I have grabbed another entry from "Passive Voice" as a thought-provoking comment even as Joe Konrath defends sock-puppetry, and reader opinions on Amazon are being questioned.

 

Stothard (chair of the Booker Prize Judging Committee)  says:

 

 

“If the mass of unargued opinion chokes off literary critics … then literature will be the lesser for it,” . . .  “There is a great deal of opinion online, and it’s probably reasonable opinion, but there is much less reasoned opinion.”

 

He is spokesman for literary fiction, of course, and there is rather a chasm between self-pubbed fiction and Booker Award winners.  There may also be a great deal of envy for successful genre fiction authors and the attention they receive from critics.  But the point he makes about "argued" opinion and "reasoned" opinion is valid.  A book review should be able to prove its judgment with examples.  Alas, we don't seem to bother with those any longer.

A book review should also be open to critical evaluation by other reviewers. 

And no, it's not a matter of just opinion.  It must be reasoned and supported opinion, and not everyone is equipped to render such reviews.

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A book review is subjective, no matter how you slice it. It is absolutely just a matter of opinion.

I'm sure you could argue and reason from here to Sunday why you hated The Road by Cormac McCarthy; but, other critics (the Pulitzer committee, for example) could argue and reason from here to Sunday why they loved it.

It's all a matter of personal taste.

Well, I have some reasons for not liking the book, but that comment (not a review) was purely subjective and not meant to be anything else.  The same is not true of formal reasoned reviews.

This is why i so rarely read reviews, especially of books I may want to read. What now passes as a review is often little more than a school-level book report: a summary of key plot points--hopefully not too many, but you never know--followed by a paragraph or two where the "reviewer" tells you is he liked the book. 

Jude is right--all reviews are subjective--and so is Ingrid. A reviewer owes it to the readers to justify the subjective opinions, so the reader has an idea if the reviewer cares about the same things, or is full of shit in general. That's what's missing. I write few reviews now, and never of books I don;t care for. When i did, I thought it was my obligation to give examples and reasons for every value judgment I made. 

Righto!

I think the problem is that we've lost the meaning of the word "review." A review used to be a thoughtful critique, often written at some length by a person of literary reputation perhaps equal to or greater than the author being reviewed. Because the reviewer had earned some credibility as a critic/writer of some achievement, the review carried some weight and authority. The amateur online review is a different critter altogether--it has neither weight nor authority, and it's generally not particularly thoughtful--they often feel like they've been dashed off in a few minutes, while the reviewer's watching Honey Boo Boo, or waiting in the checkout line at WalMart. Both are subjective, but there's a big difference between the subjective opinion of your average Amazon or goodreads reviewer and the subjective opinion of someone who actually knows something about books and writing. If that sounds elitist, well, that's okay with me.

If that sounds elitist, well, that's okay with me.

We've lost the meaning of elitist, too. A fellow artist & I were talking about this very word, and concept, just the other day. He said he didn't mind being called "elitist," because what elite really means is "chosen," a select group---from the French "to choose." To be elitist is not necessarily to be a snob. You can be "elitist" and not be a snob at all. Ultimately it means that you recognize excellence---quality. There's nothing wrong with that.

Both are subjective, but there's a big difference between the subjective opinion of your average Amazon or goodreads reviewer and the subjective opinion of someone who actually knows something about books and writing.

There's a difference, but neither is more definitive than the other. Literati Dude A might write a scathing review, and Literati Dude B a glowing one. Same book, different opinions. It happens all the time.

It is my opinion that Along Came a Spider by James Patterson is a better book than Ulysses by James Joyce. A lot of people would argue the opposite, but they would fail, because whatever they say is only their opinion. It doesn't matter how many degrees they have on their walls, or how many critical essays they've published. It still boils down to a matter of personal taste.

No argument in principle, but doesn't the reviewer--either one in your example--have some obligation to show why he came down the way he did? If only so the reader can decide if the opinion stated might apply to him?

Not very fond of ULYSSES, and I don't know Patterson.  Isn't he the one who lets others write his books?

 

I think a salient point here is that book sales are largely driven by impulse buyers (hence airport books and grocery store books and big box store books).  Impulse buyers, however, tend to be rather thoughtless people and, since they don't postpone purchase until they've checked to see if the library has the book, probably not heavy readers.

A bit of amateur psycholanalysis of our customer base.

It's all just opinion, sure, although there's often consensus among thoughtful reviewers, or something approaching it.  Good writing has identifiable qualities--experienced readers know the difference between good dialogue and bad, etc.  But the point is, whose opinion do you respect?  The guy with the track record, or some schmo on goodreads who also reviewed 50 Shades and thought it was awesome?  Opinions are just opinions, but informed opinion means a lot more to me than uninformed opinion.  If I'm trying to pick out a good bottle of wine, who am I going to listen to?  The kid at the supermarket who drinks nothing but Bud Lite, or my friend with the great wine cellar?

"... but some animals are more equal than others."

No argument in principle, but doesn't the reviewer--either one in your example--have some obligation to show why he came down the way he did? If only so the reader can decide if the opinion stated might apply to him?

Sure, that's the way it's supposed to work. But then if the reviews are seen side-by-side (which would be cool--a Siskel and Ebert kind of thing), it comes down to which reviewer is the best bullshitter. Because there aren't really any objective criteria when it comes to art and literature. Not once a basic level of competency is achieved. Those reviewers might want you to think there are (and they might even think so themselves), but if they do they're either lying or delusional.

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