Once again there’s a conversation in the reviewing blogosphere (via OF Blog of the Fallen) of whether the online reviews ought to conform to some standards. Which is a perfectly reasonable conversation to have, considering that we all expect different things from reviews. I do an occasional informal write up of a book or two, but I do not call them reviews mostly because they lack rigor â€“ it’s just some thoughts that occur to me after reading, and I feel free to limit myself to talking only about certain aspects of a book or not do plot summary or whatever. However, once someone claims that what they are doing is a proper review, it seems to me that there are some things that would be best avoided. I am talking as a reader here, not a writer, and about other people’s books, not mine. Yes, I read review blogs looking for reading material. What follows is the list of statements that make me personally discount the entire review as invalid; your triggers may vary.
1. “Pretentious” â€“ Hal Duncan and many others discussed the meaning of this epithet in great detail. However, to me it means one thing: a reviewer’s inability to differentiate between auctorial intent and the reviewer’s impression of said intent. It is a useless descriptor that only shows me that the reviewer is not a very good one.
2. “Style over substance” â€“ the assumption here is that style is separate from a story, and that an artless narration of exciting events is somehow superior to complex language; a strange belief that language in literature is commonly used to obfuscate and not much else.
3. “Agenda story” â€“ all stories are agenda stories; it’s just some agendas we tend to agree with or are used to. Tolkien wrote agenda stories. If the reviewer sees Tehanu but not Lord of the Rings as an agenda story, they have blinders on.
4. “Attempt to be PC” â€“ look, if the reviewer can think of no reason to put women/protagonists of color/religious minorities in a story besides pacifying some imaginary PC police, it doesn’t mean that the rest of the world feels the same way.
5. “I expected X but instead it was Y” â€“ while a reviewer’s expectations are important to them, they are not important to me. Not to mention, that people usually form expectations based on other people’s reviews; penalizing the writer for someone else’s review giving you a wrong impression is silly.
6. Confusing opinion with fact â€“ such as overlooking something present in text and then arguing that your interpretation is just as valid as someone else’s. Sorry, but there are objectively existing things, and saying that it’s all opinion rather misses the point â€“ for example, one cannot very well avoid the eugenics subtext in Kornbluth’s “The Marching Morons”, even if one prefers to pretend it’s not really there.
Well, that’s about it. What things annoy you in reviews?