And Reviews. Again.

June 29th, 2005 · No Comments
by Booksquare

We still have mixed feelings about anonymous reviews. Sure, a huge part of us demands that reviewers stand up and take responsibility for their work. What’s wrong with standing behind your opinion? Then we start thinking that anonymity allows for a certain level of freedom, especially if the reviewer is part of the community they’re reviewing. Peer pressure, you know.

Quinn Dalton, whose Bulletproof Girl received an anonymous, negative review from Kirkus makes a compelling case for taking the unsigned out of unsigned reviews:

While negative reviews are a reality, I didn’t feel that this review was fair or accurate. So I found myself wondering about the reviewer’s point of view, as I often do when reading reviews of other books. Given the “domestic” comment, was my reviewer male or female? What other books had this reviewer praised or disliked? What was his or her professional background? But of course, since Kirkus publishes unsigned reviews, I couldn’t begin to answer any of these questions. To not be able to place the review in any kind of context in connection to the reviewer was both frustrating to me and a disservice to the people who use these reviews to make buying decisions for their customers.

Because reviews are opinions, readers must establish trust relationships with reviewers. It is argued that reviewing is persuasive writing, but to be persuaded, the reader must know the context. Literature cannot be evaluated by a checklist of criteria; it requires, by definition, a personal bond between reader and writer. By extension, we suppose this means it requires a personal bond between reader and reviewer.

Weeks asks, “So what gives anyone the right to review books—with authority?” After all, there’s no degree in reviewing, no set career path. In addition to a track record of insight that can only been demonstrated over time, “The reviewer’s read a lot of books, thought a lot about them, and can express his or her ideas effectively, entertainingly—and with newspapers—rapidly.” But we can’t determine any of this unless we know who the reviewer is.

We are growing dangerously close to reconsidering our wishy-washiness on this issue. The most compelling case for anonymity seems to be protecting the reviewer from external sources (i.e., authors, agents, and publishers). Which, in a way, suggests that the review is for those entities rather than readers. While authors might benefit from their reviews, it is the consumer who uses the information to make the most important choice of all.

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