The Ethics of Reviewing

In a recent post on his weblog, "The Happy Antipodean", Matt had this to say:

In a recent survey of Australian literature blogs, Perry Middlemiss of "Matilda" blog asked about 15 bloggers to talk about their experiences, and what they thought about blogging. In my first draft, I included a line saying "Ethical bloggers don't accept review copies". I said this because marketers for publishing companies are starting to infiltrate the scene. The kind of books, as a result, that get reviewed are frequently new releases. And they're mostly not very interesting.

Perry's blog is a case in point and I seldom read the reviews. Alternative Oz litblog "Reading Matters" also contains reviews of copies of books received from publishers. It's a shame.

Given that this comment speaks of me directly I thought I might reply here. But first a bit of context: Matt started his post discussing Natalie Tran, You-Tube poster who has decided against accepting sponsorship money for her video-blog saying "It [sponsorship money] is very tempting but it's not really what I'm looking for -- I've spent a long time creating something and I don't want to give that up." (The quote is from "The Sydney Morning Herald".) Matt thinks it refreshing that she has done this and I agree.

But it's the next step along from direct sponsorship where Matt and I differ. This weblog has been running for a touch over four years now and is attracting enough visits a month for people to take a bit of notice. Some of that notice has resulted in a couple of emails asking if I would be interested in accepting advertising, and on one occasion, a suggestion that I might like to incorporate my weblog into another, much more commercial one. I've always said no, as politely as I could. I consider this little venture to be a hobby, pure and simple. I don't want to be told - in whatever manner - what I can or cannot post about, and I don't want to feel that I have to temper any comments I might make on the grounds that it might annoy the person paying the bills. I need to be able to post as often or as little as I want. I need to be able to restrict myself to Australian literature, with occasional forays elsewhere if I so choose. I need to be able to take time off when I want without feeling guilty that I'm not delivering product in a timely manner. If I decide I've had enough of the whole thing I can drop it at a moment's notice and not feel obliged to explain myself. I have a full time job already, so I don't need or want another one. It's a personal interest, nothing more.

Matt thinks, and I'm only surmising here as he doesn't actually state this in so many words, that accepting books for review from publishers, authors or publicists is the next step removed from sponsorship. And I would agree with him if I felt obliged to post only positive reviews of the books I receive. But I don't feel so obliged, and I have never told any publisher that I will review a book favourably. Nor have I asked any of my reviewers to do so either. I'm not keen on writing reviews that cut a novel to pieces just for the sake of seeing my fine words on the page. But that doesn't also mean that I set out to praise on all occasions. I have the view that it takes a lot of effort, by a lot of people, to get that copy of that book into my hands, and that I should respect that effort by considering the work carefully.

As a parent, and likewise as a reviewer, I've found that more is to be gained by thoughtful criticism and judicious use of praise and reproach than by overuse of either. Another worthy aim which I don't always live up to.

Some time back, on another weblog which discussed this same issue, I noted that I would include a statement of origin for all book reviews that I published here. Make what you will of that extra piece of information. It might help you understand the review's stance, or it might have no bearing whatsoever. I feel more comfortable having it there.

Matt doesn't find reviews of new books interesting and doesn't read the reviews I post here. That's fair enough. I have a peculiar sort of mind that allows me to jump from Charles Harpur and Mary Fortune to Margo Lanagan and James Bradley, and from poetry to sf to crime to literary fiction. It's just how I work. I don't expect that many, if any, of the readers of this weblog will follow me down every path. One or two branches a week should be enough.

I'm not going to give you some high-minded mission statement about how this weblog's aim is to promote Australian literature in a new medium. If it does that, then all the better, but it was started as a hobby and as a means for me to learn more about the literature of this country: past and present, fiction and non-fiction, poetry and prose. That's what matters to me at this time, and hopefully for the life of this weblog. I see receiving books for review as a means of helping me understand more about Australian literature. I appreciate all the books I am sent, but don't feel compromised by any of them.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on February 5, 2009 2:59 PM.

Melbourne Looks for New Literature Centre was the previous entry in this blog.

Sonia Orchard Interview is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Monthly Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.23-en