Sunday, January 25, 2009

Oh, This Blogging – What a Thing It Is!

My apologies to Mr. Shakespeare for that title, but it does seem to fit. Blogging, and especially that aspect of blogging known as "book blogging" gets more and more involved all the time. And I suppose, as book blogs multiply and start to have greater influence in the world of publishing, things will become ever more complicated.

Along those lines, there's been an interesting conversation going on this past week, over at Trish's blog (Hey Lady, Whatcha Readin?), about "The Ethics of Book Reviewing," and whether or not book reviewers should reveal the sources of the books they review; and how that might affect the real or perceived honesty of their reviews. Trish asks:
Is it important to mention where you received a book? Obviously, it *probably* doesn’t matter if you received the book from the library or it was loaned to you from a friend or you bought the book yourself. But what about ARCs/AREs? Or books we might get from Library Thing through the Early Reviewers program? Or Harper Collins? Or books offered directly from authors?

Does WHERE you received the book influence your opinion of a book?
So far, the article has received over fifty comments, with many different opinions and points of view. Seems no two book bloggers agree completely on what the "ethics of book reviewing" really are. But there does seem to be a split between bloggers who see themselves as "reviewers" and those who just read books and blog about them.

Well, I guess I'm pretty firmly in the second group. I think of my blogs primarily as journals – collections of my own thoughts and experiences, literary and otherwise. I'm flattered and happy when I know someone else is reading (and sometimes, I hope, enjoying) what I've written, but I'd probably go on blogging even if there were no "reader" out there besides myself. And I like "book blogging" mainly because it keeps me reading. I do enjoy the contact with other readers (even if it's only "virtual" contact), and the give-and-take of literary debate. But mostly I just want to keep my mind engaged, my imagination working, and my eyes glued to the printed page instead of the TV screen as much as possible.

And, personally, when I write a blog post about a book, I don't really think of it as a "review," although I may call it that in the blogosphere. Privately, I really see these entries more as notes to myself – or little book reports – something I can look at a few years from now, after the books are a fading memory. Just a little jotting to remind me of plot, characters, and what I thought about the book at the time. And also, possibly, where I got the book. This may not be of any interest to anyone else, but sometimes the history of the book and how I came to read it may be of great interest to me.

However, it's not a hard and fast rule – sometimes I may mention where a book came from and sometimes not. So, does not stating that a book was an ARC, or that it was sent to me by the author, mean my review is less than honest? Should this bit of information be included with all reviews, as a form of disclosure? Or is that a form of bragging, and simply more information than most readers want or need?

Well, this is all part of the larger question of how much honesty is enough or too much in book reviews, isn't it? And that seems to be a very sticky problem. I do try to be honest in my reviews, in the main because of what I've said above. My blog is first and foremost my personal record of what I think of something – books, movies, restaurants, doing the laundry, whatever. So I want it to reflect my true feelings. Most of the reviews I post have a positive slant – I don't write many negative reviews, and the simple reason for that is that I don't generally finish reading books I don't like. And since I'm not a professional reviewer, I prefer to read purely for pleasure. These are the main reasons that I've almost completely stopped requesting or accepting advance review copies of books. I don't mind receiving an occasional book from LibraryThing or Shelf Awareness. But if I'm going to accept a book directly from an author, I make very sure that he/she understands in advance that my review will be totally honest. If that's a problem for the author, then I don't accept the book. Once that agreement is made, I feel completely free to say what I think of the book, good or bad.

So, I guess when all is said and done, I'm not too worried about my ethical conduct in my blogging. As in all things, I believe in being as honest as possible, but I don't want to go out of my way to hurt any feelings or stir up bad blood, either. Honesty is a very good policy, but so are tact and courtesy. I really believe if I use that as my guideline, I can write my "reviews" without too many qualms or worries.

I really didn't mean to ramble on this long, and I certainly don't expect that anyone has stuck with me to the end. And I guess all I really wanted to say is that as long as I keep thinking of my blog as a personal record, I'll just keep right on making up my own rules. And that's all I expect from other book bloggers, as well.

(See Trish's article here.)


  1. I can see both sides of the argument, but after Trish's post and the conversation that was on Twitter afterward, I've decided to add "review copy provided by. . ." at the end of my post if it was an ARC. I may change my mind later - who knows?

  2. I have trouble seeing myself as a "reviewer" too although I do use that term for lack of a better one often enough. You'll occasionally see me say "my thoughts" in place of review--it's a phrase I'm much more comfortable with. And while I do read quite a few review books, I do my best to only say yes to those that really interest me. Like you, I read for pleasure and I'd rather not waste my time on books that I wouldn't like.

    I don't know how I feel about stating where I receive a book from. It's something I keep track of and sometimes I will mention it and other times I won't.

  3. I'm firmly in the second group too. In fact, I've thought of changing my blog's subtitle to "a reading journal" a couple of times, because that's what it is and that's what I want it to be. I have nothing against bloggers who define themselves as reviewers, and in fact I'm sure that many of my favourites do. But personally I'm more comfortable with a more informal kind of blog. Like you, I blog to record my thoughts and to connect with other readers.

  4. I've been stating where I get my review copy (if it's someplace other than the library or a friend).

    I like your idea of making up your rules as you go along (see, I did stick with your post 'til the end!). I'm fairly consistent with the way I post, but it's my blog, subject to my whims!

    Oh, and I do call them "book reviews", but I love the "my thoughts" tag as well.

  5. Interesting. I think of myself as a reviewer, but not now that I think about it, my blog is more of thoughts on books, as opposed to an official review (which I've never felt capable of!).


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