On Authors, Reviews, And Choice

July 27th, 2007 · 3 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

“[Because the hiring process for reviewers] emphasizes writing as if it were a monolithic skill, editors often end up with reviewers who write well but may not be good critics, and authors whose skills may be entirely inappropriate… Fiction writers don’t necessarily have a good analytical sense of why a piece of literature succeeds or fails, which is the most useful aspect of the review for the reader…. In hiring authors because they are authors, review editors are turning to writers whose main interest isn’t likely to be reviewing; most fiction writers, poets and biographers are primarily interested in writing fiction, poetry and biography, not devoting the best of their energy and attention to criticism. Still worse, editors run the risk of hiring writers whose motive for reviewing is not to evaluate the books at hand but to promote their own names and their latest works.”

File Under: Quote of the Week

3 responses so far ↓

  • heather // Jul 27, 2007 at 11:32 am

    It’s really nice to see this sentiment. While I think a strong knowledge as a writer can be useful as a reviewer, I do not believe one needs to be an author in order to articulate what is good or bad about another’s writing. And in fact, sometimes being able to take a step back from the process is useful. Myself, I like to see a range of views expressed—from those of other authors, to those of ‘ordinary people’ with no industry experience at all.

  • Christine // Jul 27, 2007 at 2:33 pm

    I think you’re right–and an author might be tempted to be too kind to other authors out of intensified compassion, respect, or ass-kissing–but so many critics become lost on a quest for author intention–or at least to dissect those darling little rubbery frog texts in some brilliant, commendable, new way… The former seems to me as plausible/effective as silly dream-interpretation books, while the latter is as interesting as pulling apart a Leggos house and building a…well, another Leggos house in its place. Time consuming, yes; a pleasure…I don’t know. Maybe. With enough coffee and chocolate.

    Does it take a writer to understand that writers don’t always understand their own intentions, much less the intentions of others? Does it take a writer to understand that the game is not to engineer an assembly of parts so someone can finally say, “I understand you perfectly!”? Maybe not…but in my MFA program, I sensed in some critics a belief that authors and texts could be decoded and simplified. If they could be, would they be worthwhile? And if we got off on the wrong track…well, I guess it wouldn’t matter, because a work of criticism is a creature in itself and doesn’t necessarily need to refer to the text it claims to refer to in order to be redeemable. And it’s always fun to speculate, to TRY to understand…certainly a valid form of appreciation.

    Yeah, I know some critics don’t necessarily fall for intentionality, tidy varieties of psychoanalysis, etc….but those post-structuralists are a dying breed (he he…I’m just fooling).

    Finally, might it be said that writers often look for what they enjoy in a piece, and critics are foremost tasked with looking for lack, looking for fault, looking for (ugh, reductive) comparison? Probably not. Overstatement! Way. Way. I’m blushing. Or not. But in a day when few people seem to want to read, we might at least want to preserve a ~variety~ of voices for reviews–writers, critics, butchers, bakers…you know…. But in my limited experience, critics (thank god, truly) are a little removed from the main (I love that they’re not slaves to the main, of course…that they allow themselves to think…to think hard…to keep thinking). But possibly few non-critic readers will identify and appreciate a text more as a result of reading criticism, as criticism seems to evolve into increasing obscurity. I’m not arguing for accessibility, but…okay, I guess I am. I’m arguing for accessibility-sometimes. Linguistic contortionism is spectacular, it is, and I appreciate it, I read it on purpose, I get off on it, babble on about it to friends and family who wish I’d shut up, but not everyone gets it. Hell, I don’t even always (or often) get it, and I’ve read ceiling-high stacks of it. And then I’ll sit in a room with a half-dozen people who “get” it but think the others in the room must be stoned to think what they’re thinking….

    Well, cheers to critics…but also cheers to diversity in voices for book reviews. Eliminating types of voices isn’t always a good thing. Then again, we wouldn’t want morticians and bike racers in charge of purifying our water or baking our cupcakes… You know, I’m likely wrong about all this. Still, I’m inclined to want more, and not fewer, perspectives in reviews.

  • Val Anderson // Aug 15, 2007 at 7:57 am

    “… Fiction writers don’t necessarily have a good analytical sense of why a piece of literature succeeds or fails…”

    I don’t know where Gail Pool got this from. Probably just made it up is my guess.

    Can you imagine making such a claim for other artists? Insert “composers” or “sculptors” for fiction writers to see what I mean.

    A real fiction writer knows exactly what he/she is doing. They are the experts, and their work, whether as writers or reviewers, will reflect the depth of that expertise.