Monday, June 11, 2007

Do Book Reviews Sell Books?

Critical Mass, "the blog of the national book critics circle board of directors" has published a lot of mindless stuff recently that claimed to support print book reviews. I don't know that Thursday's post by John Freeman will do much to help preserve newspaper review sections, but it was extremely interesting and didn't attack anyone.

The question raised in this post was Do book reviews sell books?

I was a little put off at first because Freeman began with "At the Bookforum panel on Thursday, Jonathan Galassi said he felt book reviews don't seem to be moving copies as much anymore, in part because the general readership's knowledge-base has shrunk. So, the logic went, people reading book reviews don't have the context in which to place a value on a critic's conclusion about a book. Therefore, it's simply just another opinion."

I wasn't sure, but I thought this Galassi guy had just called me stupid. But once I got past that and moved on, I learned that Freeman's answer to the question Do book reviews sell books? was they aren't supposed to. "The purpose of a review is to discuss the book at hand and aspire to a minor-but-real art form along the way."

As a writer who wants to sell books, I tend to think of reviews as marketing tools for me, me, me. But I think Freeman has a point. The review should be about the book, not about selling the book.

And this, of course, brings us back to whether or not one should publish anything but positive reviews, which we bloggers have hashed out many times. If the review is only about the book and not about the author's feelings or trying to sell books, then the idea of positive and negative becomes a whole lot less touchy.

"'My personal opinion,' Freeman says, 'is that writing is writing, and good writing (and good arguing) will compel someone to buy a book, no matter where it is published, and whether or not it is a "good" or "bad" review. Furious engagement with a book suggests the book is worth engaging with --'"

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while will know that I absolutely agree with that.

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