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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It's not all bullshitting. If I write a review and say the characters speak in stilted, unrealistic language, I should then provide examples. if i say the dialog flows like warm milk, I should show that, too. It gives the readers an opportunity to decide whether what I just mentioned matters to them--my mother doesn't give a rat's ass about style or dialog, just the story--or if they think the reviewer is full of shit. That, too, is a personal opinion, but too many "reviewers" don;t provide the raw material to make a decision.

I think a salient point here is that book sales are largely driven by impulse buyers

Hmm. Every survey I've ever seen says book sales are overwhelmingly driven by word-of-mouth. If it were just a matter of placement, then publishers could create bestsellers at will. They wish!

I think most readers are a lot more thoughtful than you seem to give them credit for. They're not just mindless hordes plucking whatever happens to be in reach.

I'm not talking about readers.  I'm talking about buyers.  Big difference there.  Sure I have fans who buy every book I write, but their number is insignificant.  I have also fans who get my books from libraries. Some of my Amazon reviewers are thoughtful readers and their reviews show it.  But we are not talking about the great mass of book buyers here who create bestsellers.  Hype creates bestsellers because it appeals to thoughtless book buyers.

 

Word-of-mouth is precisely for impulse buyers.  Who else would run out to buy a book just because someone else liked it?  Buying a book because you already know the author's work is quite different.  Otherwise, you get it at the library.

Apropos hype:  Rowlings' new crime novel has just hit the stands.  Sales are over the top!  People are buying the book because the Harry Potter author wrote it even though it's not a Harry Potter book.  Word-of-mouth has nothing to do with that.  The same people would also buy any book by Kate, Prince William's spouse.  Any book.

 First reviews (professional reviewers) of Rowlings' mystery are negative, though they give her credit for tight plotting (one of the criteria for judging a mystery).

If I write a review and say the characters speak in stilted, unrealistic language, I should then provide examples.

Yes, but of course those examples will be what you consider to be stilted and unrealistic dialogue. "Stilted" and "unrealistic" are abstract ideas subject to personal interpretation.

I agree with what you're saying, that a reviewer should back criticisms with examples. But to me it becomes largely irrelevant if we accept the fact that all reviews are by nature subjective anyway.

And I think it's really interesting how one can read something and hate it, and then years later come back to it and see it in a completely different light. That has happened to me several times.

Yes, but of course those examples will be what you consider to be stilted and unrealistic dialogue

Right, absolutely. But I want the reader to be able to see I'm full of shit, if he thinks so. That's why I need the examples.

And I think it's really interesting how one can read something and hate it, and then years later come back to it and see it in a completely different light.

Oh, yeah. Me, too. Most recently with Adrian McKinty's DEAD I WELL MAY BE. I badly underestimated that book the first time i read it. Same with THE LAST GOOD KISS.

 

Oh, that happens when you suddenly understand how the thing works.  It happened in class all the time.

And I'll have to try McKinty again.

Yes, but of course those examples will be what you consider to be stilted and unrealistic dialogue. "Stilted" and "unrealistic" are abstract ideas subject to personal interpretation.

 

The funny thing is that dialog that really hums--e.g., Elmore Leonard's, Richard Price's--isn't what you hear in real life, it is unrealistic, sometimes even stilted, but it tricks the ear into thinking it's real life dialog in the same way that your eyes are tricked by a painter's brush into seeing a face.

all reviews are by nature subjective anyway.

While I agree that one's initial  response to anything---art, writing, music---is usually subjective (like, dislike), a person who decides to write a review of that piece can BE objective in the course of a thoughtful analysis. So IMHO it's never irrevelant to give examples.  I may not LIKE a certain piece, but I can be objective enough to give credit where it's due, point out what I believe are flaws. For me, being objective also means  trying to achieve a balance. Weigh the good AND the bad.    A reviewer owes it to his or her readers to let them know WHY he is making a certain judgment. Then let them decide whether they agree or not. Even if  stilted dialogue doesn't bother them, they'll at least know what it was that particular reviewer objected to. The informed reader will  make his or her own analysis. 

If I run into two well reasoned book reviews that conflict about a particular novel then I'm likely to learn from both even if I end up siding with one reviewer over another, and both reviews will likely deepen my understanding of the work. Yes, more of these kinds of reviews, please. (But they're not for everybody, I suppose.)

Word-of-mouth has nothing to do with that.

Um, it did when she was starting out. Her first book had an initial print run of 1000 copies. Word-of-mouth made her a huge success. It was everything.

Of course once you build a fan base of millions, many of them are going to buy anything you write. That's the way it works. Nobody can manufacture that kind of success, no matter what kind of marketing budget they have. If publishers could create bestsellers with hype, then every book would be a bestseller.

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