Some thoughts on writing reviews

I recently attended a workshop on the role of the critic. There was a moderator (male) and three panelists (two male and one female.) The moderator asked different questions of each panelist to initiate discussion concerning why criticism (of literature, poetry, music) is important and what role it should play. A number of different theories were presented, an even greater number ignored, but all and all it was interesting.

At some point, the moderator talked to the female panelist about how difficult it can be to hire women who are interested in writing reviews, particularly if they might be called upon to review something that they didn’t like. The woman panelist seemed taken aback by this comment wondering, as I and probably most of the women in the audience were, how difficult it could really be to find women who would enthusiastically agree to be in a position of professionally reviewing literature. On the other hand, the woman on the panel had already presented her theory on giving negative feedback in a way that isn’t vicious or cutting, explaining why she believes that this is more useful both to the writer and to the literary community. For this reason, she wasn’t about to contradict the moderator’s observation that some women are not comfortable slamming other people’s work. Of course, this is not really the role of the critic anyway.

Towards the end of the workshop, this same female panelist observed that throughout the presentation, she had repeatedly been the last one to be called upon to speak or answer questions. She did this in a fairly non-adversarial way, allowing that it was perhaps partially her own fault for not being more assertive. I thought bullshit to myself, but OK, this way it was a discussion instead of a shouting match. Hmm, point taken.

Now that I have decided to write reviews of speculative fiction for my website, I have noticed that I find myself writing positive reviews. Why? Because I am not really interested in writing about stories that I don’t like — it’s reading something that moves or impresses me that motivates me to write about it in the first place. This is not to say that I would never want to write a negative review or critique, but I would be more apt to do that in the case of a piece of fiction that was getting a lot of attention. In such a case, why I didn’t like it could be of more interest. I also have no problem including my thoughts on what I saw as weaknesses in a story or book that I thought was generally good.

All of which is to say, the reason the reviews that you will read here are generally positive is not because I like everything I read. It’s just that I have chosen to write about the things that I think are good so that others might decide to read and perhaps enjoy these stories too.

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