Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Who Reviews Reviews???

A few days ago, I was very excited to find that my book had been reviewed in the Fall 2007 edition of The Antioch Review. This was exciting for a number of reasons:

1.) I really like The Antioch Review.

2.) I've only had two other book reviews.

3.) Those two other reviews were both written by people I know.

4.) The review published in The Antioch Review was done by a complete stranger.

5.) I would have never known the review was done had my press not sent it to me in the mail. Therefore, it was a nice surprise.

After I'd read the review and got excited about it and told my dad and my friends, I started thinking about the value of book reviews. This is an on-going conversation in the poetry world. In fact, I can recall having spirited conversations with the eternal laureate Rita Dove and Mr. Uprock himself Patrick Rosal about book reviews in the past year or so.

Ms. Rita was a guest at Cave Canem and spoke at length about what book reviews--good and bad--meant to her, which was, basically, nothing. She told us a story about a review that ripped one of her books to shreds and was published in a very, very reputable magazine. She said she agonized about it for a while, but eventually tried to forget it. What was strange was that she said people always remembered that she had been reviewed in the reputable magazine, but never, ever recalled that it was a bad review. I guess the incident kind of falls into the 'all publicity is good publicity' category, but it made me think about why some writers value reviews and if they can actually help or harm your career? One bad review certainly didn't hurt Ms. Rita's.

E. Ethelbert Miller once told me that I should write a book review for every book I read and try to publish each review. Ethelbert gives great advice, but I haven't published a single review and I certainly don't write one for each book I read. I'd never have time to write poems if I did! I think he had a valid point, though. He was encouraging me to analyze each book I read and condense my critical analysis to a few hundred words, so I'd have a snapshot view of what I thought of each book. Critical analysis is wildly important as a poet, even if just to find out what you like and why you like it, but how accurate or important is someone else's opinion of a book for the poet who is being reviewed? To make a long rant longer, this and these other questions about reviews have been plaguing me for the last five days:

1.) Who reads book reviews?

2.) Are book reviews important to publishers?

3.) Does a string of 'good or 'bad' book reviews truly reflect on the quality of the writing in the book?

4.) What value is there in poets reviewing books of poetry?

5.) Who is a better reviewer, someone who is primarily a literary critic or someone who is primarily a creative writer?

6.) Why do journals publish reviews without informing the writers that their books will be reviewed?

7.) Can a negative review ruin a literary career? Can a positive review make one?