Tuesday, June 2, 2009

BEA Recap: Book Reviewing

In a crowded Saturday morning panel discussion moderated by John Reed, Ben Greenman (The New Yorker), Otis Chandler (Goodreads), Bethanne Patrick (The Book Studio), David Nudo (Shelfari), and Peter Krause (Tactic Co.) debated book reviews, specifically what they will look like next year. The panel agreed that there will be fewer figures of "authority" writing book reviews going forward as book coverage declines in traditional media outlets, but this expected change provoked mixed reactions. David Nudo, formerly of the New York Times commented that "this democratization of voices has led to a lot of clutter" and that user-generated content like that found on Goodreads or Shelfari "means the lowest common denominator." Otis Chandler didn't do much to defend his users' content, but he did mention that, on a few big titles he surveyed, Goodreads has about ten times the number of reviews found on Amazon.

On several occasions, Bethanne Patrick tried to start a discussion about "the standards of book reviewing," and she repeatedly emphasized the distinction between book reviews and book recommendations. Over time, it became fairly clear that Patrick believes the non-"authorities" are doing nothing but recommending books and that we should all be careful to look for the "authorities," whatever that means. I'm disappointed the topic wasn't discussed further.

As reported at Cleveland.com, Steve Wasserman, the former Book Review Editor of the Los Angeles Times, summed up the discussion best when he said the concept of the book review "gets at the heart of democratic culture, populism and elitism.”


Serena said...

I'm glad I missed this panel.

I would rather here more detailed discussion of what "authorities" are and what qualifies them as such.

It seems to me that I would rather have a recommendation in most cases than an authority telling me what to think about a book I haven't read. I prefer, as a reader, to make my own decisions about books, authors' writing styles, and other elements of published works.

Amy said...

I understand the point about "authorities" but how do you approach a negative? A recommendation has a positive connotation to me. Ah well, can't win them all!

An Anonymous Child said...

I think it's an important distinction to make between a recommendation and a review. A review implies that you've read the book thoroughly and are now picking out the small points to highlight. A recommendation means you're saying, "Worth it, not worth it". There's an audience for both aspects of what is now called book reviewing and neither should scoff at the other. I can appreciate a book without actually enjoying it or wishing others to read it. So my review would mention positive points, but my recommendation would say "skip it". As for the definition of authorities... that really does need its own panel discussion.