Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Clarifying a Point: critiquing the book vs attacking the author

In the comment trail on Bill Crider's blog, I say in my comment that the problem with Lee Goldberg's critique on SEVERANCE PACKAGE is that it comes off as personal. I want to explain why I said that.

The fine line I've learned to tread as a reviewer is separating the author from the book. That means when you write a review, you discuss the book and whether or not it holds together on its own merits. The minute you start saying things like:

a. I expect more from this author,
b. This author can do better,
c. This author is wasting their talent,

etc., you run the risk of making the review be about the author instead of the book.

Now, some of you may wonder, if you're reviewing the author's book, aren't you automatically leveling any criticisms made at the author?

Yes... but in a professional capacity. Think about it from a parenting perspective. Child tosses dirty clothes on floor and under bed instead of in the laundry hamper. Parent says, "Dirty clothes need to go in the laundry hamper. If the dirty clothes aren't in the laundry hamper, there's no gold star on the chore sheet."

Other parent says, "You know better than to throw your clothes on the floor and I'm disappointed in you."

Both are criticisms but one has incorporated personal criticism about the child into it. The first one says these are the rules and in order to get a gold star the rules must be followed. Since the rules weren't followed there's no gold star.

The other one tells a child they've let their parent down.

It is a risk to ever step across the line and make comments about the author. They may be correct. They may be fair. They may be meant with the best of intentions, but the moment it stops being about just the book it provokes a defensive response from people who feel differently and care about the person involved.

This is why forum fights over American Idol contestants get heated, it's why people end up in fights on forums.

As I said, I don't think Lee was intending to attack Duane. It came off badly, because whenever you make comments that go beyond the book there's a high probability that no matter how careful you are, some will take offense.

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