Saturday, 20 April 2013

More Advice on Book Reviews from John Stackhouse

In his latest post--"Why You Should Review--and You Shouldn't"--Regent College professor John Stackhouse provides some warnings to those wanting to write book reviews.

Here is a taste:

So why shouldn’t you review a book? Because it might cost you, and dearly.

It’s a small world after all, and most authors don’t forget negative reviews. Worse, some authors don’t forget any reviews that are anything other than glowing. And you cannot predict with certainty what author will respond in what way... Worse, for every magisterial author who refuses to let a less-than-stellar review interrupt an ongoing friendship, there might be another well-known author, who purported to be a friend, yet who walked around a professional conference with me for an hour telling everyone who stopped to commend him on his new book that “Well, he didn’t like it!” with a jerked thumb in my direction, since I had given it a “B+” sort of review, and that clearly wasn’t good enough. I did indeed like it, but I didn’t like everything about it. I said so and—ah! that was the mistake. Only flattery, laid on thick and sweet, would do.

...For you likely will never know, as I don’t, what speaking engagements were never offered, fellowships not awarded, scholarly collaborations not extended, and jobs not mentioned because So-and-So couldn’t handle a non-wonderful review of his or her work. Alas, you run a serious risk for offering honest appraisal of work that is other than fabulous or foul. Not everyone will hold it against you, thank God. But you cannot, it seems to me, confidently predict who will.
So do we therefore stop reviewing unless we have no professional aspirations? Or unless we either totally love a book or are glad to distance ourselves from it and its author? Yes. That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing the last decade or so.

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