Reviewers and Readers: what do we want?

I read a lot of books (understatement of my life), and a lot of book reviews (especially since it’s now part of my job), but until recently I did not know about Bookmarks Magazine. They have their own reviews, but they also provide links to reviews elsewhere. Two of the most useful features on the site are “see all of this week’s reviews” and “see most-reviewed books (last 8 weeks).”

For collection development purposes (i.e. buying books for the library), I’ve been relying on traditional sources, like Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and Library Journal. These are all great resources, but I also really appreciate being able to go to Bookmarks to read several reviews of a book at once.

Recently, having just read Gold by Chris Cleave (and having attended a reading at the Brookline Booksmith), I was curious as to how it was being reviewed in the mainstream press. Thanks to NetGalley, I had the opportunity to read Gold before its official publication date, knowing little about it except the basic premise, and form my own opinion (in a word: lovefest) before I read the opinions of others. Reading some of the reviews Bookmarks linked to, I found that others’ opinions were decidedly mixed, with at least one reviewer (LA Times) complaining of “a feeling of being manipulated.”

Now, book reviewing is a subjective thing, but this seemed to be an odd complaint. No one really likes the word “manipulate,” but isn’t that what all writers, fiction and nonfiction, aspire to do? Nonfiction authors nearly always have an agenda; they are trying to convince you to see things a certain way. (Granted, while plenty of nonfiction has an obvious bias, other nonfiction aspires to be bias-free. It’s basically impossible, but points for effort.)

Fiction, on the other hand…fiction is made up. Invented. Imaginary. Necessitates, frequently, a “willing suspension of disbelief.” We read fiction because we are hungry for stories, and because even though characters and places might be made-up, they are also often deeply true. The authors who can manipulate us best are the ones we love most.

 

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