On Reviews and Being a Librarian

I caught the tail end of the twitter back and forth that prompted Mark C. Newton’s recent post on review blogs, but then disappeared for four days only to return and find a lively discussion on the nature of blogging and reviews.  In addition to the comments on Mark’s original post there have been a number of response posts on other blogs as well, including Fantasy Book News and Reviews and Neth Space.  If you’re interested in reviewing and reviews (and well books and reading) I highly recommend you check out Mark’s original post, the comments there, and the above linked response posts for some fascinating reading.

I’m not going to get into specifics here on each of Mark’s points but offer kind of a third perspective on Mark’s sixth point: “You can’t love every novel” as it pertains to me.  Mark’s post, and the subsequent responses deal very much the relationship between author and reader and, in this specific case, the reader is also the reviewer.   It is a point that Ken over at Neth Space and Jeff C. of Fantasy Book News a Reviews agree and one that I struggle with.  I honestly don’t think I’ve ever given a completely negative review.  Does that mean I haven’t reviewed books I didn’t particularly like?  No.  I mean, I reviewed both Twilight and New Moon without dissolving into vitriolic fits of apoplectic rage.  I’m going to say something, and feel free to blast away in the comments, but there is no so such thing as a bad book.

That isn’t to say a book can’t be written poorly, or suffer from bad editing, or any number of other things that might scream bad book, but I honestly and truly believe that there are no bad books.  Maybe it’s because I’m a librarian.  When I’m reading a book I don’t particularly like I can never really stop myself from trying to envision the type of reader who would enjoy that book.  I suppose that’s because if someone walks up to the reference desk and asks for a book recommendation I would be extremely limited if the books I could recommend were only the books I liked or didn’t like.  Sure I can use my own personal experience as the starting point for a reader’s advisory (as it’s known in the library world) question but I will inevitably run across a reader whose personal reading style is completely at odds with my own (you should have seen the deer in headlights look a gave a recent preteen looking for vampire fiction that a.) was actually available to check out, and b.) not something she had already read, which was most of what we had).

In 1931 one of the “fathers” of library and information science, S. R. Ranganathan, proposed a theory  known as the “5 Laws of Library Science.”  Of those 5 laws it is the first three that tend to inform my review process:

  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every reader his [or her] book.
  3. Every book its reader.

Can I not like a particular book? Most certainly. But as a professional whose job it is to connect a user with information I struggle, especially when writing reviews , to wholly dismiss a book based on my own personal experience.  Sometimes I think this sets me apart from other reviewers, but maybe I’m wrong.  Sometimes I think that as a librarian I’m this nebulous third party that hovers on fringes of the book/reader relationship.  Even when I’m reading for my own pleasure I can never wholly shirk that perspective.

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