A World Without Bias Is Like A World Without Fun

August 15th, 2005 · 1 Comment
by Booksquare

Americans tend to love the notion of fairness. We like the idea of balance. We often seem to believe a world without bias is possible. That it is feasible to create “no spin” zone. This is a Velveeta with Miracle Whip on Wonder Bread viewpoint. It’s safe. It’s nice. It’s boring.

Last week’s Washington Post apology for allowing Marianne Wiggins to review John Irving’s new book was interesting for what it was and wasn’t. It wasn’t a refutation of the review. It was an admission that it’s a small world after all. At Slate, Jack Schafer argues that a little conflict of interest is exactly what book reviews need:

But if the Post is going to apologize for publishing the Wiggins review on ethical grounds, I’d like to see it ask for reader forgiveness when fully vetted and unconflicted reviewers give bad books a free pass. That’s the real scandal in book reviewing. All too often, gutless reviewers genuflect to “major writers” such as Irving, composing fawning reviews that barely hint at how bad the books are.

He cites the British model of reviewing as one to emulate — and we have to agree there. We find that we spend more time devouring the reviews of the Guardian than we do of the Los Angeles Times. There is something more immediate and human about the former; the latter seems to be trying too hard to impress us. We, sadly, are not easily impressed. We appreciate the opinion of learned reviewers, but will, ultimately make our decision about books the old-fashioned way.

The point of a book review isn’t to review worthy books fairly, it’s to publish good pieces. Better to assign a team of lively-but-conflicted writers to review a slew of rotten books than a gang of dullards to the most deserving releases of the season.

File Under: Square Pegs

1 response so far ↓

  • Joan Kelly // Aug 15, 2005 at 12:11 pm

    “The point of a book review isn’t to review worthy books fairly, it’s to publish good pieces.”

    That’s exactly why I read The Onion’s movie reviews (I know, I should have something smart to say about books but this is what popped into my head instead). I don’t have the intererst or the disposable income to see most of what gets released, but damn The Onion publishes good pieces about shitty movies!

    Thanks for posting this about book reviews,