Friday, October 10, 2008

The book reviews I've been doing lately and the impending publication of my new book Turned Out Nice Again: the story of British light entertainment have caused me to think far too deeply about approaches to reviewing. The one that annoys me most is the reviewer who tells you how they would have written the same book, and that the approach taken by the author is, as a result, worthless. As far as I'm concerned, a reviewer's job is to say whether the book works or not, and, if not, why not. There are many ways to reach the same conclusion, and to suggest that you have the one true path is appalling arrogance.

The other thing that annoys me is reviewers who think they're the main feature rather than a mildly illuminating sideshow. When my first book-shaped thing came out, one reviewer spent roughly half of the article talking about his own life and career before summarising the book dismissively in a couple of paragraphs at the end. Among his more perceptive comments, he said that the book was dense and confusing in places, which it was. It was a dense, confusing subject and, several years on, I'm happy to admit that I bit off a bit more than I could chew (I'm still enormously proud of the book, but I did feel the need to lob in the kitchen sink - I'd write it a bit differently now). However, as an example of density and confusion, he chose to quote a bit that I wrote in a quite deliberately dense and confusing manner (think Danny Kaye doing the vessel with the pestle) to show what a cat's cradle of guff the record industry had become.

Anyway, get yer lovely pre-orders in for the perfect stocking filler here.

10 comments:

Phil Norman said...

The order's already in, son. I agree with you about reviews - the thing is, they can be so good, not just a bit of throwaway sniping that's forgotten by everyone except the author's mum the next day. I can read a review by, say, Clive James of a book I know nothing about and still enjoy it. And negative, 'stitch-up' reviews are hardly ever any good, despite what editors seem to think.

JM said...

Never mind all that, when's the launch party?

LF Barfe said...

Reviews have very little long-term effect, other than directly on the author and for brightening up the paperback cover. Fortunately, the majority of the many reviews for 'Good Times' were favourable and constructive, but I don't think they did much for sales either way.

No launch party, 'mafraid, James. Credit crunch and all that. I'll make special, strenuous efforts to get down for the November Phoenix and we can mark the occasion then.

Alex George said...

This post mystified me. I've published four novels and I'm still trying to find out what these "reviews" are.

LF Barfe said...

You had one once, remember? The reviewer was called Andrew Biswell, and I seem to recall he did both of my pet hates in that one review.

Alex George said...

Oh god. I do remember. He made me sound like a militant homophobe, which I rather resented. He either hadn't read the book or had missed the point so completely that he should never have been let within ten feet of a typewriter. Capote had a good line about bad literary reviews. It would help if I could remember what it was.

LF Barfe said...

Al Capote?

Alex George said...

Yeah, Big Al. Bless 'im. I miss his pizzas.

"Capote" is French for condom. Just sayin'.

LF Barfe said...

So, what does Condom mean in French, apart from being a town in the south west of the country?

Alex George said...

Just looked it up. It's a delicate pastry with lots of cream.