Tuesday, September 7, 2010

You too can write a review

An article dated Sept. 1 on the Library Journal (LJ) Web site, observes that "Reviewing is no longer centralized, with a few big voices leading the way, but fractured among numerous multifarious voices found mostly on the web."

The article, written by Barbara Hoffert, clocks 1,561 consumer reviews for Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on amazon.com, with 682 more reviews on the Web site LibraryThing.com.

On Facebook, readers have the Living:Social app to create consumer reviews. There is also a group of us who leave posts on the facebook page of the Lake County Library involving books that are in its catalog. Some of my best online conversations with other users involve comparing our impressions of books.

I'm delighted by the proliferation of viewpoints on the Internet but I still enjoy reading reviews in traditional news media. Lake County readers have an opportunity to submit reviews to the Record-Bee for its "Readers Recommend."

Hoffert says, "Anyone can blog, or post a consumer rating or review, or register an online comment, but, famously, not every blog is bearable reading, not every consumer review insightful, not every comment exactly what's needed to nail the book. Some judgments are worth more than others; the question is how we judge."

I don't automatically assign authority to a reviewer just because he or she is on staff, versus a self-appointed contributor. I want to know if the reviewer can articulate sound reasons instead of merely saying, "I liked this book."

For me, the value of a traditional review isn't so much about the reviewer, as it is about the fact that at least one other set of eyes has cleaned up spelling or grammatical errors. To see an opinion rendered in all caps or that misuses words tends to discourage me from trusting that reviewer to have anything of value to say.

Hoffert cites the observation by LJ reviewer Stacy Alessi about one "high-profile consumer reviewer": "Would anyone seriously into books even look at her reviews? The woman reads several books a day and loves, loves, loves them all. Ridiculous."

I've written several reviews over the years in the Lake County Record-Bee but I've also posted consumer reviews in less-formal mediums. I enjoy an advantage in the former situation of my opinion being courted because I'm on the staff of a newspaper, but even so, I don't review every book that is sent to me.

If the book is by a local author, I will try to publicize the book and any planned author signings but that does not mean I am committing myself to read and review the book.

To be honest, not every book is of interest to me. Some books are on subjects that I know nothing about and I don't believe that I can contribute a valuable, informed opinion.

Other books, which arrive out of nowhere, turn out to be fabulous reads: Dark's Tale by Deborah Grabien stands out in my mind in this category. That it came here seems pure serendipity, because I don't know who sent me the uncorrected proof. But I loved the book, I wrote a column and I also submitted a purchase recommendation to the Sonoma County Public Library, which hosts our library catalog.

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