Monday, 26 January 2015

The naughty girls guide to reviewing.

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
Marcus Aurelius

Thankfully I am not often in the habit of quoting the stoic philosophers but I found this quote by accident and it keeps popping into my head so I hope you will forgive the pretention. However this week, I have been pondering the rise of the value of opinion, especially on the net and in particular the enormous popularity of the review site; Goodreads, Rotten Tomatoes, Tripadvisor. Every product on Amazon is under constant review scrutiny, every seller on eBay will rise and fall on the positivity or otherwise of their feedback. It seems that we just love poking around on the net to see what other people like and what they do not. The ascending phenomena of book clubs shows no sign of diminishment and increasingly book clubs are being courted by publisher and authors as opinion gauges and seller aids and the symbiotic relationship between reader, author and publisher is becoming exponentially closer.

Indeed the very best blogs (I am not immodestly including myself here!) construct an art of opinion and personal subjective taste, albeit carefully edited and photographed preferably in close up. I read your blog because I like your taste, that sweet crochet pattern, lovely tea towel and perfect cake, enviable street style and trusted book recommendations. So, there is nothing wrong with a little judicious editing is there? I blog, I comment, therefor I am...Hmm but is it always a little too sunny and saccharine here in the blogosphere and the wider internet?

Sometimes not as some cocky vested interests do not welcome an honest opinion. As in the case of the unedifying row between self-published author Jacqueline Howett and online reviewer BigAl's Books and Pals, and the case of the hotel guests 'fined' 100 pounds for their bad review of a Blackpool hotel on Tripadvisor. We posted up an honest but poor review over the unbelievably unprofessional conduct of a plasterer we engaged via and while not surprised by the reviews speedy removal, we were made evermore cynical and certainly shall not be trusting the veracity of the tradesmen's 'references' on that particular site.

When we were hip young students we generally gravitated to those groups of people who shared our taste in humour, music, films and books, albeit a crude compatibility test but one which generally stood us in good stead. We managed to navigate the sometimes choppy waters of nascent adult relationships with relatively few tears. People that I bonded with over a love of Guinness, Withnail and I, Nick Cave and the comedy of Bill Hicks are still friends. We all had strident opinions about everything, usually passionately argued out in the gloom of the student union bar. It was important that you could back up your opinion and stand over it.

Now, life is a little slower and grounded, I certainly am less quick to judge (out loud at least); so one blog post that I had planned but consciously chose not to publish was one exasperatedly criticising the predominance of the use of the cup-cake as a plot device in novels sometimes irritatingly categorized as 'women's fiction'. It seemed that every book last summer had the plucky heroine saving their home, business, relationship etc. etc. via the boundless power of the cupcake. So why didn't I post it, perhaps it is just nice to be nice, praise that which is good and ignore that which is considered second rate?

Bitches are far more fun though, aren't they? Kenneth Tynan had pinned to his desk 'Rouse tempers, goad and lacerate, raise whirlwinds,' one of my favourite restaurant reviewers is The Observers Jay Rayner simply because he is unafraid to smoothly yet waspishly skewer any restaurateur failing the customer on food, service or value for money. It is probably easier to write an honest review through from the safe vantage point of a salaried position and many peer-reviewed articles. For the independent blogger the lines are more blurred, certainly I think for the book-bloggers especially if they perceive that they are dependant on authors and publishers for content.

So then a quick guide for the naughty girl:

1.Do not make friends with authors/filmmakers/restaurateurs.
So, you have been effervescently praising this fantastically creative individual and are thinking about meeting for coffee/twitter chats when their third novel/film/cupcake comes out and it is shite -what do you do now? Cut your 'friends' down in their prime for the sake of a blog post! Seriously it is not going to happen.

2.Do not waste your time writing negative opinions for publishers so called review sites, they won't print them.

3.Do not accept solicited products to review, you cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds, your opinion is now tainted but hey you have lots of free stuff! 

4. Sharpen your red pencil and keep the comments open. Sometimes a great critique is good for the soul and it works both ways.

5. If you can't take it don't put it out there. :)

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