I still feel good about that approach. Life is too damn short to waste time on trash talk.
John McAuley

Steven said...

Same feeling here. I review books on my blog and short stories at Nasty Brutish Short. I'm 38 years old but I figured out years ago that life was too short to finish reading books I didn't like. I'm certainly not going to go through the trouble to review a book length work if I didn't like it. Plus, in most books, there's a good side anyway (not always, sadly).

As an author, I rely a lot on the kindness of others in the business. People into me to publish short stories, they review my work, etc. Why would I disturb good karma? Not to mention the fact that I know first hand that a bad review can hurt like hell.

Anonymous said...

During the 7 years I reviewed for the Orlando Sentinel I never printed a bad review. If I didn't like a book, I just didn't review it. Like you, Ed, I don't want ti bash another writer in print.

However, on the phone . . .


James Reasoner said...

I wrote a few negative reviews years ago that I now wish I hadn't. Sometimes on my blog I'll mention things I didn't think worked very well in books that I've read, but I also talk about the things I liked in those books. As others have said, if I don't like a book I usually don't finish it and don't write about it.

Anonymous said...

Bad, lazy, or incompetent writing probably should be noted, particularly if it seems the writer in question could do better. Stephen King is my favorite example of a frequent underachiever. Then there are those who are praised to the skies, and it seems that is mostly on the basis of extraliterary matters, including sales...noting the lack of imperial garb is to some extent a duty (my favorite example there got such a remarkably strained positivish review recently in EQMM that I was very much impressed by the diplomacy of Mr. Breen.

Anonymous said...

Mat Coward here:
My view on this has always been that I’m a reviewer, not a critic; the former addresses himself to the reader, the latter to the writer. So, when I review books or stories, I’m telling other readers about something that they might find worth reading. I’ll often mention faults - the ending’s a bit weak, or this book isn’t as good as his last - but, as others have said above, if I didn’t think it was worth reading, I’m not going to waste my time or limited space on reviewing it.

All that applies to reviews where I’ve selected the books; when I’m getting paid to write reviews for newspapers or magazines, and the policy of that paper is that the books editor assigns the books, then I’ll simply review what I’m sent and if I hate it, I’ll say so. That can sometimes be a slightly depressing job - but it is a job, and I am a working freelance ...