I’ll Be Your Mirror

Simon Owens just put up a little interview with me about this here blog and related topics over at Bloggasm. I go a bit crazy on the topics of books I’m looking forward to and blogs I recommend. F’instance:

Oh dear. I never know what’s coming out when. A few books I was really looking forward to have just come out and I’m in the process of reading them — Jeff VanderMeer’s Shriek, Andrea Seigel’s To Feel Stuff, Geoff Ryman’s The King’s Last Song, Julie Phillips’ Tiptree biography. I’m very much looking forward to Cecil Castellucci’s next novel Beige, Holly Black’s Ironside and Justine Larbalestier’s Magic’s Child (oddly, all YA); there aren’t even ARCs I can covet of those yet. Of things getting ready to come out, I would recommend any of the above, plus M.T. Anderson’s Octavian Nothing: Volume 1 and John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines (more YAs). Oh, and David Levithan’s new one. I also can’t WAIT for all the original anthologies Ellen Datlow has in the works. Or for Karen Joy Fowler’s next novel (!), or John Kessel’s or Kelley Eskridge’s, for that matter — but, sadly, these don’t exactly exist yet, though I understand all are in the works. On the upside, Nicola Griffith’s next Aud novel has, according to Wiscon news, been turned in, so that one should be forthcoming (if not soon enough). I’m going to kick myself for leaving something out, I just know it.

Oh, books that aren’t written yet, how I long for you!

23 thoughts on “I’ll Be Your Mirror”

  1. “I think I have a reputation as being generous with books, but that’s because I mostly don’t talk about ones I wouldn’t feel comfortable pressing on another person.”
    I like this a whole lot–I mean, why bother being negative about books on your website? Why not just push the good ones?

  2. That’s how I feel; it’s SO not worth the karma to do things another way. Also, I don’t like making other writers feel crappy.

  3. And ditto for me Gwenda – it’s so cool to have someone whose site you love return the love. (It’s a big gushfest around here….)
    And as for the positive reviews, I’m right there with you. There are too many good books to write about, why waste our time on the ones we don’t like? (I have thrown two books across the room in the past two days, and no – you won’t be hearing anything about them from me!)

  4. I mean, why bother being negative about books on your website? Why not just push the good ones?
    With all due respect to those who don’t feel comfortable writing negative reviews, I’m still with John Clute on this one:
    “Reviewers who will not tell the truth are like cholesterol. They are lumps of fat. They starve the heart. I have myself certainly clogged a few arteries, have sometimes kept my mouth shut out of ‘friendship’ which is nothing in the end but self-interest. So perhaps it is time to call a halt. Perhaps we should establish a Protocol of Excessive Candour, a convention within the community that excesses of intramural harshness are less damaging than the hypocrisies of stroke therapy, that telling the truth is a way of expressing love; self-love; love of others; love for the genre, which claims to tell the truth about things that count; love for the inhabitants of the planet; love for the future. Because the truth is all we’ve got. And if we don’t talk to ourselves, and if we don’t use every tool at our command in our time on Earth to tell the truth, nobody else will.”
    (Not to mention that I find that writing only positive reviews gets boring, and that failures can be as interesting as successes.)

  5. Hey Niall — That’s all well and good, except I do NOT consider what I’m doing here reviewing or being a critic. I’m making recommendations. It’s my personal site and that’s what I want to do with it. There are plenty of other people who talk about books they don’t care for on their blogs and I have no problem with that whatsoever. It’s just not what I’m doing this site for.
    When I write a review for Kirkus, if it has to be less than positive, I’m fine with that. Because that’s a professional review and I’m being hired to do a job. I just wrote two less-than-glowing ones, but (I hope) they were fair and honest and judged the books on their own merits.

  6. p.s. Also, I very, very rarely actually read books I don’t care for. I usually toss those after a few pages, because life’s too short. Lately, I’m having to read more books that aren’t necessarily my cuppa for other reasons, which only makes me more inclined to demand satisfaction from the books I read for pleasure.

  7. That’s all well and good, except I do NOT consider what I’m doing here reviewing or being a critic.
    Which is fine. I couldn’t do it, but as you say, it’s your blog. But the general tone of the thread seemed to me to be heading in the why-review-bad-books direction, which is something I feel pretty srongly about.

  8. Sorry if I was a little pointed, Niall… but I felt like there was an implication that I’m somehow being dishonest here. And that’s just not true. Because I mean every word I say about the books I do talk about — and, imo, not talking about the other ones isn’t in any way dishonest. If I were lying about the books I do choose to talk about, that’d be an entirely different story.

  9. No, I see where you’re coming from, and the Clute quote is pretty strongly worded, so I apologise too. I think I got out of bed on the feisty side this morning.
    I do think that one of the duties of a reviewer is to try to offer a picture of their field that is both honest and comprehensive, and I think it’s hard to do a credible job of that without reviewing books you don’t like now and then. And as mentioned above, I personally am as interested in failures, often, as I am in successes.
    But in a blog, you set the terms; the only obligation is to write what you want to write. As long as you’re clear about what you’re doing and why — which I think you are — there’s no problem, really.
    The only danger is that if you don’t mention something you risk people assuming that you dislike it (because otherwise you’ve have mentioned it) rather than that you haven’t read it … which I was starting to wonder about The King’s Last Song, for instance, since I thought you’d read that a while ago.

  10. Yeah, I worry about that at times–especially now when I’m so far behind on my reading. I suppose I should also say that I don’t necessarily talk about every book I like either (although I do try to mention everything I _love_).
    It does seem to me that — by and large — the genre reviewers are pretty picky about what they review. I’d love to see Clute reviewing one of those new Dune books, for instance. After all, those books probably say as much about the state of the genre as anything else, right? I rarely see the more prominent reviewers taking on truly “bad books,” more just not liking ones that we all wished were (or thought would be) good.

  11. ps- Sort of related, or at least this made me think of it.
    Andy Duncan (I think) said once that he wished someone would look at the series or “for the money” books of authors like Terry Bisson and Vonda McIntyre seriously, as part of their body of work.
    It has always seemed odd to me that no one ever really talks about those other side books in reviews.

  12. I think Clute is better at this than most. See Boston Herald, Nov/Dec 1999, for example. Sadly it doesn’t seem to be online. See also his comments about the erasure of Christopher Priest’s tie-in novels from his bibliography.
    But I know what you mean. The vast multimedia properties that supply the most popular sf are largely ignored. I’m sure that’s partly because keeping up to date enough to have an informed opinion about the latest part of them would be a full-time job in itself, but it’s also a bit of a cheat. And at the same time there are books like the Tiptree biog which everybody and their mother rushes to review … I’m starting to suffer review-fatique on that one!

  13. Hmmmm – I do write reviews for Bookslut, Eclectica and Voices of NOLA and I do not review books I do not like. I guess I’m confused here – does a reviewer have to be a “nonrecommending negative reviewer” in order to have respect as a reviewer? That makes no sense to me. I could write a scathing review of two books I read earlier this week – except I stopped reading both of them long before they were finished. So – I’m supposed to keep reading even though I know I don’t like the book just so I can write about how I don’t like the book?
    It just doesn’t make sense to me.
    I’d rather abandon a book I do not enjoy – life is too short to slog through them – and move on to something else. I choose to review books I like – books I want to let the world know about. I don’t lie about enjoying them or exaggerate their merits. Every time I write a review it is because I liked that book (some more than others). And I honestly think that still makes me a good reviewer, as well one who doesn’t mind reviewing. (How could you possibly stand to read a book through that you hate and then write about it?)
    How I felt about all of this has been influenced in no small part by my reviewing for Booklist – a recommend only journal. The ALA will review books by well known authors that are disappointments, (King, Grisham, etc.) but by and large if I receive a poorly written book from them, I can respond with the reasons why I do not think it should be reviewed and thus far all of those reasons have been accepted by my editor. It works for public libraries, why can’t it work elsewhere?
    Bottom line if someone wants to spend their time being a negative reviewer, more power to them. That’s just not what I choose to do with my time (or my life).

  14. I agree, Colleen, and I greatly admire your reviewing style. I do think that criticism is healthy and I’m glad that there are reviewers that feel comfortable doing it.
    I had very mixed emotions about the Kirkus reviews, but I just started reviewing for them and it’s made very clear up front you have no choice in what books you get. It’s the luck of the draw. Neither of the books I drew were despicable, but even for what they are, they were lacking in major areas. I gave them honest-but-not-brutal reviews. And I tried to approach them with love, which is all any author can ask, really.

  15. Ok, a few final comments on this.
    1. I am very much a started-so-I’ll-finish reader, particularly if I’ve been asked to review something. I can count on the fingers of one hand the books I’ve given up on, and most of those I’ve tried a second time at a later date. Even if I’m not enjoying something, there’s a chance it might improve; and I want to know how it ends so that I can talk about it, if I want to, without looking like an idiot.
    2. I don’t actually write many negative reviews, because most of the time I have at least some say in what I get to review (you are therefore unlikely to see me review, say, any Terry Pratchett). Plus, the vast majority of books are not complete successes or total failures, but somewhere in-between. So it’s not usually a case of writing a review of a book I hate; it’s writing a review of a book that I think has some aspects that work and some that don’t (eg), and wanting to explore both sides.
    3. In other words, one of the main reasons I write reviews is because I want to explore what makes something tick, and if it doesn’t tick, that can be interesting too. Probably the most negative review I’ve written in the last year is a piece on Michael Cunningham’s Specimen Days for NYRSF, and in large part I wrote it because it the book’s argument seemed such a waste of the skill that had gone into creating it.
    4. It’s also true that I try to write the sort of reviews that I would like to read. I don’t want to know that the reviewer enjoyed the book before I start reading the review; I want, in a way, to follow them as they explore the book. Similarly, I want to read reviewers whose taste I can calibrate against my own, and to do that I gravitate towards reviewers who tell me their likes and their dislikes.
    5. And as mentioned before, there is an element of wanting to review a wide range of books across fantasy and science fiction. I can’t help feeling that focusing only on books I really like wouldn’t send me outside my comfort zone as much, or lead me to interesting books. On that note, thanks to the bsfa raffle, I now have a copy of one of Karen Traviss’ Star Wars novels to read. Huzzah!

  16. You know I think there is a cross purposes of conversation going on here (if that makes any sense). We don’t seem to be talking about negative reviews (where a reviewer clearly delights in poking at the book and clearly hated reading it) but rather critical reviews – where the reviewer liked the book overall but considers different elements of the book or writing style in the review. I choose almost all of the books I review (excluding Booklist) but I choose from an enormously wide range – YA for my Bookslut column but beyond that anything is fair game. So I generally choose books I want to read – just because they sound good. I have refused to review a half dozen books I requested in the past three years because I did not like them. So I think I’m doing pretty good there, odds-wise. I don’t commit to finishing a book just because I’ve started it though (or requested it). I just can’t do it – I get frustrated and angry and it’s not good for me or the poor author.
    What’s really interesting about this conversation though is that I write the kind of reviews that I want to read as well – I want to hear about a book an author is excited about. That doesn’t mean I state in every review that I loved it from the very beginning but my enthusiasm for the title is probably obvious.
    Here’s a recent case in point of a positive review of mine that you might prefer though Niall. I finished Endymion Spring and it will be in my Sept column. It’s an easy book to recommend – it has all the adventure elements that YAs will love and involves a mysterious book at Oxford – the atmosphere is fantastic. But….I couldn’t help but think that the book could have been better if the author had taken a bit more time to give it some more depth. So, a positive review from me on all elements that matter to YA readers but with a small caveat – it’s his first book though, so I bet he will just improve hugely in the future.
    I guess what I prefer is that kind of “negative review”. I still enjoyed the book – it’s just a degree of enjoyment that I consider while reviewing.
    Okay – I promise I’m done now!! Enjoy your Star Wars novel!

  17. I think we’re not as far apart as we first thought we were, but I don’t think we’re quite in agreement — which is probably a healthy thing!
    For instance: I don’t care for the sort of negative reviews you describe, where the reviewer is poking fun at the book (where there’s a sense the reviewer was looking for faults with the book). But I have no problem with a review that disliked the book overall but thought some aspects of it were interesting and worth discussing, or even with a strongly negative review that is based in a solid examination of what the book was trying to do, and concludes that it failed. Admittedly the line between these kinds of reviews can sometimes seem extremely fine. It often comes down to whether or not I feel the reviewer has met the book on its own terms.
    Anyway, I look forward to the Endymion Spring review.
    Okay – I promise I’m done now!! Enjoy your Star Wars novel!
    Or I might hate it with a furious passion. You know, whichever. 😉

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