[Paleopsych] theBookseller.com: The review malaise
checker at panix.com
Fri May 20 19:04:19 UTC 2005
The review malaise
Literary editors are turning what should be a force of good into a
waste of time, says Scott Pack.
Every Saturday and Sunday I read the broadsheets. All of them. I
settle into my armchair at 9 a.m. with a cup of tea and commence
thumbing through newsprint to unearth the books pages. When I emerge
hours later, looking not unlike a chimney sweep, I am thoroughly
The reason for my unusual melancholy? The realisation that literary
editors are increasingly turning what should be a force for good in
our industry into a complete waste of time.
Book reviews should inspire reading. They should excite, stimulate,
agitate and empower readers to discover new books and avoid bad ones.
They should turn you on to undiscovered authors, prompt you into
finally reading the writer you have never quite got round to, and make
you wonder at the world of delights that remain unread.
But let's be honest. They don't, do they?
A full-page review of a biography of a largely forgotten academic with
an unfeasible beard. A literary fiction hardback that everyone else
reviewed months ago. Nearly 2,500 words on yet another Nazi history.
Four "chick-lit" books reviewed in one piece, at the end of which the
reader is none the wiser as to their relative worth. Hardly a recipe
for inspiration, but these were the lead features in a particular
newspaper one Saturday in April. It was very dull. The beard was the
The result of this awkward mish-mash is that reviews no longer sell
books in the volume that they used to. In more unguarded moments,
usually involving a glass of something, you can get publishers to
admit that they only push hardbacks for review so that they can
generate quotes for the paperback jacket. Hardly the most sincere of
Don't get me wrong. Reviews can sell books, and should do. When you
get several positive reviews of a book around publication it can help
to stimulate interest and hopefully sales. The problem is that this so
rarely happens, and it won't happen regularly while authors, agents,
publishers and retailers sit back and do nothing. If the music pages
can manage to feature a diverse selection of CDs, all released that
week, then surely we can encourage one literary editor to do the same?
I bet if any did succumb they would find many more publishers willing
to spend advertising money with them.
Until then, I am giving up my weekend routine and will be tuning in to
"Dick and Dom" instead.
Scott Pack is buying manager at Waterstone's
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