What kind of scrutiny should reviews receive? I raise the question in the wake of a brouhaha over the use of profanity in a review.

"Yeah, it has the blood (tons of the stuff), it has the kick-ass dialogue, the one-of-a-kind stream-lined prose, and it moves along like a motherfucker - but this is no doubt a major departure for Huston. Shit, I’d argue that Mystic Arts isn’t even noir. Yeah, I fucking just said that. Deal with that shit.
"That said, it certainly still kicks some major fucking ass."

We're at a turning point, where fewer reviews are finding their way into print and reliance on volunteer - dare I say, in the opinion of some - amateur reviewers to spread the word about books. We receive hundreds of review copies or offers of review copies each year, and take our personal time to read and critique a selection of the works received.

If you follow the link from the quote I've included, you can read the whole review for yourself. Bookspot Central Guru Damon caught up with Charlie Houston and asked how he felt about profanity in reviews.

Charlie's answer?

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Charlie Houston on profanity in reviews"]Charlie Houston on profanity in reviews[/caption]

If you follow the comments trail, you'll see some have taken offense and made profanity in reviews an issue.

I think reviews are like all things - some work for some people and don't work for others. This language speaks to a certain audience, a certain reader type that is probably part of a younger demographic. It works for me within the context of this review. It doesn't mean I'll start swearing like a trucker in my own reviews, but I find a certain amount of amusement in the fact that the arguments over swearing in books have extended beyond that, and there's debate now over the place of swearing in reviews.

The drama has been playing out for several days now. One thing's for sure: The Nerd of Noir writes reviews that get people's attention. Can that really be all bad?

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Comment by I. J. Parker on February 10, 2009 at 8:16am
What Sandra said, Michael. That review is okay if book and web site address teen boys who think of themselves as baaad. It certainly tells me I don't want to read the book. And that has nothing to do with the language but rather with the brainless points the review makes. It's juvenile.
Comment by Sandra Ruttan on February 10, 2009 at 3:57am
Michael, I take dialogue as coming from the characters, not the author. I know there's stuff I write that doesn't reflect my lifestyle, my values, or how I talk, but it's true for the characters, and that's the point.

It's like someone who sculpts or paints a nude image. Do we think the artist runs around in public naked all the time? Why are we able to detach with some things and not others?
Comment by Michael Phelps on February 10, 2009 at 3:44am
I agree with Charlie and Dana. I have been in a mental quandry over posting excerpts from my new novel because of profanity, which is crucial to the dialogue of the bad guys. I don't ordinarily swear, though I can if the instance necessitates. I co-authored the Biography of the late actor David Janssen, with his first wife. There were parts containg both profanity and graphic sex scenes. I was embarassed, so I redacted them before giving a copy to my mother, a saint of a woman with high morals, and she asked me; "Why did you do that? - - - I want to read the whole book." Still, I don't want readers or reviewers to think I use obsceneties in my normal voice.
Comment by Dana King on February 10, 2009 at 3:14am
Using Vern's movie reviews as an example, the home page makes it clear these are not going to be reviews for the faint of heart, or easily offended. I think that's fair; if harsh language offends you, then don't read his reviews. If I ever decided to do a review like that for the website I review for, I'd probably run a warning first, if only to let the reader know, if you're offended by this review, you're REALLY not going to want to read the book.
Comment by Tom Cooke on February 10, 2009 at 1:58am
I am not in the young demographic. I have spent my lifetime working with rough men who do hard work and live hard lives. Rough language was an everyday means of communication. That said, I find the review objectionable and offensive. I agree with John. It was unnecessary and used to draw attention to itself. Either that or the reviewer may have a limited vocabulary and the inability to express himself . Of course, this is just the opinion of an old geezer.
Comment by Sandra Ruttan on February 10, 2009 at 1:35am
Dana, interesting... your comment about knowing what you were getting when you went there has me wondering if a profanity alert would make a difference. Or is it censorship?

John, maybe I should have said young at heart - joking. I've heard people take that way, in varying degrees, and I think that's the key point. In a short review, the consistency of the use of profanity may make it seem like it's been overdone. I know we go through a shift with 50/50 custody, because things we'll have on or be talking about won't even phase us, and then the kids come home and you have this hypersensitive censoring mechanism that kicks in and you realize how much profanity is in that show, or how much you swear yourself sometimes.

But I was actually thinking more teen level. Not to suggest that all teens talk that way, but I've hung out with and worked with my fair share and what's verboten is often attractive. Some authors have said what turned them on to books was that they could be exposed to all sorts of things without censorship, whereas they weren't allowed to see certain movies, etc, so the printed word offered access that was otherwise denied. I wonder how much of that is generational, because now kids seem to have a way to find access to things and it's increasingly difficult to put those filters in place, but this is the kind of thing I can see some teens I know reading, and I can see it inspiring them to read the book.

The review doesn't bug me in the slightest. I think it would be a dull world if everyone did everything the same way, this person's found a way of expressing their opinion about a book, and it works for them. It doesn't read to me like someone trying deliberately to offend. I have no idea how old the author of the review is, but I just didn't have the sense of it being put on. Which doesn't make me right and you wrong or the other way around - it's just a different interpretation.

All that said, it's your last line I find most interesting, because so many reviews are more about style than substance, don't you think? There are a lot of reviews that read more like the reviewer trying to show how incredibly insightful they are than anything else, the reviews are more about them than about the book(s). There are also some reviewers that take shots at other reviewers on a regular basis. I'm not talking about saying, "Wow, I read this review and really disagreed and here's why." I'm talking about routinely throwing up links that say variations of, "Reviewer X offers their misguided analysis of Joe Schmoo's LATEST BOOK" and doing that regularly. It's slant, it's shoddy journalism, it tells you how to feel about the review and reviewer before reading, so you approach it predisposed to disagree. I remember being taught how to do that back when I studied journalism ethics. It's fair enough to say you agree or disagree with a review, but when you start branding a reviewer as a hack/unprofessional/misguided/amateur - it gets personal.

And I'm 100% not thinking of your comments here when I say that. I raised the issue of the controversy over this review, so I invited opinions. I'm talking about making a point of talking about reviews on a regular basis and including shots at the reviewers.

I think it all runs the risk of being bad for reviews. On the other hand, it gets people arguing about reviews, which means they're talking about reviews, which means the book gets more exposure, and there are always those who decide to read the book themselves to find out what the fuss is about. I guess that's an "ends justifies the means" argument, but if it prompts people to read the books, is it all bad?

For my own part, I try to write reviews that offer enough information for readers to decide if the book will work for them as a reader, without giving a lot of spoilers, but every now and again I'm less detached and more personal opinion comes in that's based off my reaction to the book. I'm not sure if those are as helpful to readers.
Comment by John Dishon on February 10, 2009 at 12:56am
That review is rather pathetic, I think. It comes off as fake and reads like a middle age guy trying to act cool. Oh look at me, I'm badass and hardcore and totally phoning it in. I don't know how young you mean when you say "young demographic", but I'm 24 and no one my age talks like that. None I've heard anyway. As a matter of fact, I've never heard anyone of any age speak or write like that naturally. It's not the use of profanity that makes it laughable either, it's the presentation of it. Someone needs to tell the reviewer to stop trying so hard and just be natural. If that means profanity, then fine, but write a decent review. It's obvious that review was more about style than substance, and that's bad for a review.
Comment by Dana King on February 10, 2009 at 12:42am
I have dropped "ass" into a few reviews (as in, "If easy reading is hard writing, then is busting his ass," or, "This character'sentire personality seems to revolve around being a pain in the ass), and I occasionally quote a naughty word straight from the text, but that's about it. I try to make a book review readable for whoever comes across it, and to shed more heat than light on whether they might enjoy the book.

On the other hand, I do enjoy reading Vern's movie reviews, but I knew what I wasgetting when I went there.

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