I made a tiny tweet about Dennis Davis’ review of one of the many Oscar books falling off book shop shelves lately. For those that didn’t see it, it simply said that I agreed whole-heartedly with it. Fiona Snycker’s article on Thought Leader has prompted this bulkier blog as I feel it raises so many important issues: it’s about a changing and developing relationship between law and the media and social media and of course the public’s perception of the law and the new legal knowledge which they have imbued themselves with (though I’ve already blogged about this titled “It’s not that simple”) ; it raises issues about book reviews and the need to be wary of the closed and in her words, ‘claustrosphobic’ nature of our literary scene; but it goes further than this because of course it spills over into the world of publishing and publishers and then of course book shops and book readers. They are all part and parcel of the same thing.
And it gives me the opportunity of clicking the ‘like’ button and the star ‘favourite’ button on the article which is so infuriatingly and unsatisfyingly ineffective that it has made me get off my recliner where I was happily trying to get into a Saturday space with Frank McCourt’s Teacher Man (not really as peaceful as it sounds because every two minutes, one of four children ask me to please help with a science experiment with blue food colouring ( the Gr 3) or what’s for lunch(the Gr 11 studying for Bio exam) or when can you buy me a new costume? (the Gr 5), diving into the pool with stretched elastic around her shoulders,, blah , blah ,yes, yes) and sit behind this laptop because I also want to tell Denis Davis that he is my unrivaled hero. So there. It’s official. I’ve said it on a public forum though I suspect he has some idea of this because I subtly imply this every time I see him. I think he’s fab. And much of what I am is due to him but enough said.
But onto book reviews…
Fiona, your comments are insightful and honest. As you suggest….” there must be a potential pool of reviewers out there who are independent, objective, and enthusiastic about local literature” because it I think it would be foolish to pretend that most book reviewers are not writers or aspirant authors or somehow part of the ‘bookish community’ themselves? And that there is so much mutual back- scratching in the writing community that it is so tough to break into unless you are all doing this. I believe the ordinary book reader of any particular genre would do well to undertake a book review. An objective and natural response to the book is surely the instinctive answer to a book that is enjoyable and would suffice as a worthy review? And so, if you believe that academics are more interested in more literary works, which they may or may not be, then trust the ordinary reader , who is not a writer. But then I see there are sites for this too , like GBAS.
But my purpose here is also to add to another comment because I believe it needs to be said, and that is simply this. The impact of reviewers has a significant impact upon the publishing world and should be equally re-assessed. It is well accepted that the incontrovertible power of external reviewers of publishing houses (who I imagine are generally though not always also writers themselves) have a notable influence over the new writer who is struggling to be heard. Their sole and (perhaps sometimes) jaundiced view of the MS they get to read decides the kind of book that publishers get to publish and ultimately the book that the book shops get to put at the front of their bookshops. If they happen to drop one from the slush pile and it erroneously gets put back on the pile to be recommended for publishing, this is perhaps a fortuitous event. But we all know this.
What is more interesting is the fact that bookshops are strange and predictable places too. Because they are servants of the big publishing houses (who produce lots of books and thus dominate the book trade) and it doesn’t take a fool to realize that if you make a lot of noise and hype around a book by placing it at the front of the store with a hundred copies of the same propping it up underneath, the general public has no choice but to think that it is a book worth buying, even though the majority of them will not have had the opportunity of reading a worthwhile review such as the likes of Dennis Davis and that we must therefore assume that the general public is easily led and easily swayed by what looks good and plentiful. And it thus goes without saying that if bookshops displayed every book in the same way, chances are they would sell equally well and the public would be hard-pressed to make an informed choice but of course they haven’t the shelf space for that and it’s a silly suggestion I know because clearly some books are simply more in demand than others and I’m not for a minute putting myself forward as an expert in book selling or book publishing because that would be incredibly stupid and not constructive at all.
So I suppose as in my other blogs , I ‘m just saying.
But thank you Fiona, all the same.