Reviewing Book Reviewers

Book reviewers are an interesting species, one that authors view with suspicion, antagonism, and/or gratitude. Some reviewers take a snarky, cynical approach to a particular genre, which makes you wonder how they became such experts in its shortcomings. If they intend to give your book in that genre a good review, they cite it as being an exception to the rule. One reviewer said that Duplicity Dogged the Dachshund, the second book in my Dixie Hemingway mystery series, was not at all like the cozies “that are written all too often.” While I appreciated the grudging praise, I wondered for whom he believed cozies were written “all too often.” For the people who read them? For the booksellers who sell them? Or perhaps he simply has a bias against female mystery writers who write most of the cozies.

If it isn’t a reviewer’s bias that sets our teeth on edge, it’s inaccurate description of the work. One reviewer of Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter said Dixie Hemingway had “hung out in bars” after her husband and little boy were killed. There’s not a single scene in the book in which Dixie is in a bar, and the child who was killed was a little girl. Again, I appreciated the reviewer’s recommendation of the book, but I wished she had got the facts straight.

Then there are reviewers who list all a novel’s plot points and its ending as if they’re writing CliffsNotes. Their punishment should be hearing a movie’s surprise ending before they see it.

And what’s up with the New York Times Book Review? Why do they choose reviewers whose main objective is to show how smart they are? Why do they assign books to reviewers who have a vested interest in debunking them? And have you ever noticed that those reviewers, most of whom are authors themselves, seem obsessed with quoting passages they find florid or overwrought, and that in their zeal to ridicule they become florid and overwrought?

To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, a lot of literary reviewers seem to have the haunting fear that somewhere, somehow, somebody may be a better writer than they are.


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