Tuning that Critical Fork

Whenever a review of mine is published somewhere, especially a review that has the space to be properly expansive, a spasm of fear almost always shows up alongside said publication. Why? Call it the “out to lunch” feeling, that either I’m so far off base that no one is going to trust what I say anymore or that by going against the grain – either to be critical or to be effusive – I’ve impaired whatever credibility I seem to have.

Dana Kaye also has been thinking along similar lines:

For every book that is loved by millions, there will be at least ten

people who hated it. As a reviewer, it’s not good to be one of those

ten. I’ll be honest and give an example: THE SHADOW OF THE WIND. Everyone I know loved it. I hated it. Why? I thought it was boring.

That’s all I could give. There was nothing wrong with the writing, the

characters were fairly well-developed, but I, personally, did not enjoy


If I was reviewing that book, as always, I would be honest.

But what would that mean for my credibility? Would everyone stop

listening to my opinion because I clearly don’t know what I’m talking

about? Would it deter them from even reading the book? And the big

question, would a review, good or bad, affect their opinion of the

book, even after they had read it? The answer, to all the questions is,


Without getting too deeply into the merits of Zafon’s book (for the record, I dug it but also recognize its simplistic take on a great many subjects that made it a good read, not a great one) these are all things that have gone through my mind at any given point. Sometimes going against the grain can be fun in a perverse way, as what happened with Warren Ellis’s novel. Other times it can be a bit more contentious, as was the case when I didn’t mince words about Thomas Cook’s since highly-decorated novel RED LEAVES.

But then, being a critic for money means having to put your thoughts and opinions on the line and taking some risks. As soon as the element of risk goes away – whether to praise an undiscovered gem or to be honest in criticizing a soon-to-be-sacred popular or well-reviewed cow – I know the whole book reviewing thing won’t be worthwhile for me anymore.