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August 08, 2005


John Kenyon

A personal relationship shouldn't always be a deal breaker, but if it exists, it should always be made known. For newspaper reviews, those with a personal relatioship (one or two degrees, perhaps?) are probably best disqualified. But elsewhere, such as online or in a magazine piece where there is a bit more depth and a chance to more fully explore things, a review from a friend of the writer (or enemy, for that matter), if the relationship is out in the open, could be quite enlightening, bringing a perspective to the review otherwise unavailable.


As a reader of reviews, I sure would like to know if a review is biased or not. At the same time, I wouldn't belive a 100% objective reivew exists. Maybe this is why there is hardly anyone asking these questions? Maybe most of the people have already seen reviews as subjective opinions?

Jenny D

I think the question of propriety/appearances is an important one, but I also think this may be overly scrupulous. A personal relationship like the Wiggins-Irving thing should be signaled in the text of the review, either by the parenthetical "(full disclosure: ...)" thing, which is annoying stylistically but necessary; or, if the review is written in a more personal voice, in the form of an anecdote or a recollection or whatever that lays out the relevant connection. But these worlds really are small. I wouldn't review a good friend's book, but I'd review a book written by someone I'd met a few times or, say, gone to university with but didn't really hang out with there. In academic book reviewing, it is much more standard to review books of people you know quite well, without any official disclosure. The same questions of propriety arise, but on the whole, as long as you're not writing about someone who is either a teacher or a student of your own, or a very close friend/colleague, other kinds of connection wouldn't usually be an obstacle to assigning a review.


Yeah, in academia they often ask you to recommend people to review your stuff (proposals, books, etc.). In part that's because everything has gotten so specialized.

Sarah N

Hi Sarah W! off topic comment here; just thought you might be interested in this: http://writersblogalliance.com/ some sort of networking site for writers who blog (rather than a resource site for writers, or a community blog about writing, its just for writers who also blog, as opposed to the usual poltics and tech blog networks.)


The "aha, that explains it!" of personal connection first came to my attention when a medium size market daily paper's mystery reviewer seemed to REALLY love books from St Martins. He was published there. SMP does publish a lot of mysteries, but 2/3? Not hardly.

The now famous Jorie Graham incidents--selecting poetry contest winners who were not only known to her but romantically involved with her--another "this isn't kosher" revelation (thanks to a blogger by the way).

As blogging increases, and the number of places posting reviews increase, it's harder to avoid some contact but high on the list of people I don't reviewing MY client's works are the ex-spouses of their best friends. Not even if everyone says they're all friends.

I think Sarah's list should be two strikes you're out: you can review the book if you have one yes answer/connection, and it is disclosed, but anything more than that, no way.

Jon Jordan

If I had to stop reviewing people I know, I'd review three maybe four books a year.

I write honest reviews, if the book is good I say so, if I didn't like it, I don't review it.


As a reader, it doesn't bother me if reviews are subjective. And in a lot of cases I know that they are to some degree, because I am aware that the reviewer and reviewee are at least acquainted(there are limits of course - I don't think someone with particularly personal knowledge - a bitter ex-spouse of, or the mother of the author, etc etc should be given the task of reviewing books by that author (or if they do it should be disclosed in the review - and maybe the criteria for disclosure should be "I have seen this author in his/her underwear" :o) )).

There's always going to be some element of subjectivity in a review - it's a personal reaction to a book. The reviewer might have had a childhood altercation with a rabid squirrel and come off worst, and any scene in the book involving squirrels, no matter how small (the scene, not the squirrels), could colour the review.

I think most reviewers (and I say MOST) - whether amateur or professional - tend to review as honestly as they can and, well, if they don't, after being burned a couple of times then I just don't bother with their reviews any more. For me, reviews are generally a heads up about a book I may not have known aboout and anything that brings crime fiction to the notice of a wider readership is OK by me.

What was the question again?


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