Is the internet Killing the Book Review?

Adrianna W. posted this (her post is public, so if you are on FB, join in), so, you know… HT to her:

But the democratizing of book reviews, such that even self-published and low print-run books published by small presses can garner dozens of reviews by promoting “blog tours” or sending copies to readers with the expectation that they will post an Amazon review, has led not to better information for readers, but to a preponderance of inaccurate gushing.

How the Internet is Killing the Book Review.

John Hobbins spoke about this issue at the 2012 SBL Online Media and Publications section. You can read his paper here. I had hoped to see a follow-up section on this very topic, as his was a call rather than a diagram of what to expect. That section has yet to materialize.

Given the rise of online review platforms, such as Marginalia and Syndicate, not to mention the droves of bloggers who review, I have to agree that we need something of a standard. Of course, this will have to go both ways. Publishers have to be less willing to give out review copies if the reviewer doesn’t do a good job.

There is little doubt I have my favorite publishers, and not just because they give me books to review. I trust IVP, Kregel, Eerdmans, Baker, Fortress, and Energion because of their standards. I do not trust other publishers, and no I will not mention them. buT Y kNow, Don’t you, the not-ALE HOUSE i’m talking about? And likewise, I want them to trust me to give an honest review. Also, there are times I do my best to let some publishers, even passively, know that I do not need to be considered for some books. Seriously, I cannot handle much more of the inerrancy debate.

Some other thoughts…

I try to give good reviews based on the goal of the book and how effectively the author reaches it. For instance, in a recent review, I disagree with some of the author’s conclusions on X — however, that was not the goal of the book. I did mention that I disagreed with it, but I moved on. Sometimes, the goal of the book is simply not met and/or met in such a way as to cause some concern with the author’s cognitive capacity. American Patriot’s Bible, anyone?

Even with Kruger’s book about the canon, I tried to give an honest review and not because of the publisher and the awesome people there.

Sometimes, I end my reviews with “buy/read this book if X” so as to tell who would like the book.

The author of the above piece notes that she had received negative feedback from authors, publishers, and fans of those books she didn’t like. To be honest, unless the review needs a response (as a review of Chris Keith’s book did, once) authors and publishers should sort of mind their own business about reviews. Fans will follow you around. That’s the nature of the game. If you are perceived as bad mouthing a hero and you will be attacked. This is where the “block” feature comes in handy.

Further, the author notes “I recall one first-time author whose friends penned lavish review after lavish review.” This is not going to be fixed, except by ethical authors. I mean, friends aren’t going to always read the book as an unbiased observer — but because they are familiar with the author may more often than not hear the voice of the author while they are reading the book. Yes, friends may simply pen a review because of friendship, but I would suspect that lavish reviews are in part due to knowing the author. Publishers should work to not send authors’ friends copies. Authors will, however, do so. 

Again, the ethical considerations for and in book reviewing needs to go both ways, or three ways.

But to the blogger’s point. I do not think the internet is killing the book review. I think it is helping to further knowledge, advance the Kingdom, and to serve the intellectual appetites of many. Just because you get some garbage with the gold doesn’t mean the book review is dead, in the server room, with the space bar.

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

3 thoughts on “Is the internet Killing the Book Review?”

  1. I will add that book reviews are reaching a much wider audience thanks to the Internet. The best review in the world doesn’t help a consumer as much as the one he or she actually reads.

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