[Paleopsych] theBookseller.com: The review malaise

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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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