Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bloggers as book reviewers

The toughest choice facing the avid reader is choosing which books not to read. There are more great books than one person can possibly read and more come every year. Readers can get a sense of what is right for them from friends, but friends can only read so many books themselves. So, to varying extents, we have to rely on book reviews to identify the books we, individually, should and should not read.

The best book reviews credibly explain who should a read a given book and why. A reader should be able to decide whether a given book is right for them after reading the review. Ensuring a good review requires credibility and a well stated argument as to the best reader of the book.

Blogger book reviews face an immediate credibility hurdle. Thanks either to renown or association with known media properties, professional book reviewers are assumed to be credible. Any review is strengthened when the reviewer proves his or her opinion is grounded in some knowledge or experience.

Establishing credibility in a book review can be achieved in a number of ways, but relatively easy methods include linking the reviewed books to like books, comparing the thesis to a contrary one and showing expertise about the genre and subject matter.

Showing expertise can be taken too far, and this happens as often in professional as it does in blogger reviews. Here historian Antony Beevor (Stalingrad and Fall of Berlin) shows his understanding of World War 2 in the Pacific, but provides little to no guidance as to value of the book he is reviewing.

There are few, if any, books that are well-suited for every reader. Books from the same author might even differ. John Lewis Gaddis’s Strategies of Containment is for readers well-read in international relations, while his Cold War is written for those who want an introduction to the topic. Making the distinction clear will save people a lot of time.

Unlike many professional reviewers who, when choosing which books to review, must balance importance with a broad level of interest, bloggers can concentrate on their specific areas of interest and can therefore expose readers to a wider range of books. As long as they adhere to basic standards, bloggers can stand with the professional reviewers.

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