Recommended by Strangers

| 2/18/2008 9:43:13 AM

portrait with books.While the Internet’s democratization of literary reviewing in some ways has managed to surmount, or at least skirt, the strict hierarchy and political machinations of the publishing industry, it can go both ways. When book reviews (such as Amazon’s customer reviews) rest in the hands of the common blogger, we trade the transparency of a known reviewer, with all her predictable biases, for an unknown agent. As points out in his article for Slate, the motives of online reviewers can be even more self-serving than those of their mainstream counterparts.

Amateur reviewers are subject “to the same pressures that confront the professionals they were supposed to replace,” Hallberg writes. “To keep writing, lest another reviewer usurp one's spot. To say something nice, in hopes that someone will say something nice about you. And to read for work, rather than for pleasure.”

Morgan Winters

Image by cindiann, licensed under Creative Commons.

Renee Aubuchon
2/19/2008 6:11:25 PM

Sounds like some sour grapes to me. Really thoughtful, well qualified people often write reviews at I enjoy reading their varied perspectives. If a reviewer has no idea what he or she is talking about or is functionally illiterate that will come through in the review. Additionally, when there are multiple reviews of a book, it can be quite fun to read through them. It is also fun when I find a reviewer I like to go and read his or her other reviews. This isn't a "sorry development" as if reviewers at Amazon were some kind of loser less-thans. This is democracy- and it works!

Brigitte Frase
2/19/2008 5:06:06 PM

I'm a professional reviewer and view the Amazon "amateurs" as a sorry development. My work is transparent in that I have no ax to grind or butt to kiss. I review books because I love books, period I don't read differently for work than for pleasure, merely twice as attentively, scrutinizing my reactions to check for biases.

2/18/2008 8:50:16 PM

I dunno - I find reviews really useful, if difficult to navigate. This afternoon I was in my local McBookstore looking for biographies of a couple America luminaries. Each luminary had a handful of books devoted to him. How the stuffing was I to find the best book? I went on Amazon and could kinda find my bearings through the customer reviews, but I ended up buying nothing. Take that, bookstores!

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