I recently read Sharon Bakar on book reviewing. My comment became so extended that I thought I’d do a post instead!

Daphne Lee in Starmag said this:

“I know local writers who feel that a bad book review shows lack of support, but I feel that all writers can learn from an honest review, good or bad, but especially one that clearly points out why the reviewer is less than thrilled with the book. After all, there is always room for improvement and if one receives nothing but praise, how can one know which areas need work?”

So true.

But I reckon an “honest review” is not good enough. It must be a quality review.

You see, the skills, experience and credentials of the book reviewer are vital. In Malaysia, quality can be an issue. Just as there are good, bad and mediocre authors, there are also good, bad and mediocre reviewers.

Book reviewing is a difficult skill and I think the local writing scene would really benefit if we ran courses on it. Unfortunately, the local press is so hungry for reviews that sometimes sub-standard reviews get published.

When I’ve written book reviews, as a published author, I’m keenly aware of the hard work and the “enormous heart” the writer has put into it. A reviewer should be sensitive to this.

In many ways the reviewer is like god, s/he has the power to pronounce judgment. Its vital that this power doesn’t go to the reviewers head. We know only too well that power can corrupt!

As such, I try to review sensitively, even delicately, minding the feelings of the author and yet providing a valuable resource to the reader. I try to be fair minded. I try to be balanced. I try never to go on a tangent or allow the review to be a soapbox for my own opinions.

I am particularly mindful when reviewing books published locally. This may be the only review the local author ever gets!

There is always something good to say about a book. Even a terrible book can have one good thing about it. Conversely, you can also find one negative point even a highly acclaimed and wonderful work.

As for spats between authors and reviewers, any negative feeling, for me anyway, is imaginary. Just like two lawyers for opposing sides in a hard fought legal case can have drinks and share a joke together, an author and his negative reviewer can do the same. After all they are in the same industry.

Authors and reviewers depend on one another. They work together. They should be professional. There should be nothing personal in it. When the work is done, we can share a joke and have a drink, and go home happy!

So as Daphne Lee says, we can all learn. We can all, authors and reviewers, up our skills. Be open minded. Be open hearted.

Always learn. Always practice. Always write.

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