Thursday, April 17, 2008

Gentle Reader

Has anyone been following the bru-ha-ha in the blogosphere about unscrupulous and deeply scary Amazon reviewers? I don't want to get into that mess here, but there was an offshoot discussion about Harriet Klausner that piqued my interest. Klausner, for those who aren't familiar with her, is an Amazon reviewer who manages to be continually in their top ten--#1 even--despite the fact that just about everyone appears to pretty much despise her. Include me in: I find her reviews almost completely content-free.

Anyway, the tangent that caught my interest (which I'm not going to attempt to track down amidst hundreds of comments for a link) was a suggestion that because Klausner has a library background, perhaps her reviews are not actually intended to be critical reviews in the sense most of us think of them, but more a form of reader's advisory. Basically she's just saying, "if you like this sort of thing, you'll like this sort of thing." This doesn't address the issue that she is notorious for getting details wrong, and general indications are that she can't possibly thoroughly read all the books she writes about, but I still thought it an interesting point.

Sometimes I review because I have found a book so wonderful, it just cries out to be written about. That is optimal reviewing, from my point of view, and I only wish it happened more often. Much less often, I'll review something because it's so awful I just have to write about it. But most reviewing comes from a sort of in-between place, where there might be something I like about a book, but mostly I'm thinking, "well, someone who likes this sort of book will like this book." And that is a hard, hard place to review from. I often wind up feeling like I didn't really write a review, because I really didn't have much in the way of an authentic opinion to offer. Maybe I should label those "reader's advisory."

Do people have review adult books have this issue? With children's books, the concept of usefulness is hard to escape. Now that I'm a parent, I'm even more aware of it. I used to review primarily from the standpoint of a reader; now I find myself taking the stance of a parent, a librarian, a teacher... I'm all over the place. Does this make my reviews more useful or less?

What viewpoint do you review from? Does it move around? Do you get confused when it does?