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Practices Deleterious To Both Reader And Author

May 10, 2008
In the April issue of Roundup Magazine, W. C. Jameson, the author of several books and a just published novel, discussed at some length "The Honesty of Blurbs." He cited numerous examples of how these comments printed on the book jacket, or back cover of paperbacks, most frequently were 'dishonest.'

Among his examples, were the author who asked for a blurb, and was surprised that the person whom he had asked, wanted to read the book; a blurb that was delivered to the author at his request, rather than the publisher, and appeared in press as a much altered, and improved version of the original; of publishers who admitted that blurbs they applied to books frequently, were written for them at their request, by another of their authors. Many readers do not depend upon these blurbs in selecting a book. However, if they do, I must concur with Jameson's conclusions that the reader may or may not receive an accurate evaluation.

There is another matter that is just as dishonest to the reader and, perhaps, even more dishonest and detrimental, to the author and publisher. This is the book review done by a reviewer who, for one reason or another, does not really read the book. We all are aware that one can read at many levels - while also watching television, while half-asleep, as an assigned chore, or for actual personal enjoyment. Each attention method, obviously, would produce a different review.

Over a number of years I have had, as an author, more than a hundred research papers, as well as six textbooks, a lexicon in four languages, and a recently published novel, all subject to review. In no way, have I been able to find fault with most of the reviews, and have complete respect for the reviewers' opinions.

In the recent past, I have found an increased level of annoyance with reviews, however. I have read several novels that are not as reviewed. Too often, it appears that the reviewer has been participating in some of the activities sited above while reading the book in hand. His evaluation may result from an undesirable assignment, or has come about in some other unpleasant manner. Regardless of cause, results usually take the form of criticism of historical fact, when the fact is there, but the reviewer missed it. Or, there may be criticism of a character's language or actions that contain thinly veiled sarcasm. Or again, the reviewer may not be compatible with the book, and instead of providing a truthful overview, will again resort to criticism. Regardless, I have found the review erroneous, and of little help in a pre-evaluation of the book.

It is true, that it is not an easy task to provide an unbiased review, if one or more factors result in book-reader incompatibility. However, a reviewer, in such circumstances, is doing a disservice to the editor, the author and the reader, and should turn the task over to another.

As an editor of a scientific journal for a number of years, I provided almost countless papers and books to reviewers. Reviews are a requirement for the health of science. I believe they serve a similar purpose for the health of material provided for enjoyment. As an editor, I always expected a reviewer to read a book, or paper carefully. If they could not equate, they merely informed me and I would assign it to another.

One can postulate that application of the same policy to pleasurable reading that one applies to scientific books and papers is too stringent. However, the cost of publishing and purchasing books today is far more expensive. Nicely bound paperbacks easily reach the fourteen to sixteen dollar range. Would it not seem appropriate to at least provide an honest evaluation for a reader, and incidentally give the author and its publisher a break?

The book ratings that the reader provides in passing, such as those by Amazon readers, have no alternative but to be accepted for what they are. But, parenthetically, usually they are quite accurate. On the other hand, would it be too much trouble for editors and publishers who request reviews, to be a little more careful in their handling of reviews and reviewers? Incorrect, or badly done, reviews can be bad for all levels of the industry. Done correctly, they are helpful to all.
About the Author
John H. Manhold is a retired professor and scientific journal editor. He is an author of several textbooks, a lexicon in four languages and now novels that often require extensive research. He provides coaching on various types and phases of writing. Please see John Manhold for more information, and an address.
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