Sunday, April 26, 2009

This Is Not A Bookninja Review (So Put Away Your Nunchuks)

Somewhere on my sidebar there is a link to I used to find myself there quite often. Lately, however, my visits are few and far between. I've begun to see it as little more than a glorified links page. It's a fine place to get some of the latest news in the world of books, but how is it any better than CBC's book page or Chris's Friday Bookish Buzz links, just to name a few sites offering pretty much the same service? At Bookninja, there seems to be little in the way of editorial, most posts have few readers' comments (if any), and quite frankly, I find it all a little impersonal and rushed. I was going to say all of these things.

But, with my usual delusions of grandeur, I imagined this sparking more controversy than I could handle. Lots of people love Bookninja. It was even a finalist for a BBAW award last year. How dare I, in my little corner of the litblogging community, pick on such a giant? And should I be picking on anybody? Aren't we all here in a spirit of book-loving comaraderie? What if authors started reviewing one another's books?

Wait a second.

Authors review each other's books all the time. In fact, some might argue that they have more business doing so than I. After all, how dare I give a bad review to Ami McKay's The Birth House? I've written zero books. Until I prove my expertise in the writing arena, how dare I find fault with an honest-to-god writer?

There's a blogger here in the Northwest Territories who runs a blog called "Even Better NWT Blogs." Each week, she links to her favourite posts from NWT Bloggers based on subject ("Even Better Pet Photography or Story," for example). I've checked it out more often than I care to admit and every time I've found myself indignant. How dare she decide whose post was the best? One week she even complained that "none of them are really inspiring." But, now as I reflect on the Bookninja review that I had planned to write, I'm faced with the possibility that my ego had just been bruised. You see, I've never made the ranks of "Even Better" post.* I conclude that I must be one of the worst.**

I review books every week. Why, then, shouldn't my blog be under the same sort of scrutiny? I'd hate to be the guy that can dish it but can't take it. It's a price to pay for publishing.

Bookninja's George Murray could tell me stop visiting his site and I could tell him to stop reading my reviews of his site. But where's the fun in that?

What do you think? Are bookblogs fair game for reviews? How would you feel if yours was given thumbs down?

(* Isabella comments below that I had, in fact, been chosen for a an Even Better NWT Post. Just last week in fact. I guess I don't check it as often as I suggested. In any case, now that I'm made the upper ranks, my work here at the Book Mine Set is complete, I've accomplished all that I've set out to do, and I bid you all farewell.)

(**Or perhaps it means I'm not noticed at all. I haven't yet decided if that's a good thing or not. Oh what's that? This just in: I have been noticed. Disregard the question. It's better to be noticed.)


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I think anything is fair game for review, especially if it is in the public's view, like any sort of blog.

But after a while it does run the risk of becoming too surreal - reviewing about reviewing.

Yours gets an A+++ any day.

Remi said...

I can't say too much because I like the ninja a lot. I like its mix of links and sparse, often snarky, commentary. That's said, the ninja is most definitely fair game for a review, good or bad.

J.S. Peyton said...

I'm a fan of Bookninja too, though like you I don't visit as often as I used to. I think Bookninja is good at what it does - namely sharing book-related links. Some blogs are like that, while others are more editorial. It just depends on what I'm looking for.

That said, I think blog reviewing is up for grabs. I'm not sure if I'd have the energy to do it, though.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: I agree that a review of a review could plummet into a meta abyss pretty quickly. Maltin reviewing Ebert reviewing Shalit...
But bookblogs are usually more than that (or less than in Bookninja's case). There's any number of factors one could be judged on: frequency of posting, response courtesy, grammar, depth of thought, eclecticism, basically anything a reviewer could value.

Remi: I enjoy links to book news, I just don't see how they do it any better. I guess I understand the Bookninja's function but not its popularity.

J.S. Peyton: Agreed. Not only would it require energy to simply read all the blogs and then review them, it might also require a level of emotional energy if one was to review his peers.

Unknown said...

I don't think I want to be reviewed. Though, in general book bloggers only reveiw books they like so if someone likes my blog....

I think the professional/amateur distinction should come into play here. Most books reviewed on blogs are written by professionals who are paid for their work. Bloggers, not so much. I suspect reviewing them would be like reviewing a local community theatre production. What would be the point?

I do like it when a blogger gives a recommendation for another book blog, though. Helps me find more of them. For example, I'm off to check out Bookninja right now. How is I never heard of it before?

John Mutford said...

CB James: We only review books we like? Crap, I'm in trouble. I'm not sure I'd agree with that generalization. I haven't paid much attention to whether or not the majority have been positive. I'll be on the lookout now though.

As for not having heard of Bookninja, it's probably more popular in Canada.

Isabella K said...

But you did make the ranks of Even Better Post, just last week!?!

I'm with you on Bookninja; I used to follow daily, but now I check in only every couple weeks or so to see if I've missed anything. Of all the book news out there, really there's only the occasional story that means anything to me personally, and for those stories, I want commentary and perspective, not regurgitation.

One thing I value about book blogs is that the reviews are by (generally, average smart and articulate) readers, which often makes them more interesting, more genuine and useful, to me, also and average (hopefully smart and articulate) reader, than do reviews by professional critics, writers, and scholars.

Yes, book blogs are fair game. Bloggers often respond to articles and reviews in major newspapers -- why not hold up blog posts to a similar scrutiny? The crieria will vary, but blog readers will be quick to discern what the blogger's opinions are worth.

If I were given a thumbs down, sure, my feelings would be hurt, but unless it came from, say, Frank Wilson (Books, Inq), I wouldn't put much store by it. I blog purely for fun, not for revenue. (And the revenue factor may account for the focus and direction of some blogs like Bookninja.)

John Mutford said...

Isabella: Ha, so I did. How did I miss that? Now I have to add a disclaimer to the above post.

You raise a good question about blogs that open themselves up to advertising.

Megan said...

Reviews are important. Keep doing them.

I can tell you that the "Even Better NWT Blogs" writer does not review all NWT blogs, only the ones she has subscribed to. It's not a full round-up of the week's posts. If you're not in her reader (and I see from her main site that you're not), you wouldn't be reviewed.

Teena in Toronto said...

Interesting question to pose.

I review books I don't like. That doesn't happen very often, though, because if I don't like a book, I don't usually finish it.

I just finished #19:

Jason said...

There's a saying I find quite true: Happy people self-evaluate. Unhappy people evaluate others.

I am much more interested in how you think you are doing with your blog.

Chrisbookarama said...

There are a few sites that will review your blog for you. I don't think I have the confidence to give that a try though. Blogs are pretty personal so one person's idea of great is another's 'meh'.

Thanks for mentioning my Friday feature, btw. :) Mostly they are links I found and wanted to mention without having to do a whole post around each one. (I'm glad the pee link gave you so much to work with!)

John Mutford said...

Megan: Actually if you read the disclaimer I've added above, I guess she has read my blog on occasion.

Teena: I've reviewed just about everything I've read over the past 3 years. And yes, many have been disliked. Fortunately, I think most have been liked.

Jason: I'm talking about reviewing other people's blogs, not the people behind the blogs. Do I think anyone who reviews a book, movie, blog, etc is inherently unhappy? Of course not. I enjoy talking about books, good or bad. I may not be happy that I just read a crappy book, but I'd still be a happy person overall. As for how I think I'm doing with my blog, fine. I'm not being paid for it, so the only reward I get is enjoyment. Without that, I'd have quit long ago. I'd still like more readers. I joke (somewhat) that it's all attention seeking, but really I just think that the more people who show up, the more chances of some real discussion. I'm not going to pander, draw white dots on celebrity faces, or cause quasi-controversy by insulting other bloggers (that often), all to get my hit counter up, but I would like to offer insights, or at the very least fun, that keep people coming back and possibly recommending my site to others.

Chris: I'm not actively seeking to have my blog reviewed. But if someone was to do it, it would only be fair. If they liked it, great. If they didn't, I'd probably not care, or else I'd pretend not to care.