October 2nd, 2008

The Review Review

As has been evident in the Rose-coloured Reviews, I’m sure, I do not feel terribly confident in my ability to review books–or anything–in a way that an end-user will find useful or even interesting. And that’s who reviews are for, end-users, the person who is going to wind up with the book in her hand (or the shoes on her feet, or in some way using of whatever the item under review is).

I feel more confident my ability to criticize writing to the *author*–I am in love with the workshopping process, used to write manuscript evalutations and still work as an editor. When I read a work-in-progress, usually I can go through a text and say what’s working and how one could build on that, what’s not working and how one might ameliorate that.

In my opinion, there’s a big difference between these two tasks: one is prescriptive, one is predictive. One is about how to write, and one about whether to read. Or not. I’m not sure. There’s an interesting quote on That Shakespeherian Rag about criticism as teaching–it’s about *how* to read. Is criticism different from reviews? Um, yes, of course–I’m still a little fuzzy on this (thanks a lot, grad school) but I think so. But both forms are written by readers for other readers, and the writer is really a static component.

There is no meliorative aspect to reviewing–they can’t fix it, can’t try to help move the next draft closer to the ideal text in the author’s mind. By the time reviews are being written, it’s no longer about the writer. As it should be–if someone’s going to invest the time and effort and cash to procure and read a book, they deserve a little guidance on what to invest in.

Still, for a writer, it is such a strange sensation. For years, teachers and workshop groups, friends and colleagues, editors and mentors have all been pitching in their opinions and advice to help me write a good book. And now there are opinions out there that I can’t do anything about. Reviews are the first response to my work that I’ve ever seen that isn’t meant to help me. They are meant to help readers.

I *do* approve of that. But it’s so strange.

I’m really happy that the responses to my book so far have been so thoughtful and intelligent, and also generous. But I’m still not really sure what to do about them–the book is and will always be what got sent to the printer in July, and the snags and infelicities that the reviewers hit are there for good. And when the day comes that someone loathes the book, well, chances are I won’t agree, but *even if I do* there won’t be a thing I can do about it.

Except keep working on the next one. And keep trying to learn to write a decent review myself. I think both will teach me a lot, and those are lessons that I could likely stand to learn.

The light disappeared from the room

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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