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Book Reviewing 101

This book reviewing is an interesting game. I'm not sure I would ever take a book review seriously again. A book came out recently on a subject I reckoned I knew more about that most.  I put my name forward to a well known publication as a possible reviewer. I didn't hear back. I suggested another potential reviewer who also knew the subject matter well. Again nothing. The book was reviewed. The reviewer's ignorance of the subject matter was a surprise. Then it occurred to me that the journal in question didn't want someone who knew the subject to review the book. It's all very cosy. Most book reviewers and many books page editors are writers themselves. If they give someone a bad review, they may get a bad review as payback, either from the writer of the book or one of the author's friends.
What's the point of reading a review by someone who is unable to say what in the book is true and what's not? I'm not talking about matters of factual interpretation, but about basic geography. The book in question was reviewed in several places; I'd say it got saturation coverage and overall enjoyed very good reviews. In all but one review I came across the reviewers' ignorance of the subject matter was staggering, though not entirely surprising in view of the way I'd been treated when I suggested myself as a reviewer. Certainly the book was not as ground-breaking as many of the reviewers seemed to think. The one reviewer who gave the book the thumbs-down was, not surprisingly, someone who knew something about the subject and was not a member of the literary mafia.
Another little thing about book reviews is a print journalist's desire to write something that won't end up within a few days wrapping up fish and chips or lining the bottom of the budgie's cage. What better than being included in those little mini-reviews which appear on the back of the paperback edition - “A splendid tale splendidly told” or “A masterful grasp of complicated events.” Now, you don't end up on the back of the book if you write something negative.
I've been lucky so far with Book Briefing on this site because I've liked most of the books reviewed. But I'm finding one book I'm reading at the moment a real hard slog. It's just possible that one day the author may be asked to review a book of mine. Should I review the book? Watch this space. OK. No need to wait. I will review the book. It's a question of credibility. Come to think about it, this book review thing is a lot like the Hans Christian Andersen story about the Emperor's New Clothes. It took a child with no fear of the consequences or hidden agenda to tell the truth; that the royal personage's new gossamer-light suit was a big con and he was in fact stark naked.


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