Tonight I am going to a book reading/signing in Bellingham by Kaya Oakes, author most recently of Radical Reinvention: An Unlikely Return to the Catholic Church. This diary discussed the book Sunday in part to make things a little easier in case a review is in the offing, which is likely.
Being a reviewer is weird because of what it demands of you. You at least implicitly promise to give your honest, no-holds-barred opinion of the book to help give readers some idea if they should bother.
Too often, critics fail to be brutal when brutality is what’s called for. The reason is empathy. They think of all the effort that went into writing the book and they don’t want to dump all over that effort.
Empathy is not my problem. But I do see, from personal experience, why many book reviews have developed the general practice of trying to get book reviewers who don’t know the authors — or, at the very least, don’t know them well.
All ethical considerations aside, I try to avoid reviewing books by friends because I’d like to keep those friends. Otherwise, my existence might come to resemble one long reprise of that scene from the Royal Tannenbaums — the one where the kids make the mistake of asking Dear Old Dad what he thought of their play, and he tells them.