Monday, July 24, 2006

Money review

Who uses it: Theatrical producers
What it means: An apparently negative review that winds up encouraging people to see the show -- a classic example would be a review of a teen comedy that said, "Stupid and mindless, only for people who like their humor crude and obnoxious." I'm lining right up for that movie, aren't you?
How you can use it: When criticism will wind up working to your benefit.

First, a note to the person who found this blog by searching for "pop song about someone stolen by the fairies": the song you're thinking of is "The Stolen Child," by the Waterboys. It sets the W.B. Yeats poem of the same name to music, and closes the Fisherman's Blues album.

Now for today's term, which occurred to me yesterday as I was reading the New York Times Book Review. I don't spend as much time on the NYTBR as I used to, and didn't know why until my friend Susan said last weekend that she doesn't, either: "I don't like the new format," she said. I guess that's it, I don't like it either. I don't want the longer pieces, I think the NYTBR no longer does a very good job of matching up reviewers with books, and the editors seem so concerned with being taken seriously that they don't pay appropriate attention to mainstream fiction.

All of which helps explain yesterday's truly annoying review of Joe Finder's latest novel, KILLER INSTINCT. Now, Joe is a client and a friend, so I'm not impartial here, but yesterday's review was just bizarre.

To start with, it appeared ten weeks after the book's publication date, and eight weeks after the book appeared on the Times bestseller list. The reviewer was the editor of a literary magazine, whose works I'm not familiar with, and he spent most of the review griping about the conventions of the genre and whining about how this book dared to be entertaining enough to take him away from his customary viewing of "Cops."


I don't believe that book reviews should always be positive, and in fact I wish book reviewers would do a better job of calling out writers and publishers who cut corners and insult their readers. It's not a book reviewer's job to be a cheerleader for the publishing industry, for particular authors, or even for specific books. Nor are book reviewers literary critics; I actually do read literary criticism when I feel like it, but book reviews aren't the place to discuss semiotics.

It's a book reviewer's job to discern an author's goal and report whether the author met those goals. Does the book entertain? Does the book sustain the reader's interest? Is the book credible, well-plotted, insightful, sharp, funny? Does it try to be those things and fail? I couldn't care less about a reviewer's usual reading habits, theories of popular culture, or impertinent insights into the author's psychology.

Nevertheless, yesterday's sloppy, self-indulgent temper tantrum against genre fiction and pop culture was a money review. Boiling the review to its essence, what Mr. Rose said was, "This book was better than 'Cops.' I despise myself."

So if you haven't already read KILLER INSTINCT, what are you waiting for? Come on, folks, it's more fun than "Cops!"

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