Brews and Book Reviews

Recently, Sara, my renaissance-woman colleague at the library, wrote a thoughtful piece at the Ladies of Craft Brewing blog about the importance of reviewing craft brews responsibly. As I read it I thought, "Jeez, this could pretty much be said about book reviewing as well."  Then I saw a link of Madigan Reads where an author really let a reviewer know what she thought right back (before the author took the post down) and things clicked again for me.

Until recently, I was a long time book reviewer for School Library Journal.  I often thought about the power of my words when considering what to say about a book I had before me. Ranganathan's Five Laws always spoke to me. In particular, his second and third laws really yakked:
  • Every reader his/her book
  • Every book, its reader
Because I found the plot strange for my tastes (after all, isn't the Marge-centric view of the universe the way everyone should look at life?), the characters rubbed me the wrong way (maybe one reminded me of my nutjob relative or another kept me in mind of the sneering, stink-eye-giving teen that I don't much care for), the writing not elevated or bright (but would reluctant readers find it a bracing and fun read), did that give me carte blanche to trash the book or dismiss it out of hand? What reader was the book truly speaking to? It didn't have to speak to me but I needed to know who it might speak to. I thought carefully about the audience for the book, about how it might be used in a library setting or in a home, about how it might speak to a reader quite different from me.

I also thought in a larger way about the fact that many people found value in this book - the publisher, editor, promotional department - and put their considerable heft behind it. So somewhere, somehow, someone thought this book had worth. And I went about finding it.  I was honest in my opinion, not Polly-annish, but also willing to explore who best fit with this book. It was certainly analagous to the work I do daily at the library with kids finding just the right book for each individual reader.

As a "citizen-librarian" reviewer for SLJ (no pay), I have felt great kinship with the other citizen-reviewers who blog for the love of youth literature throughout the Kidlitosphere. I have learned whose opinion I trust the most to give clear-eyed insight into the books they read.  I have also learned to be leery of  those who sometimes like to talk but have little to say; and those who occasionally are pretty darn sure they could write a better book. I learned who actually speaks to the book before them and knows how to imagine the many different readers that book might have. Unlike journal reviewers who are assigned the books they review, my sister and brother bloggers can choose to review or not review a book. By their silence, a book can certainly be judged.And in that very silence, I have certainly listened and known much about books.

Our words have power, my friends, just as Sara writes about in her blog on reviews of craft beer and what they can mean.  I am wondering if we are thinking about this as we write or a sense of divine privilege and insight dictates what words we share on the life work of others?

Just wondering...

Image: 'Friday: 1.2.2008'  http://www.flickr.com/photos/7721141@N07/3164270664

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