The Review Is …

We used to know how to complete that line. The review is in! But today it seems there are other words that are more fitting or more common. The review is non-existent, comes to mind. Or the review is pure promotion. Or the review is dangerous. Or the review is tainted.

You see, I’m aware of a couple on-line “battles” centered on reviews or reviewing. One such controversy questions the objectivity of reviewers who receive free books. Another questions a specific review that doesn’t take a strong “thou-shalt-not” stand to a certain movie.

Of course, there is the fact that writers for some time have been decrying the lack of review publications, especially for Christian fiction. In truth, more and more newspapers are dropping book reviews from their content, so it seems that no review is more commonly the truth for many books.

I suspect this is why blog tours have increased in popularity and why authors encourage readers to post reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The beauty is, these kinds of reviews come from readers. Not professional reviewers who may or may not have the mindset of the target audience.

To be sure, anyone can write a review with wrong motives, even professional reviewers. I suspect that’s why fewer and fewer formal reviews exist—readers have learned not to trust reviewers who have a track record for pushing their own preferences or, in a worst case, foisting a personal agenda on the public.

In contrast, blog tour reviewers and reader reviewers on book-selling sites have nothing to gain by pandering to their own whimsy. People will simply tune them out, and in the case of bloggers, stop visiting their sites, so there’s nothing to gain.

A blogger who cares at all for his visitors is more apt to give a balanced and meaningful review than not. In addition, he is not setting himself up as an expert which eliminates the problems swirling around the other review controversy.

This debate centers on a publication giving the pros and cons of a particular movie rather than posting a “not recommended” warning. I haven’t read the review, seen the movie, or read much of the confrontational posts or comments. I don’t think it’s necessary to be familiar with all the particulars because we’ve seen it all before. “Don’t read Gone with the Wind because it uses a cuss word.” “Don’t read Harry Potter because it has witches.”

These kinds of “reviews” are dealing with externals while ignoring heart issues. What’s more they wish to act as the Authority, to step in and make a declaration about what the true-blue followers should Stay Away From. For Christians, this seems antithetical to our stated belief that the Bible is the authority for life and godliness.

To review or not to review? By all means, Review. Do so with honesty and candor and kindness. If you’re a believer, do so with Scriptural relevance. Then let your review stand as one piece of the public record that may influence those who trust your opinion. But don’t lose sight that your opinion is nothing more than your opinion. It may be informed. It may come from your vast experience. It may be right. But in the end, those who read your reviews still have to decide what to do about what they read.

12 Comments

  1. One of the reasons I kind of ignore blog tours is that the agenda seems more to give exposure to a book/author than an objective review. Granted, if a book is good, by all means, promote it! But Christian reviewers are WAY guilty of biased reviewing. I mean, how often do you see a Christian Fiction book getting a bad review from a Christian reviewer? Not too often. (Actually, it’s one of the things I appreciate about you, Becky — you’re willingness to humbly dissent.) I have had several Christian reviewers tell me that if they don’t like a book, they just don’t review it. So much for honesty… Frankly, it’s got to the point I ignore most amateur Christian review sites and Amazon reader reviews.

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  2. Woo-hoo! Becky! This is so true! If you choose to review, you have to be honest! Positively or negatively – be honest! And I love your reminder that it is just our opinion and no matter what vast experience we may bring to the review, our opinion is one opinion and EVERYBODY has one!

    Great post!

    Kim

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  3. Hey, Mike, I was thinking as I read your comment that you need to hang around the CSFF tour more. 😀

    I think our bloggers fall into two categories for the most part: those that introduce the featured book or web site, usually with information gleaned elsewhere, and those who give honest reviews. It’s one reason I so enjoy our tours. I never know what I’m going to read and I love knowing what others saw in the same book I read. Some times we agree and sometimes we don’t

    But thank you for your kind words about my reviews. I’ll try harder to point out others that I think could be of interest.

    Kim, thanks for your support. I know a growing number of bloggers agree with me. But surprisingly there is some backlash. Some of this comes from the professionals who feel threatened. (Who are these bloggers to think they know as much as I do?) Some comes from authors defensive of their work. (These readers just don’t get it, and I need to set them straight.) I can only hope these responses will diminish as we get used to seeing honest and fair and kind reactions written and offered to the public.

    If reviewers only realized they taint their own credibility when they offer only glowing reviews. How will readers continue believing them … or continue reading them? After all, you only need to see what book is up for review. The rest you know because you’ve read it before.

    Becky

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  4. In response to part of Mike’s comment, the main reason I mostly do reviews of the novels I like–other than the ones I’m obligated to do through blog tours–is because it’s such a subjective response. And since the rules of writing are open to interpretation, I’m not going to use them as a backdrop for critiquing. However, if I “liked” not “loved” a novel, I will review it with the pros and cons. And since I’m not reviewing it for any “offical” publication, I can be choosy in what and how I “review”.

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  5. I feel like we get it from both sides. A couple of weeks ago I posted a long review of a Christian book. http://paraklesis.com/childrens_publishing_news/?p=224
    It was far from gushing. I feel awful because I’m sure to run into the author at a conference and I’ll be embarrassed. On the other hand, even though I do post reviews that are honest, I am accused of posting reviews that are dishonest. Simply the fact that I’m a Christian blogger marks me as a liar, apparently. Yikes!

    Not ALL Christian reviewers write lies, Mike. SOME. Say SOME. Please. Becky is honest, you’ve admitted. Some others are, too. Do visit her blog tour participants. You will be surprised.

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  6. Sally, I’m generalizing. I think you understand that. I didn’t say, or intend to say, that “ALL Christian reviewers write lies.” Framing it that way does not further the type of dialog we need in this area… and it makes me look like a dimwit :).

    I’ve expounded on this subject before, namely in a piece entitled In Praise of Bad Reviews at Novel Journey. I received some significant private correspondence after that piece — some angry, some empathetic — that reinforced certain opinions about this issue and the Christian publishing industry.

    Christian reviewers are “dishonest” in the sense that we fear / avoid / hedge at giving negative public reviews of Christian Fiction. I suggest there’s three reasons: 1.) We confuse love with approval, 2.) Most Christian reviewers are attempting to break into the industry, and 3.) We desperately want to validate Christian Fiction. Somehow we Christians have come to believe that a bad review is unloving. No doubt diplomacy is necessary in all walks of life, including the publishing business. But, as Christians, we’re also called to “speak the truth in love.” What complicates matters is that many Christian reviewers are also aspiring authors. It’s hardly a good career move to give a thumbs down to an author you may need an endorsement from some day. Furthermore, we so want to validate Christian Fiction that we will refrain from criticizing it and become disingenuous in our praise. Those things, I think, create the unhealthy climate of skewed reviews.

    In the end, all I as a reader want (and as a Christian!), is objectivity. Just tell me when a book is slow, uninspired or predictable; fantastic, good, or just all right. But please, don’t tell me everything is a must-read. Frankly, I need less rah-rah reviews if I will believe any of them. Hope that clarifies my position a little. Grace to you, Sally!

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  7. Are you saying I made you look like a dimwit, Mike? You’re the one who framed the thing in the absolute statements that Christian reviewers are dishonest.

    I’m laughing here, and I was laughing in my original post in this thread, too, so I hope you’re not hot under the collar. But I’ll tell you what I tell my son, “When I point out your error you aren’t allowed to blame me and call me mean. You suffer for your own sin” So, Mike, if you look like a dimwit, and I certainly have never thought of you in those terms, then that’s your own fault.

    OK, kidding aside:

    What you are saying is all very good and I can agree that SOME Christina reviewers–and I might even agree that MOST Christian reviewers–are dishonest. I haven’t counted. But I think if we went to visit Shadowmancer on Amazon and counted the five star reviews, we’d have to admit that many, many, many Christian reviewers are dishonest.

    Or just plain dumb.

    But I am a Christian and I strive for honesty in my reviews. I don’t fear/avoid/hedge giving negative public reviews. And I’ve never called anything a must-read.And because I intend to keep writing reviews, I feel a need to call people on it when they say Christians don’t write honest reviews. Or bloggers don’t write honest reviews when you give them free books (which is what Becky was taking about in her post). Some of us do write honest reviews. Just as some of the nonChristians do.

    I’ve read a lot of garbage reviews by nonChristians, some of whom fear writing bad reviews for the exact same reasons you list about Christians. I’m on huge children’s writing lists and believe me, they are doing the same kind of rah rah reviews in the secular world of wannabe writers, as they are in the Christian world.

    Here’s my problem with the dishonest Christian reviews. It’s not that they are more prevalent than the dishonest nonChristian reviews. It’s that Christians should know better. Shame on us when we fear man instead of fearing God and so we lie to please man even when we know that lying displeases God.

    Anyway, I wasn’t trying to start a war, Mike, or to make you look like a dimwit. (As if that were really possible–you nitwit. heh heh) No, the truth is that I’ve taken a bit of a beating the last few weeks–been publicly accused of lacking integrity by several professional reviewers who don’t know me and have no idea what kind of person I am. So maybe I was too sensitive. I’m sorry if I came across as sounding like I was yelling at you. I really wasn’t upset with you at all. I was really just trying to make friendly conversation.

    Yes, I’m famous for being socially backwards. Bear with me brother, Mike. Please. As you have been. Thanks for the grace.

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  8. Mike, I just read your excellent piece in Novel Journey on Christian review. I liked it very much.

    I agree with what you’re saying.

    One thing did occur to me, though. How do you know that those rotten tomato people weren’t Christians? Maybe some of them were.

    I’m wondering if it’s not that Christians in general are not honest in their reviews, but that a number of Christian authors and wannabe authors are dishonest when they review one another. Because, really, those witty tomato reviews could have been written by Christians.

    And a second thing–maybe the tomato people who aren’t Christians are dishonest too. Did you ever see the film to find out which group was lying?

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  9. Well said!

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  10. Criticism is important to Christianity. Without it how can we encourage one another to press onward in our walk? It is the ever present battle, the iron sharpening iron, great minds at work for the betterment of humanity.

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  11. I don’t know about the leap from this post (criticism is good for Christian fiction) to “Criticism is important to Christianity.” As I understand biblical Christianity, it is above criticism because it is God’s plan, not Man’s. I might criticize how we implement His plan, but not His plan.

    And I’m afraid you lost me with the last line. I don’t think we are working “for the betterment of humanity.” The only thing that can better humanity is bowing the knee before Jesus as Lord and Savior. All the “betterment”—feeding the hungry, rebuilding houses of those who experienced disaster, teaching the undereducated, providing medical assistance where little is available, or whatever else you want to name—does not change Man’s eternal condition, which ought to be of primary importance.

    Can we, even should we, ease suffering as we are able? Absolutely. But we need to understand, that is not working for the betterment of humanity.

    Humanity is under a curse that could only be dealt with by Christ’s finished work on the cross. He’s done what it takes to better humanity. Our job is to tell people about it.

    Perhaps you had that in mind when you mentioned the betterment of humanity.

    Becky

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  12. Apologies if the post was unclear. God is never answerable to criticism, nor should he be. However, we as his followers are not him. Sure, we try our best to conform into his holy image, but we are just human and “under a curse”. Yet our Saviors desire is that all men might be saved. It is duty to seek this blessed peace with our neighbor. Yes, we must tell people every day, but if we don’t practice it in our can we even dare to call ourselves Christians? We must ofter the world this gift of hope and pray earnestly that they will have the faith to accept it. This is the Gospel, and why not call it the betterment of humanity?

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