Friday, April 18, 2008


As someone who, for a short and pretty undignified while, was editor of a small-circulation newspaper, I know how iffy it can be to review stuff. Someone I know authored a book I farmed out for review and the reviewer, who I also knew, perhaps better than the author, and trusted, wrote negatively about the book. Since the book was likely to be hyped by its publishers it seemed appropriate to publish the review; as a balance and a warning if you like. I wouldn't have bothered to review a poor book by an unknown author although if I knew them personally I might have written to explain as a courtesy. That would be the sort of courtesy that people didn't really appreciate in my experience but then it is hard to learn to live with criticism positively.

After publication I received a postcard from the author saying, 'I thought we were friends.'

In last Saturday's Guardian Simon Hoggart mused on someone who had given a bad review to, what many consider, a good book by a great author. He said, 'You can reflect happily that she might have made an idiot of herself by loathing, say, Great Expectations.'

He rightly concludes that for full-time and popular authors a bad review is a 'Badge of honour.' Everyone gets them from time to time. The conclusion is fair but the Great Expectations comment seemed ridiculous. If a review is a personal opinion (and if it isn't what is it?) then why should it make you an idiot not to like something everyone else likes?

I return time and time again to the comment by Tom Baker's addled sea captain in one of the excellent Black Adder episodes on being asked, surprisedly by Black Adder, if it wasn't a bit unusual for a ship the size they were on to have no crew. The reply:

'Opinion is divided on the matter; all the other captains say you do - I say you don't.'

And there you have it. I continue to loathe the Lord of the Rings (books and films), Soft Cell, the White Stripes, Shakespeare's tragedies and... well you get it. It is not a crime to disagree with popular opinion.


Mike Peatman said...

No I don't get the White Stripes either (or Radiohead) yet I feel I should.

But then I don't get (almost all) classical music.

Matthew P said...

Disagreeing with popular opinion generally shows that a person is comfortable with who they are and doesn't require the world's approval. We should encourage it more greatly in our children.

p.s. I don't get the Kaiser Chiefs