Reviewing Consumer Art

As a writer, one of the things I really appreciate is when someone takes a few minutes to place a thoughtful review of one of my books online, either on their blog, Amazon, or Goodreads. Whether they like the book or not, the fact that they took the time means the book meant something to them. That said, not everyone feels comfortable writing a review.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Earlier this week, I was going through some reviews of the movie Beasts of the Southern Wild on the website Rotten Tomatoes. Most of the reviewers loved it but a few didn’t. That’s not surprising. One movie can’t please everyone. That said, one of the reviewers compared the movie to Disney’s infamous Song of the South. I happened to notice the reviewer was a white male and I was curious if any black reviewers shared his opinion. Browsing through Rotten Tomatoes, it struck me how many professional reviewers are white men. In fact, I couldn’t find a black reviewer whose opinion was cited. It struck me that this is a serious problem and I couldn’t help but wonder if by giving such weighted value to the opinions of white men, it keeps others from sharing their opinions as freely as they might. It also made me wonder whether or not white men dominate other review venues so thoroughly. I haven’t had a chance to pursue that question.

At the same time as I’d noticed this, I took part in a discussion of book reviews at The Steampunk Empire. It occurred to me that one of the difficulties of reviewing books and movies is that they walk in two worlds. They can be both art and consumer products. What’s more not everything that’s good consumer product is good art and vice versa. In an ideal world, the two come together and a good thought provoking book will also sell well, but that doesn’t happen very often.

It occurred to me that when I review books, I tend to look for the best in them. Were they fun? Did they make me think? Were they good art? Did I have a good time reading them? I realize that’s not true of everyone. Some people have very specific things they look for in a title. For others a good review will simply reflect how well the book met that person’s expectations.

Do you review the books you read? What kinds of factors do you look for in your reviews?

Las Cruces Comic Con

Before I leave just a couple of news items. This weekend, I’m at Las Cruces Comic Con in Las Cruces, New Mexico. My table is the first one against the left-hand wall as you walk in. If you’re in town, be sure to drop by! Also, I’ve heard my editor is hard at work on The Brazen Shark and I should see her notes in the next couple of weeks. I’m wondering if I’m going to get notes for both my steampunk novel and my horror novel The Astronomer’s Crypt at the same time. Yikes!

10 comments on “Reviewing Consumer Art

  1. utena42 says:

    I wonder if this “trend” you’ve spotted in reviewing is deeper, too.

    Who has traditionally written for newspaper book reviews? Who believes, perhaps egotistically, that their opinion is important enough to publish it? Who is afraid of backlash of any kind if they “speak too loudly?”
    Who are the really snarky trolls anywhere on the internet or in online gaming communities? Who has the TIME to troll?
    Who revels in publishing a really scathing review of something, and MAY do so in order to pull the spotlight from the subject of the review to the author instead?
    Who PAYS these “professional reviewers?!”

    Are the answers to these questions based on race or skin color?
    Thanks for blogging these thoughts.

    I do occasionally review books I’ve read. Probably mostly on FaceBook or something like that. I’d rather encourage others to discover for themselves the wonderful world of reading.

    I hope you don’t get slammed with editorial notes on two works a the same time: I can only imagine how difficult it might be to keep them separate from one another!

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I think you’ve touched on a really important point here. Those people who write reviews have time to write the reviews either because they’re being paid to do so by a media company or they simply have financial security so that time isn’t better spent doing other things. They also have no fear of serious repercussion for sharing their opinions. It’s difficult to say whether race *creates* that situation or that situation exists because most of the people who meet those criteria happen to be of a certain race. Either way, I hope it’s something that can change as we get more people reading and more people sharing their opinions about what they read.

      I appreciate the good thoughts about the editors. I’ll be sure to keep everyone posted as the novels progress through the editing queue!

  2. ericamilesx says:

    David, if you want me to review one of your books, I’d be happy to do so. Just tell me which one. At the same time, I’d be more than thrilled if you’d review my book, Dazzled by Darkness: A Story of Art and Desire. It’s sort of a telepathic romance with not such a happily ever after. I don’t know if that’s up your alley. It also has a lot to do with art and art history and uses a lot of fantasy and time travel. If you’re up for it, we could do a book swap. I have a lot of experience as a book reviewer and think I could provide you with a good one.

  3. ericamilesx says:

    P.S. Since you mentioned the racial aspect, Dazzled by Darkness incidentally deals with an interracial relationship in the 1960’s. So, it might appeal to you.

  4. dm yates says:

    I like a book that flows through the story easily, like your books. I like it to keep my interest. I don’t like books with lots of noticeable errors. I do enjoy reviewing books. I think it helps other authors.

    • Indeed, I agree that a good book should flow well and carry the reader along with it. Thanks for reviewing those books you read! Good reviews are critical for small press books to get attention.

  5. Ah, you have raised a very relevant topic. Traditionally, perhaps, it has been white men who have published more reviews in the media, just as it has been white men who were the most celebrated authors. Clearly, time and the Internet are changing that. Alternative voices are being heard, and the amount of pushback seems to me equivalent to the perceived influence of the new voices.

    I do review almost every book I read. Like you, I mostly give positive reviews. If I can’t give three stars, I won’t review at all. Partly because I know how hard it is for lesser known authors to get any reviews. Partly to build bridges to the community. Partly in hopes one of these authors might review a book of mine in the future.

    By the way, I do not read reviews before starting a book.

    • All good points, Deby. I think it’s great that the internet is giving more people voice. At it’s best, the internet opens a great venue for discussion among readers. Sadly, it can also turn into a shouting match, but better to have people shouting at each other than having people silenced because they don’t necessarily share the opinion of the majority or those with power or influence.

      I’m starting to avoid reviews before I buy books as well. I usually have a good idea about what I want to read and if a book induces me to pick it up, it’ll usually have something in it I find worth thinking about.

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