Friday, July 18, 2008

Bibliography for LSC 533

Andriani, L. & Deahl, R. (2007, December 17). Newspapers beef up online books coverage. Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from

Berger, K.. (2001). The incredible vanishing book review. Retrieved July 8, 2008, from

Burns, E. (2007, June 12). Bloggers represent a dead end. Message posted to

Editors. (2007, December 10). The battle of the book. The New Republic. Retrieved from

Hogan, R. (2007, March 13). Mendelsohn: I didn't mean you bloggers! Message posted to

Jesella, K. (2007, September 2). The author will take Qs now. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Kirsch, A. (2007, June 12). The scorn of the literary blog. The New York Sun. Retrieved from

McCormack, H. (2007, April 27). Save book review coverage - Write Xpress Reviews! Message posted to

Reid, C. (2008, June 30). expands book coverage. Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from

Rich, M. (2007, May 2). Are book reviewers out of print? The New York Times. Retrieved from

Scheft, B. (2005, November 7). So you want to be an Amazon reviewer? Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from

Skloot, R. & Vitone, E. Tips for successful book reviewing. Retrieved July 11, 2008 from

Sutton, R. (2008, April 17). This is why I don't have a blogroll. Or friends. Message posted to

Tayor Brown, S. (2008, June 23). New "Edge of the Forest," and blogging thoughts. Message posted to

Wolcott, W. (2007, December 10). Critical Condition. The New Republic. Retrieved from

What Are the Cybils?

The American Library Association awards are chosen by librarians.

The National Book Awards are chosen by writers.

And now the Cybils are chosen by bloggers. Note that nominations are open to "anyone with an email address." How's that for democracy?

It's too soon to know whether publishers will start pasting "Cybils Winner" medallions on winning books; they just started in 2006. But Candlewick Press, which put out the 2007 Newbery winner, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!, notes on its site that the book made the Cybils shortlist. I take that a a good sign.

Does Having an Editor Make You Legit?

Roger Sutton made another comment about print v. blogging that struck me:
"[Print] individual reviews are never just 'one person's opinion,' which is perhaps the starkest difference between blog and traditional reviewing: at the journals and magazines I know, a print review always involves at least two people, usually more, and a review policy, resulting in a certain amount of standarization. Maybe that's not what we want from blogs."
Many of the bloggers I've linked to on the right are on the editorial board of an online kidlit journal, The Edge of the Forest. Many other bloggers are contributors; are these reviews more "legit" than the ones posted on their blogs, since someone else read them first?

Are Bloggers Too Nice?

Roger Sutton, editor in chief at Horn Book, mistrusts the ability of a blogger to be impartial when reviewing, simply because it’s so easy to become “friends” with someone (e.g., an author) online. In a 2007 blog post titled “This is why I don’t have a blogroll. Or friends,” Sutton submits that:
“Authors active in the blogosphere get treated differently there from their out-of-the-loop compatriots: they get more and kinder attention. It's hard not to be nice to someone, author or editor, whose own site may appear on your blogroll, or who regularly drops by your place to comment.”
Many bloggers, of course, disagreed with Sutton’s opinions. Colleen Mondor asked:
“Reviewers truly can not be friends with authors? That's a rather upsetting and very general statement. I doubt that in the print journalism world there are no authors who have friends who are reviewers.”
Sutton also has no time for blog tours, which he watches “with a sinking heart.”
“It isn't a bad thing at all that publishers are doing their best to use blogs as marketing tools. That's their job. But it's a reviewer's job to ignore the publisher and the author, and to instead focus on the book and its potential audience. Coziness has its price.”
Kelly Herold of Big A, little a, responded:
“We do actually *decide* when and whether we want to host an author. I always insist on reading the author's most recent book first, for example, before hosting. I have said no to blog tours when a) I am unfamiliar with an author's work or b) I dislike an author's work. Would it make you feel better if we said so? Would it make you feel better if a blogger like me posted my blacklist (books I hated and didn't review) for all to see?

We've all been through this debate and I know several people who feel as I do: I'm not being paid to blog, so I don't want to waste my writing time on bad reviews. Each review takes 30-60 minutes to write. I don't feel like spending the time and I also don't feel it's fair to writers to just put up a list of the books I didn't like.”
I have the same attitude that Herold expresses towards my music reviewing; most of the submissions I listen to come directly from the artists or their tiny labels. And most of them get put in the “I don’t like it” pile. But since, to co-opt one of Mondor’s lines, “I am only trying to help listeners find interesting music,” I only spend time writing reviews of albums that I love and want other people to hear.

(Well, except for when I ripped on Coldplay’s X and Y, and their label mysteriously stopped sending us stuff. Not sure if it was a coincidence; I had given glowing reviews to several other bands on their roster. Oh, well.)

Anyways, I put it to my classmates who will be reading this blog: as a parent, teacher, or librarian, do you want more negative reviews put into the mix? Or do you prefer the majority of reviews to be for books that the bloggers think you should read?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Why Not Just Look at Amazon Reviews?

So what, some people ask, is the difference between posting a blog entry about your opinion of a book versus posting an Amazon review?

One key difference is transparency. In his New Republic article titled Critical Condition, James Wolcott quotes Gail Pool, author of Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America, about some of the problems inherent with the Amazon system:
"To begin with, because Amazon neither solicits nor screens reviewers and allows them to remain anonymous, reviewers have the option of being dishonest. Many seize the opportunity. When Amazon's Canadian Web site went wonky one week in 2004, exposing the names of anonymous reviewers, authors were revealed to have reviewed their own books, promoted the books of friends, and attacked more
prominent authors they thought overrated."
And a few years ago, Publishers Weekly ran a satirical “quiz” that purported to be a screening mechanism “to avoid further complaints and controversies about review ‘stuffing’ and other efforts to manipulate sales rank numbers.” Sample question:
The way I first learned about the book I am reviewing was:
a) through word of mouth
b) in a newspaper/magazine article or ad
c) from a display at my local bookstore
d) because the author and I share the same summer house
e) because the author and I share the same DNA
Yes, everyone is entitled to an opinion, but I’d rather read one that I know is impartial.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What is a Book Review Supposed to Do?

Speaking of National Public Radio, itself just expanded its online books coverage in June. Senior supervising producer Joe Matazzoni said, “We’re here to try and point our audience to good books. Our audience identifies with our sensibility and looks to us for judgment and taste. We’re a filter.”

Traditional book critics view their job as much broader and with further reaching implications than that of a “filter.” And certainly, if the reader is looking for in-depth analysis or scholarly discussion, then this declaration by the editors of The New Republic could hold true:

"The intelligent discussion of a book has the power to change its reader’s ideas about how he votes or who he loves – to furnish nothing less than ‘a criticism of life,’ in the old but still sterling Arnoldian phrase. … When a book review is done well, it transcends leisure. It inducts its reader into the enchanted circle of those who really live by their minds. It is a small but significant aid to genuine citizenship, to meaningful living.”

However, is that what most casual readers are looking for? Is that what parents, librarians, and teachers need when trying to decide which new books should get added to their collections?

Or do they want shorter, to-the-point synopses and recommendations? (Like the ones found in such print publications as The Horn Book Magazine?)

I think the latter.

Adam Kirsch, who wrote a diatribe against blogs in The New York Sun last year, would disapprove; he claims that “… bite-sized commentary, which is all the blog form allows, is next to useless when it comes to talking about books.”

But for those of us who have stacks of books waiting to be read and want a quick indication of which ones will be worth our time, per people whose opinions we trust, blog reviews are perfect. As Gwenda Bond, a contributor to Guys Lit Wire, pointed out in a comment on the Read Roger blog (more about the post that triggered the comment in a day or so):

"… bloggers draw traffic largely through their personal voices and personal tastes. … I'd argue that it's _because_ of the mix of things that provide the context for a blog's reviews--things that reveal information about the blogger and their tastes and point of view--that I take blog recommendations seriously. I know a lot more about where Colleen [Mondor] or Fuse is coming from than I do about an anonymous Kirkus reviewer. (And having been an anonymous Kirkus reviewer, I say that with no hint of an insult to Kirkus.)"

Note: Fuse #8, mentioned above, became a part of School Library Journal in June 2007. In addition to several blogs, the SLJ site offers web-only reviews because, as editor Heather McCormack explains, expanding book review coverage "in print is not feasible owing to paper costs, etc. Doing so online via our weekly Xpress Reviews, however, is easy. ... I can’t supply any hard numbers, but I think it’s safe to say that even the die-hardest of print-demanding librarians are beginning to see the perks of online reviews—they’re free; they’re always there; they’re informed, impartial, and to the point (like LJ’s print sisters); and they’re going to multiply like rabbits if I have anything to say about it."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Where Have All the Book Sections Gone?

For most of this decade, print pages devoted to book reviews have steadily dwindled. In 2001, Slate ran a piece named “The Incredible Vanishing Book Review,” which focused on San Francisco Chronicle’s decision to lay its 12-page pullout book section to rest, moving reviews to the Sunday entertainment section.

The story also mentioned that “The Seattle Times, the San Jose Mercury News, the Chicago Tribune, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Boston Globe have all put their papers on a diet by cutting back on book reviews. Even the nation's most influential Sunday book supplement, the New York Times Book Review, killed two pages, resulting in the loss of six ‘In Brief’ write-ups and one full-page review.”

By 2007, The New York Times was reporting that “the Atlanta Journal-Constitution … eliminated the job of its book editor. … The Los Angeles Times recently merged its once stand-alone book review into a new section combining the review with the paper’s Sunday opinion pages, effectively cutting the number of pages devoted to books to 10 from 12. Last year The San Francisco Chronicle’s book review went from six pages to four.”

Some of the content no longer being printed, however, is ending up online. In December, Publishers Weekly summarized what three of the biggest national papers had added to their sites. They all had … blogs.

Note: Just this morning, I heard an ad on NPR that today's "Here and Now" program would feature guest Doug McLennan, editor of the arts journalism blog, who “says the future of professional art criticism might be online.”

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Who Gets to Give Their Opinion?

I first became aware of the attitudes of some print reviewers towards bloggers by reading Liz Burns' related posts on A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Teacozy last year. One commenter remarked:

"And just why is someone who gets paid to do something more qualified than someone who doesn't? I mean, sure that works in a professional setting - you want a Doctor who has gone to med school not one who has just read a lot of books on the subject. But Reviews are opinions. And anyone is entitled to an opinion. The quality of the review comes through no matter the format.

And sure, I suppose there could be some poor reviews on blogs. I mean if someone wrote "That book s***ed because I don't like books about rabbits" well, you wouldn't give it much credence. But those aren't the kind of reviews I see every day in the kidslitosphere."
Indeed, many of the "cream of the crop" blogs are written by librarians and teachers, who may not get paid to review books but certainly are immersed in the world of children's and young adult literature at their day jobs. Does this mean that they are qualified, but the person with degrees in Industrial Engineering isn't? Absolutely not! I don't see anything in the National Book Critics Circle tips about what needs to be on your educational or work background; you just need to know what you're talking about.

I happen to be a music reviewer at Yes, I've played the violin since third grade, so I have a grasp of major v. minor keys, time signatures, etc. But I can't sing, I can't write songs, and I have never put out an album. My degree was in Technical Writing; I have worked in PR, publishing, and corporate communications for the past 15 years. So what business do I have reviewing other people's music? Well, I know what I'm talking about. I wouldn't necessarily review a heavy metal or Brazilian pop album; I don't really have a frame of reference. But alt country or Britpop? Sign me up.

Too Many Kidlit Blogs?

A recent post at Chicken Spaghetti pointed out that more than 700 children's literature blogs are enrolled with Jacket Flap and asked if that means there are too many. One commenter said:

"Yes, I think there is a glut on the blogosphere (not just kid-lit blogs but all kinds...although there is certainly a wealth of kid-lit blogs). I am discovering, though, that the cream is rising to the top.

The problem as I see it, and this is strictly my opinion, is that everyone wants to review books now. One week at my job (I'm a book publicist), I received no fewer than seven requests from brand new blogs who wanted me to send them free books to review. We used to love getting these requests; it meant someone was interested in our books. Now, we've had to come up with guidelines on who to send to because we've become overwhelmed by people who fancy themselves book reviewers."
Meanwhile, publishers themselves are proactively soliciting reviews from bloggers. Jen Robinson has posted her own review policy to manage the expectations of authors and publishers who may send her materials for her Book Page blog. So have the writers of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Which blogs make up that "cream on top?" What makes a blogger "qualified" to write reviews? How do they compare to traditional print review sources? Finally, how can school library media specialists use online review sources to make collection decisions?
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