Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Art of the Non-Review

Raman once again shares his thoughts on the state of local reviews and criticises local reviewers for cut and paste reviews (though with no specific examples to support his statements, unfortunately!).

I do agree with him about reviewers who regurgitate the story and offer no opinions. (One author recently told me that he was most upset that a local journalist had even posted spoilers in a review! That is a total no-no.) I also agree that local books should take priority.

The lack of reviews is not lack of other reviews to plagiarise (the cheek of it!), but as I've said before, the lack of space, advertising on book pages to pay for them, and a chronic lack of reviewers.

(The New Straits Times has no reviews at all. Rehman Rashid mentioned this last week at the MPH Hi-Tea for Authors, saying that they lost all their good people who could write about literature in a major shake-out some years ago, and since now they don't have writers of the right calibre anymore, it's better not to venture into reviewing at all. Frankly I think that's a cop-out. Newspapers have a social responsibility, reviewing books is part of that responsibility. Especially when they turn round and weep crocodile tears about how few Malaysians read.)

Raman also lays this interesting charge at the feet of reviewers - the fear of what will happen if they dare to be critical:
We are so afraid of hurting feelings that we have developed non-reviewing into an art form.
Perhaps it's also fear that the person who gets a bad review turning round and demanding an explanation from the newspaper. This happened to a friend of mine who dared to be critical in a recent theatre review. Why should reviewers ever be forced into the position of having to defend themselves? This is an unhealthy practice and editors need to nip it in the bud.

I would like to see more critical reviews, but are local authors ready to know what we think of their books?? I must confess I have a whole stack of books I haven't reviewed because if I were honest I'd be very critical, and might lose some friends.

Discreet silence might be better. But in the long run, surely it doesn't help.

By the way, I very much enjoyed this review today by Rabiatu Abubakar.


Mohani said...

[quote]I do agree with him about reviewers who regurgitate the story and offer no opinions.[quote]

Local journalists hardly offer any opinions, ever. Whether it is a book review or an interview of a personality, it is (almost) always flat. Yes, there's a culture of fear - fear of saying the "wrong" things, and the perpetual need to "kiss ass". My friend says it best when she likens local articles to essays by middle schoolers. On the other hand, open a good foreign newspaper like NYT or the Guardian, etc and you will see pages and pages of journalists' opinions on books, travel, celebrities, politics, etc (with a drink and maybe a scone in hand, you attack the papers excitedly, with the knowledge you're in for a treat). Like a precocious child's need to be heard, these journalists treat each subject of their articles with gusto to the point of analyzing and evaluating it to pieces. Sometimes the articles can be rather harsh (but you read on anyway with a glee comparable to that when putting your ears into delicious, snarky women's gossips), or jaded (and you think, "wow, someone is really miserable") but often than not, the articles are perceptive and peppered with wit, you wonder wouldn't it be great to have these journalists at your party. Kan?

Oy vey, I think I've said enough for now.

Giant Sotong said...

I've submitted an application (sort of) to The Star for a spot as a book reviewer. Since I don't have a reputation to protect, I'm willing to ruffle (or pluck) a few feathers.

Wish me luck.

bibliobibuli said...

mohani - nicely said

your royal sotongness - an application will get you nowhere. write a review. submit it. that's how it works. if it's good enough it will get published. if it isn't there will be a deafening silence. 500-600 words is the length.

Giant Sotong said...

...Really? Duly noted. Guess I'd better start looking for books.

Though I think it may not have been wise to announce my decision so soon.

eyeris said...

Want to know how to review a book without getting complains? go here:

Kam Raslan said...

It takes a brave person to review a local book/play in Malaysia. The place is so small that you're bound to eventually bump into the author whose dreams you might have shattered or feelings you've hurt. Can't help but agree with Mohani that good reviews are great to read (my absolute favourite is the New York Review of Books). But if you follow the names you'll often find that even out there the reviewer turns out to be a good friend or mortal enemy of the reviewee. Getting your book reviewed in a big newspaper is the Holy Grail for all authors and with so many books available it usually becomes a case of who you know. (This is what friends in London tell me).

Giant Sotong should follow Sharon's advice and write reviews. The papers are hungry for good reviewers. Having written a few reviews myself I write with three things in mind. Develop your own "voice", be constantly aware that the reader is not interested in the reviewer and tell the reader something they wouldn't otherwise know - ie write around the subject, give context and not an 800 word synopsis of the book. Of course it helps if you're reviewing a good book.

At the end of the day, the writers' duty is to the reader.

Amir said...

But Kam, last week you reviewed a book you had not even read! (True, you admitted so in the article itself, but still...)

Kam Raslan said...

But there were three that I had. And it was fun to write.

Poppadumdum said...

It's completely thoughtless to reveal endings or give out spoilers in a review.

Tunku Halim said...

There's an issue of quality here, particularly in Malaysia.

There are good, bad and mediocre authors. Similarly there are good, bad and mediocre reviewers.

Books get reviewed, but who is going to review the reviewer?

Poppadumdum said...

The editor of the publication should be more discerning in selecting reviews and/or editing them to conform to certain criteria or standards. It just reflects badly on the publication when they have substandard articles.

bibliobibuli said...

agree poppadumdum

but standards *sigh* are so much higher elsewhere, and publications so thankful for copy ... and for reviewers willing to work for next to nothing

would like to see workshops. no time to think about this at the mo. though ...

Camlok said...

Yeah, I recalled reading cut & paste reviews before(can't remember where), and have also seen direct quotes (something like "review taken from").

I have to agree that reviewer should not be forced to defend themselves.

I have read reviews by different people and I know which reviewer's taste is similar to mine so I tend to listen to his/her view more than another person. So a bad reviewer will loose his/her audience sooner or later.

My point is, with enough reviews around, both in printed and online media, the readers will be able to decide on which reviewer they prefered to listen to when making their choices.

Also, an artist/writer/etc (and the reviwer too) should be able to take criticism on their work as a positive feedback which can be used to improve on their future work, or just totally ignore it.

I understand that a bad review might affect the sales of his/her work (especially in small market in Malaysia), but I believe that time will tell if the work is good or not, and there will always be those curious ones that would just buy/rent/steal/etc the work to see what makes it so bad (like the annual Golden Raspberry Awards)

Charmaine said...

I came across your blog when I was searching for Rabiatu Abubakar's book reviews. She's a good writer - not only in English, but she also writes & teaches French. I had the wonderful opportunity to work with her when I was at Stamford College. She also wrote a review for a book titled "Salaam Paris".

bibliobibuli said...

thanks for mentioning her charmaine, haven't heard about her but it is always nice to hear about another good reviewer