My Reviewing Ethos

Published January 14, 2011 by Teresa

When commenting on Paul Cornell’s blog the other day, I mentioned the fact that I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the way he ended his Batman & Robin storyline. While I love the new villain he created in The Absence, I thought that how she turned out in the end was a bit of a cop-out. I mean, I got the point, what with her name and all, but… Well, I’ll write a separate review here another time, as this wasn’t really meant to be a review post.

The point is that Paul thought I’d ended up reviewing the issue positively, despite my reservations about it, in this week’s Best Shots Rapid-Fire reviews at Newsarama, and he commented back to me concerned that I’d written a positive review against my better judgment, saying “I would encourage you to say what you really think, even if you know the author. Most of us don’t take negative reviews from friends badly.”

I appreciated him saying that, but I’ve since corrected him: first, by telling him that another reviewer wrote the positive review he mistakenly attributed to me.  Second, by telling him that I’m not afeared of him or anyone else, and that if he ever writes something I think is crap, the world will know, as my Reviewer Pen is ready to slay and demolish as much as it’s ready to caress and coddle. (I kind of want a huge Reviewer Pen now, a la Gorilla Grodd’s Battle Spoon, or The Absence’s Scissors!)

But what he said got me thinking about how I approach my reviews. There’s definitely a method to my madness, but it’s not something I’ve ever sat down to think about before, and I think it’s something worth thinking about. So, for those of you who are interested, here are my thoughts:

1) I am someone whose natural setting is to give the Benefit of the Doubt. I give people I meet The Benefit, why wouldn’t I give works of art The Benefit, too? The way I see it, someone was trying to accomplish something and worked hard (even if the end product doesn’t show it) to create something. That is a brave act, and so I will always look for something to like about it. I’ll talk about that first before delving into the work’s failures.

2) When I review, I consider that even if something isn’t “my cup of tea,” there are people out there who like what I don’t. So I keep that in mind, and often say “I’m not a fan of this particular thing, but if you like this character/kind of story, this will be right up your alley.” I try not to review based solely on my personal taste, but based on how effectively someone did something for their target audience, which I may or may not be a part of.

3) That said, if I think something is really bad, or it bored me to tears, I’ll say so with no hesitation. Sometimes, works are just unsuccessful at what the creator was trying to do, and that needs to be pointed out, both to warn the audience and to alert the creator that Hey, this shit was boring. Write something else. I’m a writer myself, and I know how much it stings when people don’t think that every single word you wrote was brilliant. I also know that I can handle criticism, constructive or otherwise, very well. Because even non-constructive criticism is coming from an honest place of I didn’t like this, and it’s up to me to figure out why and if I care.

**EDITED post comment 3:21AM 1/15/11**

4) Given the choice, I would rather review something I feel strongly about than review something that elicits a “meh.” Of the two extremes, I would rather use my space as a reviewer to promote something I LOVE rather than tear down something I HATE. Why give something you hate extra press? :)

One of my proudest moments in reviewing was giving the comic American Vampire what was seemingly the one bad review it got. And do you know what? Scott Snyder saw that review, said he was sorry it wasn’t my cup of tea, but that he hoped I’d check out his other stuff, and then he friended me on Facebook. :)

So it’s clear to me that writers, whether I know them or not, can totally handle it. But excessive bad reviews are just as bad, to me, as overly-indulgent reviews. I don’t love everything I read, and I don’t pan everything I read either. Most of my reviews will highlight the good and mention the bad, if there is any. I try to be very balanced. This way, when I DO have an extreme reaction either way, it means something.

Comprende? :)

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5 comments on “My Reviewing Ethos

  • It’s nice to hear you explain your thoughts on the matter, its rare to get that in the real world from people. I don’t know the story you are referring to, or the author, but my overall impression of the matter is, you shouldn’t have to explain yourself to anyone. If he thought you were being too nice, then he already knows the problems with his story and maybe hes feeling insecure and feels like criticizing someone else. It’s almost like damned if you do, damned if you don’t. That’s what I really think.

    • I appreciate you saying that, but he was responding to the fact that I said I wasn’t thrilled with his story on his blog, then he saw a review he thought was mine praising it. He just wanted to make sure that I didn’t “feel bad” about badmouthing his work somewhere like Newsarama just because we’re friendly. Which, of course, I wouldn’t feel bad about, because it wouldn’t be personal.

      However, there is something to be said for consciously not reviewing something I don’t like at ALL. I generally try to review three titles for Newsarama a week, because any more than that makes my brain turn to mush. I chose three titles that I liked, one of which was another title of Paul’s that I REALLY liked, because I didn’t DISLIKE The Absence story enough to really rip it a new one in a review. It was just a bit disappointing, but I didn’t HATE it. Given the choice, I’d rather write about something I feel strongly about than write about something that’s just…meh. And of the two extreme reactions, I’d rather promote things I like than tear apart things I hate, if it can be helped. It’s more fun that way. Hmm, I should add that to my list above. I think I will.

  • As I’ve begun to review things, (in a hey-this-is-what-I-think-about-this mode,) I’ve struggled with what objectivity means, because I think of myself as an ethical person and I believe that if I recommend something, or if I really don’t like it, I have to be able to point out, “objective,” reasons. This is a bit of sleight-of-hand, though. Very few things are truly objective in life. What this post helped me clarify is that the what and why of positives or negatives, is much more important than trying to look at something as if it’s not relevant to me personally. The technical aspects of criticism can be objective, but not the response or concluding opinion I, as a viewer/reader, come to. Thank you for writing this.

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