The Weekly Links, Opinion and Personal Updates Post
Links of Interest:
I have always hated grading, a fact of which I am reminded as I head into the final mad rush of the semester. So how pleased I was to see this in The Chronicle, an article on Grade Hatred by Mary Churchill with Michael Bron, the latter of whom writes:
The fact is, grading is not really assessing. It is giving a number to students that allows each to be compared to all others, a practice that is statistically misguided and counter-educational.
From the BBC News Magazine, Does Reading Make Us Happier?, a really wonderful defense of libraries…
My defence should not be seen as the attempt merely to rescue a small building in a particular borough, or any other particular places threatened with closure. Rather it is a rallying call for the concept of free libraries. In our culture the library stands as tall and as significant as a parish church or the finest cathedral. It goes back to the times when ideas first began to circulate in the known world. I worry where wisdom will come from.
And of reading…
I live with the tensions between the world out there I want to see and even contemplate, and the inner world to which the book gives me access. It is the inner rewards of reading a book in a private and concentrated way that lead you into realms of your own imagination and thought that no other process offers. Something happens between the words and the brain that is unique to the moment and to your own sensibilities.
It is why, at such moments, it is so awful to be interrupted – and why I am frequently late at meetings because I find it hard to tear myself away. Any society that doesn’t value the richness of this encounter with ideas and the imagination will impoverish its citizens.
Last week, I linked to one of a series of New York Times articles on the distractions of the digital age. Check out this terrific response from the Language Log. The intrepid folks there actually looked at the studies the Times cited, and found … a lot of problems with the breathy conclusions drawn on their basis, concluding:
The idea that new technology causes mental, moral, and social decay is an old one. Passing over in silence those who warned our ancestors about the disastrous effects of writing and printing, let’s pause briefly to note the role that the Times assigned in 1924 to the telephone, that “most persistent and the most penetrating” aspect of “the jagged city and its machines”, which “go by fits, forever speeding and slackening and speeding again, so that there is no certainty” (“And the town takes to dreaming”, 9/1/2010).
Great comments, too.
From The Awl, Harry Potter and the Incredibly Conservative Children’s Club:
The most conservative element of Harry Potter’s world is that it is a materialist paradise, full of costly and rare magical artifacts, invisibility cloaks and piles of “wizard gold” at Gringott’s Bank. Things, that you can make toys out of, things that you can worship and desire and buy. There’s nothing in this story of alleged iconoclasts and rebels that would present the slightest challenge to the establishment. That’s why the story dovetails so easily into a series of Hollywood blockbusters.
I think the argument is a real stretch.
Finally, from a long essay on poetry reviewing, in Contemporary Poetry Review, by poet David Yezzi, this intriguing way to divide up the pie:
One dusty testament to the bygone Golden Age is Stanley Edgar Hyman’s The Armed Vision, a survey of the New Criticism from Winters to Kenneth Burke. Hyman performs a useful triage, breaking prose about poetry into a Venn diagram of three overlapping categories—reviewing, criticism, and aesthetics. The reviewer, he writes, “more or less, is interested in books as commodities; the critic in books as literature or, in modern terms, as literary action or behavior; the aesthetician in literature in the abstract, not in specific books at all.” These categories are constantly shifting, Hyman explains, often within the same essay or review…
On Reviewing Conspiracies…
Is there a reviewing conspiracy? At Redlines and Deadlines, Raelene Gorlinsky claims there is:
As a reader (NOT wearing my editor or publisher hat) I’m getting a bit concerned about a particular aspect of online reviews. As in, how many of the reviewers actually thoroughly read and think about the books–or how many are just copying someone else’s review?
But I’m seeing multiple reviews with almost the same wording. And that’s not matching up with the diversity of comments from my fellow readers. For example, I just read a steampunk romance by a well-known author. The book got a lot of buzz and a number of online reviews. A lot of those reviewers had close to identical comments about the hero. Yet when I read the book, I saw the hero in a completely different light, I had a different understanding of his motivations and emotions. And when I talked to others who’d read the story, they had varying takes on and opinions of the hero. If a dozen readers voice a dozen different opinions, it seems odd that another dozen readers who happen to label themselves reviewers churn out almost identical opinions.
But some reviewers use several “pen names” to post on different sites. They just slightly modify the wording of the review to post it elsewhere as if they are a different reader. And it has always been rumored that some reviewers don’t read the books — they read the blurb, excerpt, and other reviews, and then post a review under their own name. So of course in such a case they’d be mimicking someone else’s comments and reflecting the same opinions.
I appreciate insightful and informational reviews, I thank and applaud the dedicated reviewers who put time and effort into reading and analyzing a story. So it’s discouraging that I’m seeing less of that, more useless repetition from a minority who are diluting the value of the reviewing process to readers.
The author explicitly excludes AAR, SBTB, DA and TGU (TGTBTU?), but because she provides no examples, I have no idea which reviewers or sites she is talking about. My own experience is that there are some good reviewers and sites and some shit ones, and the ratio has stayed about the same since I started noticing. What do you think?
Maybe she is referring to Amazon? The Daily Mail on corruption in the Amazon reviewing system:
…rival publishers are accused of hijacking the system to praise their own volumes and disparage the opposition.
Authors are turning on each other, agencies are charging up to £5,000 to place favourable fake reviews and Amazon has recruited a team of amateur critics to restore the balance.
Nathan Barker, of Reputation 24/7, offers a service starting at £5,000.
He said: ‘First we set up accounts. For a romance novel we’d pick seven female profiles and three males…
Another conspiracy was floated by Author on Vacation, at Dear Author, in response to a negative review of Mating Call by Gail Stanley (comment #42):
The fact is I don’t need a stranger to tell me what’s good reading or not. I’ve also become very leery of on-line reviewers and review sites due to the lack of professionalism and ethics involved in their creation and maintenance. Until some kind of professional standards and code of ethics regulate e-reviewers, both the books and the reading public are at the mercy of the reviewer.
I released a menage erotic romance novel last year. Within a few months I was astonished to read a negative review on a pretty large, older romance review site. In a scant paragraph, the reviewer … claimed the “worst part” of the novel was its use of incestuous relationships.
The book didn’t feature any incestuous relationships, not even the kinda-sorta incest sometimes featured in erotic romance, i.e. a heroine taking on two brothers.
At that point, I had to recognize that if a reviewer lied about my book, who’s to say this reviewer and other reviewers don’t lie about other books? I’m not saying all reviewers are liars, just that a review site and its reviewers are only as good as the ethics and responsibility of people behind it. For now, at least, e-reviews are consequence-free (for the reviewer, anyway.) Most review sites don’t seem to require any particular qualifications or credentials from their reviewers.
There’s lots more to the thread, including a defense of the publisher, Siren, by at least two Siren authors. But I wanted to highlight this comment, by Mari (# 17):
That said…it occurs to me that some reviewers approach every book like its meant to be a literay (sic) masterpiece. And they employ the same kind of gimlet eye toward smutty trash like this book, as they would to something more “seriously written.” Don’t know how fair that is, but who says reviewers have to be fair?
I actually think that is a really interesting issue. Should romance (and genre fiction) reviewers lower the bar, in order to be more fair to the presumably lower aspirations of romance fiction? And what would that mean, I wonder? Or is it just a call to review each kind of book in terms of its own aspirations, without regard to whether, objectively some literary aims are higher than others?
I was wondering if I was the only person in blogland to be so entertained by Author on Vacation when Mrs. Giggles emerged from her obsession with Neopets (if only we can get Karen Scott to stop watching Big Brother, we’d really be back in business! ;)) to post this in response to AOV’s call for for standards in reviewing:
And I’m sure we all know what those rules will call for, don’t we? No calling out authors on their abilities because that is a personal attack, no general statements, always remember the tears and hardships that went into creation of a book and therefore always mention good points about a book instead of bad points. I’m sure some authors will even go as far as to insist that only authors or professors in literature can review because only those people can relate to the tears and suffering of the author.
If we are to have rules for reviewers, I want the same rules to be applied to people who comment on reviews online too. Fair is fair, after all. Let’s see how they will fare under the same rules they set for reviewers, heh heh heh.
And then Stacia Kane made this comment:
I decided a while ago that I was no longer going to belittle genre fiction by acting like I didn’t put anything of myself into it, and my books are nothing to do with me, they’re this completely other thing that’s just work and I don’t care about it or think it’s special and/or important. I think there’s a huge expectation on genre authors, especially romance, that they distance themselves completely from their books. Of course there’s an element of distance that must be there; no, your book is not you, and more importantly a review is just one person’s opinion, and they’re entitled to it. I just think that can go too far, and I think pretending your work isn’t important to you is another way, and another reason, genre fiction gets belittled as formulaic crap: even its authors claim it’s just a book, not a piece of themselves or something they really put themselves into.
Until I read this comment, I would have said the opposite was true, that the stereotype is that it’s romance writers who supposedly cannot get critical distance, are so petty (women!), etc. but that literary writers (men, mostly) can view their work with a clear eye, are more professional and distanced.
Lots of interesting discussions about reviewing around. Something in the air, I guess.
We spent the holiday with family in New York. On Wednesday night we went to the Macy’s Parade balloon viewing …
The kids came home with an XBox 360 with Kinect for their Hanukkah present from their New York relatives. It’s super fun, but I am still trying to figure out what to allow when it comes to “Live” play, something I had never heard about, which lets players in different locations to play each other. I am also under intense pressure to let the soon-to-be 11 year old get Halo. Makes me long for the days of hula hoops and jacks. Or at least the Wii.
Hanukkah begins Wednesday, and we’re having a party Saturday. It’s not a major holiday, but it’s a lot of fun, and the kids enjoy the heck out of it, not just the presents, but the nightly menorah lighting, the latkes, and the goofy decorations. Naturally, I still have to run out and get a few of their gifts (they get one each night).
It’s also a big week on this here blog. I start my 8 nights of Ham/mukah posts on Wednesday night. Be aware that most of the books are pretty explicit.
Also on Wednesday, I’ll also do a guest post for The Book Smugglers, kicking off their month long Smugglivus festival. If I don’t buckle under the pressure and email in sick, that is…
Finally, I am planning to do non-romance book reviews on Sundays. I started yesterday with Graham Greene. This Sunday, unless I am too hung over from drinking Manischewitz on Saturday night, I’ll have a review of Ziska, a late nineteenth century tale of love and revenge in Egypt, by Marie Corelli.