Reviewing Reviews: A Book Group Perspective
Posted by: Neil Hollands
My email box today contained an invitation to an upcoming panel (sponsored by two of the other review journals, not Booklist) about the future of book reviews. The questions they will address, about the importance of quality reviews to consumers and the comparative value of less authoritative reviews on the Internet, are good ones. Frankly, the decision to hold such a panel makes me worried about the finances of these journals. Unless it’s revived by a late purchase, we’ve already lost Kirkus Reviews. Whether the damage has been caused by the influence of the Internet or the business models of the conglomerate parent companies that own most journals I’m not sure, but we’re definitely in a state of flux.
Let’s hope that other review journals won’t succumb to these strange times when not-yet-profitable online resources are damaging the solvency of print resources (yes, I know, I’m writing this on a blog, but it is associated with a print resource known for high standards.) Online resources are mostly free for now, but they aren’t turning big profits and you can bet that if the income from print resources dries up, the companies producing content will either have to start charging for online access or go out of business. Consider the recent announcement that the New York Times will begin charging for content in 2011. There’s only so much Internet advertising revenue to go around. At some point we’ll have to pay for resources or lose them.
But I’ll take off my corporate crusader hat and return to my theme: book reviews. Here are some ways for your group to use them:
- Bring a well written review to the meeting and read it aloud as a way to introduce the book and set the table for discussion.
- Print the most opinionated reviews you can find. If discussion lags, read some aloud and ask for reactions.
- If your group reads older works, use the literary databases at your local library to research the critical reaction to the book when it was first published. Did the critics of the time get it right?
- Use reviews to help generate a list of discussion questions for your next meeting.
- If your group collaborates when its time to select future reading, print book reviews and pass them around so that your members can make informed decisions about titles with which they are less familiar. You might even consider purchasing a group subscription to one of the review journals for this purpose.
Whether you agree with them or not, reviews are an important part of the book group member’s toolbox. Learn how to use them to your best advantage.