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Menings | Opinion > SeminaarKamer | Seminar Room > English > Mini-seminars

Are South African book critics too soft?


Moira Richards - 2010-12-03

Are South African book critics too soft? Or is it that South African authors and publishers are too soft?

Is it that South African authors, publishers and reviewers don’t understand the nature of book reviewing and are also unwilling to unpack and debate the subject? Not to repeat what I’ve said before about reviewing and the reluctance of authors and publishers to engage with what reviewers write, I’ll focus now on a redressing of the supposed writer-reviewer divide. (Although, since I’ve been publishing book reviews since 2001, and books too, for the past three years, I’m not sure which side I’m expected to be on.)

Surely cruel and spiteful criticism does not point to an inadequate book, but to an incompetent reviewer? Surely gushings of unsubstantiated praise, too, do not point to a wonderful book but to an incompetent reviewer? Surely everyone in the book business should be invested in good reviewers doing a good job?

Surely reviewers understand that they have no real power to make any difference at all to the sale of a book and career of its author or publisher? Surely critique, and not criticism, is the point of reviewing a book, and surely we all know the difference between the two? And should be insisting that reviewing accedes to this?

If our reviewers imagine their role to be arbiter of taste and dispenser of carrots and sticks, and if our authors and publishers allow them the illusion, then is it not the latter who are too soft? Is it not authors and publishers who should be getting out there to call sloppy reviewing to account? And also, to be writing and publishing critique of the work of their peers to show how reviewing should be done? It’s tough work and not easy, but get into the zone by asking yourself:

Is it OK to be nasty about the work of a faceless-never-likely-to-be-met stranger but not about that of a good friend or likely-to-be-met stranger,  nice person / colleague / publisher / editor?

Is it OK to be honest about the work of a faceless-never-likely-to-be-met stranger but not about that of a good friend or likely-to-be-met stranger / nice person / colleague / publisher / editor?

Is it possible to assess objectively, the work of a faceless-never-likely-to-be-met stranger but not that of a good friend or likely-to-be-met stranger / nice person / colleague / publisher / editor?

Is it possible to really understand the work of a faceless-never-likely-to-be-met stranger but not that of a good friend or likely-to-be-met stranger / nice person / colleague / publisher / editor?

Like my daughter-in-law said as I set out for the first time to drive, solo, in the Jo’burg traffic, “You can, Do it!”

 

Moira Richards hangs out on the net here:
http://www.darlingtonrichards.com
and
http://www.redroom.com/author/moira-richards.


 

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