Problems with Reviews Today

I’m not too bothered about the backscratching, logrolling, etc that goes on in reviewing. If people are skeptical enough when they see a novelist on the byline I don’t think it’s too hard to tell when reviewers are full of it. Much worse are those reviewers who feel that they’re doing a good job when in fact they’re giving passes to mediocre work, not giving the books they’re reviewing second and third looks, not trying to be precise with their critique. That, in my opinion, happens way more frequently than the favor-doing and is in general much worse for book culture.

AB: I wouldn’t want this award to be seen as encouraging cruel reviewing. We’ve been careful not to include reviews we felt were personal attacks. But I also think there aren’t enough negative reviews – reviewers are too deferential a lot of the time, and it leads to a problem of trust, because the reader gets forgotten. It’s unclear who newspaper reviews are written for. I’m speaking as a reader. I’m not a novelist and I have felt let down by reading lots of good reviews of a book, each one saying “this is a masterpiece”, then reading it and not being impressed. It happens with famous writers who people are scared to criticise. . . .

AB: It goes on. What bothers me more is the quality of the writing, and that’s the major issue here. The LRB is for a small, specific audience, whereas newspaper books pages should be for everyone, and I think the quality of the writing and the entertainment value of reviews is something we want to encourage – readers are let down by book reviews which are just precis of the novels.

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