Blurbs

Over at Comics Worth Reading, Johanna Draper Carlson ponders the etiquette of review pull-quotes on book covers. Should the publisher notify the reviewer that their quote is going to be used and maybe send a comp of the finished product?

I haven’t been quoted that often, and I really don’t mind when it happens. I’ve written the reviews for public consumption, and I stand by them, so if the quote is an accurate reflection of my overall sentiments, I’ve got no problem with that kind of use. I wouldn’t mind an e-mail from the publisher in those instances, but it doesn’t bother me when I don’t get one.

I do find it kind of alarming to see myself quoted on a book cover. It’s kind of like hearing recordings of my voice, which always make me wonder if I really sound like that and why people don’t beg me to stop talking or just punch me and run away. I guess the most usefully quotable parts of my reviews end up sounding either mawkish or pompous to me out of the context of the full review, so I tend to cringe a bit.

As for reviewing in general, I’ve been wondering lately if I might write more negative reviews. I tend to focus on books that I like, and there are a couple of reasons for that. One is that there are lots of choices out there, and I think it’s more useful to focus on the noteworthy than the forgettable. Another is that I find writing a positive review more challenging than writing a negative one. (I’ve been sarcastic and critical roughly since the point I started speaking in full sentences, so those rhetorical muscles are reasonably well developed.)

I do think I might add more pans to the mix. If I’m excited by a solicitation and say so, then find the actual book kind of dreadful, I try to say so at least briefly, if only to set the record straight. Any thoughts either way on my balance of positive and negative responses? Should I bring more hate?

11 Responses to Blurbs

  1. Joy says:

    I value your positive reviews for all the reasons you mention, but I wouldn’t mind seeing negative ones as well. Negative reviews can serve to counterbalance to promotional hype, as you note, and they can also inform people about issues with a work that they might not otherwise have noticed. For example, I recently wrote a negative review of Re-Gifters on my blog because I noticed some cultural inaccuracies that I hadn’t seen discussed elsewhere; I wanted to make sure those observations were added to the overall conversation about the story. And I know reading other people’s negative reviews has opened my own eyes at times to important things I had missed on my own first reading.

  2. You should only write more negative reviews if you start feeling like there are books out there that you need to draw attention to in that manner. Don’t write them for the sake of writing them, in other words; write them because you feel a need to get your opinion out there.

    I write more positive than negative reviews, but when I do the latter it’s usually because I feel that viewpoint needs to be aired.

  3. davidpwelsh says:

    Joy: Your Re-Gifters review is an excellent example of the kind of thing I’d like to do more of. I always enjoy it when someone sees something I really like through a different set of lenses. I guess the question for me is finding a way to criticize constructively and usefully, the way you did.

    Greg: All good points.

    I think another part of what keeps me from writing too many negative reviews is the kind of comics I like. Obviously, my tastes run to shôjo and shônen, which sometimes labor under a blanket artistic dismissal. My instinct is to celebrate the examples from those categories that are really good comics, that do something unique and heartfelt and intriguing and prove that creativity and merit can be found even within a fairly well-defined formula. There are certainly series that don’t manage to do anything transcending and are actively bad, but I think I’d rather try and drive people to the gems.

    I really don’t think anyone needs help finding bad comics.

  4. jun says:

    I usually write more positive reviews, too, since there’s only so much reading a person can do, and I tend to prioritize stuff that I think I’ll enjoy. I’ve never set out to read something that looked crappy just to be able to confirm its crappiness.

    Whenever I /do/ encounter something that fails to live up to my expectations, I /always/ finish it, sometimes to the puzzlement of friends and family, because opportunities for writing a negative review are pretty rare. And generally, I suppose I do mention things I don’t like about the stuff I’ve read, even if it’s ultimately getting an A or a B.

  5. Sometimes, though, a negative review can give people help in NOT finding bad comics, if you get my drift. There are some books that I wish I’d been warned away from in the past…

  6. davidpwelsh says:

    That’s very true, Greg, and I think I could use that as my standard for when it’s worth it to write a negative review: when I expect something to be great and find it… significantly not so. (I think the reverse applies, too. “Wow, that looks just dreadful, and yet it’s not. How did that happen?”)

    Just this morning I was surfing around and found a negative review of a book I could reasonably expect to like, and while I wasn’t familiar with the reviewer, I saw enough areas of critical overlap (and personal biases) to decide that I’ve dodged a bullet by not buying it.

  7. jun says:

    Y’know, I’ve also learned to regard 5-star reviews on Amazon as completely useless. I always seek out the ones that rate it a 3-4, at least, to see someone with a more moderate opinion list its virtues and flaws.

    I’m much more inclined to read something that’s critical, even if it’s also complimentary, than something that is purely praise.

  8. Deb Aoki says:

    I think it’s important to have both positive and negative reviews in the mix — because without a few “ohmigahd, this is wretched” reviews, your “this is brilliant!” reviews don’t have as much impact, IMHO. Sometimes, a negative review is more fun to write too. ;)

  9. Chloe says:

    I’ve always found negative reviews easier to write; if the book is good, you’re so engrossed you forget to make the running mental checklist of all the things you don’t like! (Okay, so maybe that’s just me…but I’ve always found your reviews useful for pointing me towards hidden treasure at the bookstore. Alerting me to the mines would be equally welcome in the scope of reviews.)

  10. On the subject of blurbs, I don’t mind being quoted so long as the excerpt is an accurate reflection of the overall review. I just don’t want to be quoted so often that I develop a reputation for being the Jeffrey Lyons of mangadom–all sound bite and no analysis!

  11. John Jakala says:

    Everyone else has already laid out the sensible reasons why negative reviews are useful for readers, so I’ll just say:

    Please, please, PLEASE bring out the knives more often.

    Thank you.

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