A Reader Reading Reviews

Years and years ago, the local film reviewer of the local newspaper where I then lived reviewed Dark Crystal. The reviewer made abundantly clear that he despised the fantasy genre as a whole and thought it stupid. Naturally, he found the movie lacking and described its badness with great intensity, but none of this was helpful to me in any way in judging whether I might want to spend my hard-earned coin to go see the film in the theater (some of you may not recall a time when it was not easy or even possible to rent a copy of a movie and watch it from the comfort of your own sofa on your own schedule).

So I wrote to him a letter, which went something like this: Your dislike of the fantasy genre of movies in the general is so extreme that I cannot make out through your biases whether this film works, because you’re not focusing on the filmic elements but rather elements that may or may not work for someone who isn’t from the get-go by definition opposed to and even contemptuous of fantasy tropes, weird creatures, magic, wings, and evil villains. So could you please either review the film as a film, or let someone else review the sff films, please?

Less than a month later this particular reviewer announced in a column that he was leaving film reviewing and going back to his first love, reviewing Theatre. While I have no evidence beyond coincidental timing to suggest I had anything to do with this decision on his part, I like to think I might have helped him along.

I believe that a good reviewer reviews out of love, and if there is no love, man, we’ve got a problem.

By “love” I don’t mean that a reviewer must only say nice things, or even any nice things.

I mean loving the genre or sub-genre in the general; I mean approaching the work with respect, and tackling its deficiencies from a perspective not of contempt for its type or a sniggering tone of derision for its shortcomings, but an analysis of where and how things didn’t work. I suppose the mixed and/or negative reviews I like best have a faintly regretful air, as if to say, I wanted to like this book because on the whole I prefer to like books. I feel that way because, on the whole, I would rather enjoy every novel I pick up. I don’t, of course. I can’t imagine anyone does. So when I read reviews, if I read them, I’m trying to discern whether the book in question will please me.

Naturally, not everyone will have this same perspective about reviews. What are you, as a reader, looking for when you read reviews?

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There are 2 comments. Get the RSS feed for comments on this entry.

  1. 1. Simon Haynes

    When I read a review I don’t want a plot summary or spoilers. I want to know what else the reviewer likes, so I can see whether our tastes coincide and, by extension, whether their dislike of a particular book means I’ll probably enjoy it.

    Given all that, my ideal book review is ‘This book is like x, y and z.’ If I haven’t come across x, y and z before, then the book under review probably isn’t for me anyway ;-)

  2. 2. Karen Wester Newton

    I agree it can be hard to find movie reviewers who don’t assume that if a movie is fantasy or science fiction, then it must be crap. I like to go to Science Fiction Weekly for movie reviews for just that reason. I have plenty of sources for book reviews, but unbiased movie reviews of genre movies are all too rare.

Author Information

Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott is the author of multiple fantasy and science fiction novels, including the Crown of Stars series and the Novels of the Jaran. She's currently working on Crossroads; the first novel, Spirit Gate, is already out, and Shadow Gate will be published in Spring 2008. Visit site.

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