How Much Does a Reviewer Really Know?

Over at Fuse #8, Betsy asked “How much is an author obligated to say?” and there was quite the healthy discussion. In a nutshell, for the small handful of you who don’t read Betsy and don’t click over to her post or clicked over and thought tl;dr, Betsy ponders those who read Mockingbird by Erskine, had questions about the authenticity of the narrators voice in terms of Asperger’s Syndrome, and how those questions may (or may not) have been answered had the author said in a note in the book what she has said in interviews: she is a parent of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome and did research, etc., as well.

Betsy explained, “My point was that finding out the author’s connection to the source material was important because the material itself felt inauthentic.”

In classic blogger fashion, I will ignore Betsy’s points and instead use her post to ask my own question. No, really, this happens all the time in blogland. Blogger A says “the sun is up” and Blogger B’s post is about the time when they went camping when they were six.

My question is,  how can we truly “know” when something in a book is “right” or “wrong”?

Who are we to know that we are right when calling something “inauthentic”? In K.T. Horning’s From Cover to Cover, she says “We have all had the experience of reading a work of fiction in which certain historical, regional, or cultural details just don’t ring true. . . . [I]t would be important for you to do some background research to answer the question.”

While we like to think we know things, we don’t. And that can be tricky with a book, especially when the initial response is “um, no, author is wrong.” For example, I can confidently state that in New Jersey, we do not pump our own gas and a book that says someone pumps their own gas is wrong. I do not need to do background research on that.

But what if the book is about, oh, say, the experience of Italian Americans at the Jersey Shore? I live at the Jersey Shore. Since the age of ten, I have been step-Italian. A certain TV show which shall be nameless reeks of inauthenticity (and insults beyond the telling.) However, this is the truth for the people on the show. Others I have talked with say they know people like on that show. So, really, what do I know about this “truth”? If it was in a book and I dismissed it in a review for playing on old stereotypes and fears…. who would be right? Me as the reviewer, or the book that just happens to capture a reality I don’t know? I use this as an example because some would say that good writing wins and always makes one think something is authentic, so I wanted to use a situation (pun intended) where no, really, even if my Favoritest Writer in the World wrote it, I’d still cry “NO.” (No, I’m not telling you who my FWitW is.) And I’d be wrong.

And don’t even get me started on the armchair historians (myself included!) whose initial response to something in a work of historical fiction is “I don’t remember that from my college/high school history classes so it’s wrong” and at best the background research they do to resolve the question is Wikipedia.

What is the answer?

My answer, in a nutshell, is to be careful what I think is right and what the author gets “wrong.” If I read and dismiss the book as inauthentic based on my personal knowledge and experience, I owe it to the book, the author, and other readers to make sure my view of what is authentic is right. So it’s up to me to look for more, not for the author to assume I’m going to doubt him or her and provide the information. The tricky part is that sometimes it is hard to identify that one is doing this; it is hard to emotionally get beyond the first “doing it wrong” response; and issues of authenticity sometimes merge with other issues, such as consistent narrative voice.

So, what’s your answer? Is it something you think about as you write reviews for blogs? And should this type of conversation be the focus of panels at the next kidlitosphere conference?

In My Mailbox

Don’t get all excited! No, this isn’t me doing an In My Mailbox post.

This is me explaining what In The Mailbox is. Full information is at The Story Siren‘s blog — but don’t worry, more on that in a moment.

A blogger tracks the books they received during the week: books from publishers, picked up from the library, etc. The blogger does one post listing all those books that were “in the mailbox” that week. Not books read, not books reviewed, but books received.

Typically, the post is done on a Sunday. The Story Siren (who originated In The Mailbox and was inspired by Pop Culture Junkie) hosts the round up of all these posts. Which just means that the blogger goes there and leaves a link to their post. Blog readers have one handy place where they can find all the In The Mailbox posts rounded up and can click through to read them.

I’ll be honest — don’t expect to be seeing any In My Mailbox posts here. Why? Time. Or rather, lack of it. I just don’t have the time to put together the post. Especially videos! But that is just fear of seeing myself on camera, more than the imagined hours of time I think it would take to get even five seconds where I don’t hate my voice.


I can see the appeal of In My Mailbox. It is one way to track incoming books. For those bloggers who may get more books than they have time to review, it’s a way of mentioning books that they may not otherwise have the time to blog about.  As The Story Siren explains, “IMM was not made to “show-off” or cause jealousy among bloggers.” By posting about what was received that week it’s a way for other bloggers to get a sense of what new books are floating around out in the blogosphere. Bottom line, to quote myself from a year or so ago, In My Mailbox is “a very clever, entertaining way to share new and upcoming titles with people.”

Do you participate in In My Mailbox? Why, or why not? As a reader, what do you like best about it?

If you want more information on memes check out The Daily Meme. Please let me know about other young adult book blogger memes in the comments, and I’ll highlight them in future posts. Who knows, at some point I may even join in!

Your Favorite YA Book Blogs

There are so many different types of Young Adult Book Blogs out in the book blogosphere!

Some are written by teenagers.

Some are written by people who are no longer teens.

Some are written by librarians, some by teachers, some by readers.

Some are about a personal reader reaction.

Some are about booktalking or handselling that book to other readers.

Some are reviews.

Some are critiques.

Some are book discussions.

Some hold contests to give away books.

Some interview young adult authors.

Some are by young adult authors.

Many blogs are a combination of things — part reader, part booktalking, part critique, part discussion.

Due, in part, to my recent forced migration to Google Reader, I am about to add more YA book blogs to my reading. So, what blogs do you recommend? And why? Please leave the blog name and a short “why this is a must read.” The URL, also, please (I think WordPress allows that); and also a Twitter handle, if they are on Twitter.

Yes, you can name your own blog. Yes, you can name more than one blog.

Yes, I will put all those blogs together in a post next month. If it’s a long list, I’ll do more than one post.

Ask Winston

Kirby Larson has a series at her blog called Ask Winston.

This is Winston:

This week’s question is about reviewing books by friends.

As Winston tends to bark responses, I helped out with the answer and include the blogger’s prayer. You didn’t know there was one? Read my answer over at Kirby’s blog to find out the prayer!

Linda Johns also answers the question. She brings up GoodReads, a site that I joined a few years back but haven’t really used. Part of the reason I don’t use it is the whole starred thing which I overthought to the point of, well, not using the site at all. She may not mention the blogger’s prayer, but she shares my philosophy of books and book reviewing: “There’s a reader for every book (and a book for every reader; just ask a librarian!), and I can’t imagine being the person who gets in the way of a reader’s enjoyment.”

If you have a question for Winston about writing or the business of writing, just let Kirby know!