Thursday, April 3, 2008

Addictions, balance and borrowing

Several people have used the word "addicted" to describe their feelings towards The Short Review. Short story collections - the new heroin? Will this necessitate government action, a Tsar to deal with the issue, support groups? Sadly, I think not.

Let's talk about reviewing. There has been a lot of discussion recently over "real" reviewers (ie those paid to review by newspapers, magazines etc...) and "amateur" reviewers (not my description), which refers to those who review on their blogs etc and who tend to only review books that they have enjoyed and thus the reviews tend towards the positive and even glowing. As part of this discussion, the nature of reviewing was examined. I want to state The Short Review's position: we are not a publicity vehicle for short stories. We are not in the business of praising a collection simply because it has been published. I believe that every book deserves a review, but this is very different from saying that every book deserves a
good review. Reviewing is a strictly subjective discipline: a review should be the reviewer's honest opinion on the work, what she or he likes about it and dislikes about it, and, more importantly, why. A review that says "this is wonderful!" without qualifying it, is just as redundant as one that shreds a book without explanation.

I urge The Short Review's 30 or so reviewers to feel completely free in expressing their opinions. Many of our reviewers, myself included, are writers themselves, but there should be no concern when writing a review that the writer's feelings will be hurt by this. This is about the book, it is never - I hope - a personal attack upon a writer.

In our current reviews, I was delighted that the reviewers did not hold back. Comments included: "mixed bag", "The tone of the story is uneven", "the subject matter seemed overstretched", "without finding anything new to say", "not every story is a great read", "the sloppy writing and (apparently) non-existent editing made it difficult for me to enjoy the book as a whole", "In places, however, I found the cruelty too much for the balance of the story".

For the most part
these are not simply "I didn't like this," but are more specific, explaining why. This, to my mind, is valid reviewing.

One of the authors featured in this Issue, Sylvia Petter, wrote to thank The Short Review and the reviewer of her book, Back Burning. She says:
I'm so glad that there was criticism. This bears out words in my interview - how different people are drawn to different things...I am truly grateful to your reviewer for her balanced and pertinent insights.
This is also why The Short Review provides links to other reviews of the particular book. The more opinions the better.

On a more positive note, several of the emails I have received recently from "the addicted" have mentioned that each issue of The Short Review sends them to Amazon or their local bookshop looking for books. I wanted to put in a good word for libraries - we at The Short Review are not in the book-selling business, we just want to get more people reading the astonishing and varied short story collections that are out there. Persuading you to buy the books isn't our goal - look for them in libraries, ask friends if they have a copy, pass 'em around. Just read them. That's all we're saying. Thank you.

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