Reviews

The First Reviews of Every Ernest Hemingway Novel

2 July 2018
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From The Literary Hub:

On this day in 1961, in Ketchum, Idaho, Ernest Hemingway—the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning, machismo-exuding, globe-trotting war correspondent and titan of 20th Century American fiction—took his own life. His much-imitated writing style and tumultuous personal life have ensured that he remains one of the world’s most widely read, and divisive, authors.

To mark the fifty-seventh anniversary of his death, we’re taking a look back at the first reviews of each of Hemingway’s nine published novels, from The Torrents of Spring (1926), to the posthumously released Islands in the Stream (1970) and The Garden of Eden (1986).

. . . .

The Torrents of Spring reveals Mr. Hemingway’s gift for high-spirited nonsense. Whatever its effect on literary foibles, it contributes to that thoughtful gayety which true wit should inspire. While he ridicules certain extravagances by pushing them to the logical conclusion, Mr. Hemingway obviously entertains a robust respect for the object of his allusive gibes. In the last analysis, the book sets out to amuse. This it does.

–The New York Times, June 13, 1926

. . . .

“It is a relief to find that The Sun Also Rises maintains the same heightened, intimate tangibility as the shorter narratives and does it in the same kind of weighted, quickening prose. Mr. Hemingway has chosen a segment of life which might easily have become ‘a spectacle with unexplained horrors,’ and disciplined it to a design which gives full value to its Dionysian, all but uncapturable, elements. On the face of it, he has simply gathered, almost at random, a group of American and British expatriates from Paris, conducted them on a fishing expedition, and exhibited them against the background of a wild Spanish fiesta and bull-fight. The characters are concisely indicated. Much of their inherent natures are left to be betrayed by their own speech, by their apparently aimless conversation among themselves. Mr. Hemingway writes a most admirable dialogue. It has the terse vigor of Ring Lardner at his best. It suggests the double meanings of Ford Madox Ford’s records of talk. Mr. Hemingway makes his characters say one thing, convey still another, and when a whole passage of talk has been given, the reader finds himself the richer by a totally unexpected mood, a mood often enough of outrageous familiarity with obscure heartbreaks.

–The New York Times, October 31, 1926

. . . .

“There is in A Farewell to Arms no change from the narrative method of The Sun Also Rises and Men Without Women. Ernest Hemingway did not invent the method, which is chiefly to be characterized by the staccato nature of sentences (an effort at reproducing universal conversational habit), and its rigid exclusion of all but the most necessary description. Yet if Hemingway was not the inventor of the method, tentative gropings toward such a manner having been made by many of his immediate predecessors, the author of A Farewell to Arms has, in his several books, made it so strikingly his own that it may bear his name, and is likely to henceforward. The method has its advantages, and also its disadvantages.

The chief result is a sort of enamel lustre imparted to the story as a whole, not precisely an iridescence, but a white light, rather, that pales and flashes, but never warms. And because it never warms, or never seems to warm, the really human in Hemingway (and there is a great deal in Hemingway that is human) fails of its due. It is not impossible that Ernest Hemingway has developed his style to the extreme to which he carries it because in it he finds a sort of protective covering for a nature more sensitive than he would have one know.
. . . .

“There will be debate as to whether A Farewell to Arms is a finer piece of work than The Sun Also Rises. And there will be cogent arguments advanced on either side. On the surface, the newer story is more effective than the earlier novel. There is more drama, the movement is more nearly continuous and better sustained. And the story of the love between the English nurse and the American ambulance officer, as hapless as that of Romeo and Juliet, is a high achievement in what might be termed the new romanticism. And yet for the present reviewer The Sun Also Rises touches a note which Hemingway caught once, and, in the very nature of the thing, cannot touch again.”

–Percy Hutchison, The New York Times, September 29, 1929

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Why You Can’t Really Trust Negative Online Reviews

19 June 2018

From The New York Times:

The Great Wall of China has more than 9,000 Google reviews, with an average of 4.2 stars. Not bad for one of the most astonishing achievements in human history.

But you can’t please everyone.

“Not very tall. Or big. Just sayin. I kinda liked it. Sort of,” wrote one ambivalent visitor of the structure, which stretches thousands of miles. Another complained, “I don’t see the hype in this place it’s really run down and old … why wouldn’t you update something like this? No USB plug ins or outlets anywhere.” Someone else announced that he’s “Not a wall guy. Laaaaaaaaammme.”

Even Shakespeare can’t escape the wrath of consumer scorn. One reviewer on Amazon awarded Hamlet just two stars: “Whoever said Shakespeare was a genius lied. Unless genius is just code word for boring, then they’re spot on. Watch the movie version so you only waste two hours versus 20.”

. . . .

We use reviews to vet our options. In 2016, the Pew Research Center found that 82 percent of American adults say they sometimes or always read online reviews for new purchases. And more than two-thirds of regular review readers believe that they’re “generally accurate.”

Marketing data indicates that negative reviews in particular dramatically influence our buying behaviors. But research on the biases and demographics of online reviewers — and our own, often errant interpretations — suggests that our faith in reviews is misguided.

. . . .

There are many more positive reviews online than there are negative ones, studies show, which creates a scarcity of negative reviews that we associate with value.

For instance: In a data sample from Amazon, just 4.8 percent of reviews with a verified purchase were rated one star, whereas 59 percent had five stars, according to a study published in 2014 by The Journal of Marketing Research and led by Duncan Simester, a marketing professor at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management.

“The infrequent nature of negative reviews may help to distinguish them from other reviews,” Dr. Simester wrote in an email. We consequently pay more attention to them.

. . . .

We also think of negative reviews as windows into what could go wrong. Is this camera’s memory card going to go kaput in the middle of my honeymoon? Are these socks scratchy? Dr. Simester pointed out that people may see negative reviews as more informative, and therefore more valuable, than positive ones because they highlight defects — even if they’re not actually more accurate.

“We want to feel secure in our decision-making processes,” said Lauren Dragan, who analyzes consumer feedback as the audio tech products reviewer at Wirecutter, a New York Times company that reviews and recommends products. We use negative reviews to understand our risk and reduce our losses, studies show.

. . . .

Reviews are subjective, and the tiny subset of people who leave them aren’t average.

People who write online reviews are more likely to buy things in unusual sizes, make returns, be married, have more children, be younger and less wealthy, and have graduate degrees than the average consumer, according to Dr. Simester’s 2014 study. Online reviewers are also 50 percent more likely to shop sales, and they buy four times more products.

“Very few people write reviews. It’s about 1.5 percent, or 15 people out of 1,000,” Dr. Simester said. “Should we be relying on these people if we’re part of the other 985?”

. . . .

Another reason to be wary is roughly one in 15 people review products they haven’t actually purchased or used, according to Dr. Simester. These “self-appointed brand managers” write speculative, unsolicited negative reviews to offer the company “feedback.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Amazon comes under fire for removal of book reviews

15 June 2018

From The Bookseller:

Amazon has come under fire for removing reviews from its online book listings, with some customers having had all their reviews removed or being blocked from posting further reviews on Amazon.

Authors, bloggers and publishers have criticised the development, with many sharing their frustration through the #giveourreviewsback hashtag. Amazon has blamed temporary “technical issues”.

Author Isabella May told The Bookseller that she had had a “hellish week” of losing reviews for her two novels, published by a small independent Crooked Cat Books. “I have lost a whopping 11 reviews for my two novels in the space of just a week,” the novelist said. “Everything I am doing now as an author is about raising my profile and following my long-term vision, so as you can imagine, it’s quite upsetting to see one book plummet from a very respectable 55 reviews down to 49, and the other (more recently published title) fall from 36 reviews to 31. For a high profile author who may no longer feel the need to check their reviews, this is but a drop in the ocean. But for a new voice, it’s everything, and very distressing – particularly as my publisher retail solely online and solely via Amazon.”

Another reviewer and novelist told The Bookseller  that some of their own positive reviews for other writers had been taken down from both Amazon.com and Amazon UK, noting that books from Amazon’s own publishing arm, such as its fiction imprint Lake Union, attract significant numbers of positive reviews. One title White Rose, Black Forest  garnered 2,960 reviews on Amazon.com within three months of publication.

The reviewer, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “Is this removal of reviews from other authors part of Amazon being at the top in terms of publishing? Because whilst we all suffer, their authors seem to have review numbers the rest of us can only dream of.”

Despite emailing Amazon May was told the reviews would not be reinstated because they were “in violation of our guidelines”. She was not told which specifically but was directed towards its lengthy community guidelines microsite which includes various sections which includes a section on how the company “may restrict the ability to submit a review when we detect unusual reviewing behaviour”.

The retailer has developed tools and policies to combat fake reviews amid problems over “reviews for hire”.

. . . .

HarperCollins’ commercial publisher Kimberley Young told The Bookseller that the removal of reviews enables Amazon to promote its own books “at the expense of others”.

“Writing an honest review on receipt of a proof copy of a book is both an established practice and also a very modern tool,” she said. “Reviews drive word of mouth and help readers find the right books for them. We know algorithms favour well reviewed books and I can’t see how the removal of reviews across so many titles on Amazon can benefit the consumer – it narrows the range and discoverability of books and is another step in Amazon supporting their own books at the expense of others.”

Another senior publisher who wished to remain anonymous told The Bookseller: “This is an example of a megalithic global corporation heavy handedly trying to manoeuvre in the complicated, interconnected world of the modern book publishing community where relationships between people count not algorithms. The fact that someone follows you on twitter or Facebook does not reveal a conflict of interest for their reviews on Amazon and does give the book buyer a really good service.” The publisher added: “I suspect this another move by Amazon to favour titles published through their own publishing channels or through their massively profitable self-publishing lines. Amazon have a real problem because while none of their titles published physically through their publishing imprints are carried by any high street retailers and while they continue to sell smallish quantities of millions of titles at 99p in digital, for instance, and making lots of money from that, very few of those authors generate real commentary, hit the bestseller lists, have any media profile or generate enthusiasm among normal book readers.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG notes that HarperCollins and other large publishers also fit the description of “megalithic global corporation[s]” who have tried to manipulate the book market.

PG further notes that Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster plead guilty to illegal price-fixing for ebooks. So HarperCollins is a self-admitted manipulator of the book market “at the expense of others”, including purchasers of books.

PG understands that this is old news for long-time visitors to TPV, however he reminds one and all that the major US publishers have willfully violated the law in an effort to force purchasers of books to pay millions of dollars in higher prices. PG thinks their sense of entitlement and commitment to market manipulation extends to the terms they offer the authors of the books they publish.

The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion

8 May 2018

From The Guardian:

In recent years, the group biography has become a spirited mainstay of the publishing landscape: a means both of revisiting and reinterpreting already familiar times, people and places, and of bringing together between hard covers lives that might not be deserving of an individual doorstop. In Sharp, though, Michelle Dean has assembled not so much a group as a small crowd: her book, with its title that brings to mind suddenly puckered lips, has the feeling of a cocktail party at which several people drink too much, nearly everyone talks too loudly, and no one really likes anyone else. Through this gathering, she wanders, ashtray in one hand, dishcloth in the other. Dean relishes her guests’ bad behaviour – you might call her a little starstruck – but only to a degree. As the evening goes on, she will sometimes find herself apologising for them, these women who are so clever and talented, and yet so madly competitive, so stubbornly reluctant to attach the word “feminist” to their neon-bright names.

. . . .

Most began as journalists, making an art, as Dean’s subtitle has it, of “having an opinion”; some then went on to write acclaimed novels, and other kinds of books. Most of their names are well known: Hannah Arendt, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Mary McCarthy, Dorothy Parker, Susan Sontag, Rebecca West. Others, at least for British readers, may be less familiar: Janet Malcolm, whose singular, often controversial interviews appeared in the New Yorker; Pauline Kael, once the same magazine’s acerbic film critic; Renata Adler, the reporter whose home was also there until she put the literary equivalent of a bomb under her career. Dean gives each one about the same amount of attention, although it’s clear that she enjoys the company of some more than others. The playwright Lillian Hellman and the novelist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, however, she collides with so fleetingly, they appear before the reader like gatecrashers or, more likely, additions to the guest list so embarrassingly last minute she can hardly bear to do much more than pour them their first sidecar.

What unites them, besides their trade and their talent? Dean talks, in her preface, of their remarkable achievements in a world that “was not eager to hear women’s opinions about anything”; of the way they roundly defied expectations. But there’s also the adjective of her title: sharp. People did not always respond favourably to the “sting” of their words. What would have seemed daring and deeply smart coming from a man appeared only haughty, inappropriate and unkind when served up by a woman.

. . . .

Didion, in her tiny dresses, her wrists like clay pipes, was just so much surface and “swank”. Dean, a journalist herself, sympathises with all this; her book – though these are my words, not hers – is for any woman who has ever silenced a dinner table by being just a little too quick, too knowing, too mocking. Am I allowed to say that I have more than once done just that? Maybe I am.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Raised by Strangers in the Aftermath of War

6 May 2018
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From The Wall Street Journal:

Claude Monet wrote that “without the fog, London wouldn’t be a beautiful city,” and one suspects that Michael Ondaatje agrees with him. Mr. Ondaatje’s latest novel, Warlight” . . .  is a thoroughly fogbound book about childhood and espionage in postwar Britain that feels its way forward with little sense of direction, creating intrigue and allure from the “mysterious cloak”—to borrow again from Monet—that covers and conceals its story.

That story begins by looking back to 1945, when 14-year-old Nathaniel Williams and his older sister, Rachel, learn that their parents are moving from London to Singapore for a year. The children are left under the supervision of a lodger in their house, an enigma they have nicknamed the Moth for his shy, fluttery movements. But not long after the departures, Rachel finds, hidden in the basement, the trunk that her mother packed and pretended to take overseas. She has not gone to Asia at all, they discover (though apparently their father, a traumatized veteran, has), but all that the Moth will tell them of her disappearance is that she “is away. Doing something important.”

“We grew up protected by the arms of strangers,” Nathaniel, the book’s narrator, recalls. Along with the Moth, a gruff former boxer known as the Darter becomes a fixture in the house, eventually apprenticing Nathaniel in the illegal trades he’s cornered since the end of the war. Some of the most strange and memorable passages in “Warlight” take place at night on a barge in remote tributaries of the Thames, where the Darter and Nathaniel are smuggling greyhounds as part of a dog-racing racket.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Authors Beware: Amazon Gets Medieval on Paid and Traded Reviews

22 April 2018

From author Anne R. Allen:

My inbox has been bursting with unsolicited emails for the past few weeks. I must be on a new list of “easy prey” circulating in the the author-scamming community.

. . . .

These emails will “analyze” the Amazon buy page of one of my books—always assuming I’ve only written the one—mansplaining how I’m too stupid to know it’s overpriced, too short, has a bad cover, a bad sales rank (even when it’s a bestseller) and of course, has an insufficient number of reviews.

. . . .

The emailing creeps have no idea I’m with a small press, and they’re actually dissing my publisher. But I can imagine this approach is pretty effective on self-publishers, especially relative newbies. Some judgey stranger offering unpleasant criticism in your morning email can shake an author’s confidence.

And they’re counting on that. Once you’re feeling vulnerable, they pitch bogus or wildly overpriced services, “break into Hollywood” scams, worthless interviews, and that old warhorse, paid Amazon reviews.

. . . .

But when I started to research the paid review business this week, I ran into a bunch of new dramas and draconian changes. So I decided to devote this post to the latest Amazon review horrors.

DO NOT Pay for Amazon Customer Reviews!

One email notified me that I’d failed to get “enough” reviews on my new Author Blog Book. But I could get 25 Amazon reviews from him for only $900!

Dude, here’s the reason many of us “fail” to get tons of Amazon reviews anymore: scammy review-sellers like you.

This is because Amazon fights paid review violations with robots, which are wrong more often than not. And they’re scaring off real reviewers.

In 2016, the Zon changed their TOS to require reviewers to be Amazon customers and forbid any payment—including free products or gift cards—to reviewers of anything other than books. (Book reviewers can review free books as long as they disclose.) This was supposed to crack down on the rampant gaming of Amazon’s review system. For more, see my 2016 post on Amazon’s New Review Rules.

. . . .

A review on a blog is useful, and can be quoted in Amazon’s “editorial review” section, which often has more clout with readers.

But Amazon has recently made more draconian changes. The guidelines have been modified again, and so have the punishments.

It used to be that customers violating Amazon’s TOS were banned from SELLING on Amazon, but the new policy bans them from BUYING.

Your account will be deleted. No warning. No explanations.

. . . .

Amazon’s Review Police-Bots Deleted “Over a Million” Innocent Customers’ Accounts this Month.

Amazon’s latest police-bots are out for blood: if they even suspect you of breaking the rules, your account gets deleted with no warning.

. . . .

The victims got this explanation:

“The account has been deleted for one or both of the following reasons.

Your reviews were posted in exchange for compensation, such as gift cards to purchase the product, product refunds, review swaps, or free or discounted products, and/or Your account was used for commercial purposes.”

. . . .

The most recent crackdown doesn’t only involve draconian punishments for suspected paid reviewers.

Amazon is also banning reviewers from posting in more than one Amazon store. It used to be reviews could be posted in the US Amazon store as well as Canada, UK, Australia, etc., so a UK reviewer could also post a review on Amazon.com, where it had a potential to increase a book’s sales and get it into Bookbub and other newsletters.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen

PG says, among other things, the history of Amazon has been typified by an ongoing battle between con men/con women and Amazon. The battle has often been fought in the reviews section.

PG doesn’t blame Amazon for working hard to keep their reviews legitimate and clean. Online customers are among the flightiest of creatures and can click to competitors on the slightest provocation. As anyone who has watched human activities online for very long understands, herd behavior is a real phenomenon and all sorts of seemingly minor problems or lurid stories can startle large numbers of purchasers off to Walmart or Costco.

In the battle between Seattle and Evil, innocent bystanders can be digitally injured.

An estimated three billion people use the internet today. The number and variety of online cons is impossible to calculate and Amazon is likely to see a good portion of those cons, so they have reasons to be paranoid.

That said, it is imperative for Amazon to treat its suppliers well. Just as customers can move elsewhere, so can suppliers. If PG were running the world, there would be more well-designed online indie-friendly bookstores.

Would The World Be Better Off Without Book Reviews And Ratings?

12 April 2018

From No Shelf Required:

Q: What is your ideal kind of online library and book store? 
A: The kind without comments, reviews and ratings. The kind that only gives useful descriptions and context.

Someone asked me recently to describe an ideal app for reading (inside the app: a mix of ebooks, magazines and newspapers), and I found myself describing a very quiet virtual place, full of knowledge and information, without all the white noise. No Comments section. No opinions. No venom.

This led to another question: So you would not allow readers to express their thoughts online? My answer: I want readers to write and express their own original thoughts by publishing their own works (if they so choose), after being inspired or motivated by reading the thoughts of others. But I would like us all to say and write less about other people’s creation, especially since our inherent need (clearly) is to dislike it at least as much as to praise it. It’s become a nasty race. Everything revolves around liking, rating, heart-ing books online. And we must realize it’s hurting more than helping a large number of writers out there.

The value (and the point) of what we create (whether for entertainment or education) is that it will not appeal to every person at every given moment. The writer owes the reader nothing (I’m referring here only to the process of reading). It isn’t the writer’s responsibility to please every reader’s imagination and taste. It is the reader’s responsibility, however, to remain aware of that.

. . . .

This idea that we can ‘decide’ for others has been a dominant force in the publishing and library industry for centuries. Ask yourself next time you walk into your local library or bookstore: are the books awaiting me there (in any format) all the great books out there for me to discover and be inspired by?

. . . .

However, there is no ‘perfect’ combination. A lot of good writing falls through the cracks. It’s been a faulty process for centuries, although, to be fair, a human one. Today, we are turning a corner whether we like it or not. I, for one, like it. We are leveling the playing field, which means more than ever, people are writing and publishing. I’m not suggesting we are all equally good at writing and that everything published will find readership, but I am stating that the process of ‘rating’ literature and ‘quantifying’ a book’s value via ratings (like those we see on Goodreads and Amazon) is often subjective and driven by interests, personal and professional.

Which brings me to book critics and book reviewers. We don’t need them the way we used to (note to the reader: I was a book review editor for ten years). In an evolved society, we (will) think for ourselves more. We (will) exchange knowledge and information without the ‘influence’ part. We (will) ‘filter’ on our own.

Link to the rest at No Shelf Required

PG notes that no one forces a reader to pay attention to reviews and ratings.

For some of his purchases, ratings and reviews are very helpful for PG. For others, they’re superfluous.

In a world where nothing is new or innovative, people would probably pay much less attention to reviews. PG has no problems shopping for fruits and vegetables without any reviews or star ratings next to the carrots.

However, each book is new. Absent plagiarism, no one has written or read that particular book before. A great many readers want to devote their limited reading time (and book budget) to new books they will enjoy. Very few people are happy when they spend money on a book they end up hating after 50 pages.

Some might rationalize the time spent on a bad book as some sort of learning experience that broadens the reader’s outlook or something – an “Eat your spinach – all of it. It’s good for you” view of the world. Reading a terrible book will broaden your outlook by exposing you to a person who can’t write but may have other undiscovered and unexposed talents or experiences you can learn from.

If someone is untalented at writing but talented at playing the lute, PG would much rather be exposed to that person through his/her lute performances. If one likes to enjoy people at their best and finds inspiration and uplift in the works of great artists, the lutist is eminently preferable to a failed novelist.

PG regards time spent reading a book that’s not well-written as pretty much wasted when it could have been used for reading something he enjoyed or learned from.

From a practical standpoint, reviews and ratings are usually the most potent form of marketing for books. That’s the reason authors work hard to solicit good reviews. If reviews weren’t a good way to sell books, smart authors would spend their time somewhere else.

As far as an online library and bookstore providing only “useful descriptions” as described in the OP, a description like “I hated the book and couldn’t finish it” can be among the most useful descriptions provided to a prospective purchaser, particularly when 50 other people usefully describe the book in the same way.

In Praise of Negative Reviews

25 February 2018

From The Baffler:

“Startlingly Smart,” “remarkable,” “endlessly interesting,” “delicious.” Such are the adulatory adjectives scattered through the pages of the book review section in one of America’s leading newspapers. The praise is poignant, particularly if one happens to be the author, hoping for the kind of testimonial that will drive sales. Waiting for the critic’s verdict used to be a moment of high anxiety, but there’s not so much to worry about anymore. The general tone and tenor of the contemporary book review is an advertisement-style frippery. And, if a rave isn’t in order, the reviewer will give a stylized summary of sorts, bookended with non-conclusions as to the book’s content. Absent in either is any critical engagement, let alone any excavation of the book’s umbilical connection to the world in which it is born. Only the longest-serving critics, if they are lucky enough to be ensconced in the handful of newspapers that still have them, paw at the possibility of a negative review. And even they, embarking on that journey of a polemical book review, temper their taunts and defang their dissection. In essence they bow to the premise that every book is a gem, and every reviewer a professional gift-wrapper who appears during the holidays.

It is a pitiable present, this one that celebrates the enfeebling of literary criticism, but we were warned of it. Elizabeth Hardwick, that Cassandra of criticism, predicted it five decades ago, when she penned “The Decline of Book Reviewing” for Harper’s magazine.

. . . .

In Hardwick’s world reviewers and critics were feared as “persons of dangerous acerbity” who were “cruel to youth” and (often out of jealousy) blind to the freshness and importance of new work. Hardwick thought this an unfair estimation, but she would have found what exists now more repugnant. The reviewers at work now are rather the opposite, copywriters whose task it is to arrange the book in a bouquet of Wikipedia-blooming literary references.

. . . .

Hardwick herself underscored this when she pointed a finger at the “torpor,” the “faint dissension” and “minimal style” that had infected the book review in her time. What’s new is that this faint style has developed a politics or an ethics that gives non-judgment in the book review a high-minded justification. Per its pronouncements, all reviewers (and readers) must check their biases and privilege prior to engaging with a text.

It is a lovely sounding idea, particularly in its attempt to ground the extinction of the negative review in a commitment to fairness and equality. Kristina Marie Darling lays out the rest in her recent essay for the Los Angeles Review of Books titled “Readerly Privilege and Textual Violence: An Ethics of Engagement.” Darling, who is white, and was once a “younger female contingent laborer who more than likely qualified for food stamps,” says textual violence “takes many forms,” the most egregious occurring when “the reader makes inferences that extend beyond the work as it appears on the page.” In the example she offers, a reviewer writing for The Rumpus about a book of autobiographical essays dares to wonder whether the author’s excessively picky eating (showcased in the book) may point to an eating disorder. There it is, then: that sin of considering the content in relation to one’s own views. It is a no-can-do for Darling, who, after going through several similar iterations, concludes with an admonition: “reviewers are not arbiters of taste,” she scolds, but rather “ushers in a room full of empty chairs.”

It’s a sad demotion of the book reviewer. Books are compendiums of ideas and experiences, a comment on the world in which they exist, a template as to how a different one, for better or worse, may be imagined. Why set up strict boundaries to criticism, such that nothing short of a thoroughly purified, bleached, and ironed, scolded and warned individual dares take up the task? Why require your reviewers to offer only vapid and overblown praise of whatever they find between the pages?

This new ethic of book reviewing is offered up to protect and assist the unprivileged and the marginalized; and, yes, those whose context and cultures may not be easily relatable may require a bit of extra work from the reader. Yet from there the anti-negative book review cadre argues for limitations on all book reviews. Writing a critical review that dares wonder about the writer’s biography, that goes beyond the page into the suggested and imputed, is not only “textual violence” but a tacit endorsement of inequality, of exclusion, and marginalization.

Link to the rest at The Baffler

PG isn’t certain whether he is part of a small minority, but he constantly “makes inferences that extend beyond the work as it appears on the page.” His personal reactions to the book he is reading are part of his enjoyment of the book. If anyone is interested, he’s happy to talk about those reactions.

While the OP does not think “new ethic of book reviewing” is a good idea, if this ethic develops into any sort of norm for professional or semi-professional reviewers, perhaps Amazon reviews will be the only ones that are truly honest.

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