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Must Reads for Book Reviewers

1. The National Book Critics Circle conducted a survey among its members about ethics in book reviewing, and I'd recommend that all bloggers who review books take a look at it. Agree or disagree, we bloggers need to be aware of what the ethical issues are. Here is one example from the post at the NBCC's blog, Critical Mass. (The full survey is linked there, as well as an earlier one from 1987.)

... new Net-based aspects of our literary life appear not to have settled in enough to create clear-cut ethical judgments. One example is the split that resulted from Question 17: "Should a literary blogger review the book of another literary blogger to whose blog she or he links?"

33.4 said "Yes."

23.4 said "No."

22.5 percent were "Not Sure."

20.7 percent retreated to "Other."

2. In "Critical Condition" at The New Republic, James Wolcott devotes many words to Gail Pool's Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America and offers his own advice, in the form of recommended reading, to novice reviewers.


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I thought this was an interesting survey, Susan. I follow most of the "rules," but have violated the one you post here. This is partly because I link to so many authors, but still...It's something I'm thinking about.

Kelly, I posted that example because a few times I, too, have reviewed the books of people I know both on and off line. While I indicate that I know the person in some way, an editor would probably not let me write the review--and that's food for thought. NBCC even seemed to be suggesting a panel on the topic, and I'll try to go for sure if it takes place.

I plan on posting something on this, and I read the survey and the various comments. It sounds like the respondents are all over the place about what a blog is, with the question (and some answering) inferring that a link=friendship rather than link=information.

There does appear to be a fair amount of hostility about blogs in the survey's comments on the question of blog links & reviewing. I'm not surprised. Still, a perception like blogs=PR is something that we should be aware of. (One responder said that.)

Coming late to the discussion, but I agree that this is something for us to keep in mind. As you said, Susan, when applicable, I try to make it clear in my review if I have some sort of relationship with the person who wrote the book. But I'm definitely starting to question myself more on whether I should review certain people's books or not. I don't have a good answer, but I don't think it's something to just ignore and hope that it will go away.

Of course, I agree that when you do like Kelly does and just happen to have links to lots of authors, that's not a personal relationship. But what if I read the author's blog, and mention things that he or she says in my Sunday Visits post...? Depending on how you handle this you get into a weird thing, whereby the longer you blog, the fewer authors whose books you can review.

Jen, I have links to authors, too, but "know" only a few of them. In my mind, considering which books we review will only help and will broaden the scope of books that we bring to people's attention. Because writers with blogs and/or strong online presences are accessible, they get attention. Which is great. But thinking beyond the online circle will continue to improve book coverage.

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