“Reviews should be an occasion, not for tears or vendettas or shoe licking, but for dialogues.”
~ Heidi Julavits
I’m tracking online conversations about a recently published novel by a Portuguese-North American author and I’m befuddled. There are glowing reviews and ecstatic blog posts and jacket blurbs by writers big and small but nobody mentions the elephant in the room: the book could have used a good editor. And judging by the vagueness of the compliments, I have to wonder how many people actually read the book. I enjoyed the story and admired the ambition of this talented new writer, but it wasn’t all that. Hush now, you say, don’t knock a book by one of our own!
Unbiased book reviews are rarer than ever. In an essay published in The Believer way back in 2003, editor and novelist Heidi Julavits wrote:
“A writer/reviewer would sooner toss himself off the Brooklyn Bridge before he’d give a fair or truthful assessment of a colleague’s book, for fear said colleague will be in a position to ding him from Yaddo next summer or stand between him and his Guggenheim. I don’t deny there’s truth to this. I don’t deny that writers have all become a little bit too greedy about praise, that the manner in which writers assess other writers has suffered from a sort of grade inflation, until everyone’s got an impressive if meaningless 4.0 average on our career transcripts, the hacks and the quasi-hacks alike.”
However much I believe in supporting the development of our own literature, I’d hate to see us (members of the Portuguese-North American writing and publishing community) turn a blind eye to mediocrity. We’re not traitors to the movement when we critique a book nor should we feel an obligation to recommend a book solely on the basis of the author’s ethnicity.
Having said that, here’s one book I highly recommend: Julian Silva’s Move Over, Scopes and Other Writings.