Thursday, 10 April 2008

What's on MyShelf?

With all the debate recently (not least at the Oxford Literary Festival which I didn’t go to but refer to here to make myself seem like valid literary type) about lit-bloggers vs. professional reviewers, it was interesting to get sent a link today, by Sophie at MNW, to a review of Testament on a book-reviewing site called MyShelf. They offer free books in exchange for ‘professional reviews’. Since one of the things litbloggers are always a little leery about is the (possible) expectation of a good review if they are sent a review (free) copy of a book, it’s interesting that this site is completely upfront about its modus operandi.

So, it’s not a site where people are blogging about books they happen to have read and liked, as many of us do, nor is it a newspaper books page where reviewers are paid to comment on (aka criticise – in both senses) books they are sent by publishers. As many lit-bloggers adhere to the code of ‘if you didn’t like a book, don’t blog about it’ (which is endearingly like my Mum’s maxim ‘if you can’t find something nice to say about somebody, just don’t mention them’) it’s interesting to read reviews on a site which is not party to the same line but who aren't being paid to do entertaining put-downs either.

You can apply to be a reviewer for MyShelf on their site (click the link for New Reviews) – here are some of the requirements:

Address in USA - unless an ebook reviewer
Willing to review more than 1 book a month.
Turn in reviews on time. (Deadline: 22nd of each month).
Will not accept books on behalf of MyShelf without permission.
Serious about the commitment
Reachable by email
Willing to join MyShelf contact list at Yahoo

Drat that first requirement, I was getting quite excited about free books… Still, it’s interesting that MyShelf feel there’s a market for this. Are people getting cynical about reviews in newspapers? There’s certainly a feeling around amongst bookreaders I know that newspaper reviewers don’t feel they’ve done their job properly unless they’ve chopped the writer down to size (though the books editor of the Sunday Telegraph said in a recent article - for which, I apologize, I haven’t been able to find a link - that they have a gentleman’s agreement not to ‘go for’ debut authors). But even he admitted that an excoriating review was more entertaining to read than a laudatory one.

So, what do readers of this blog think? Where do you go when you want to find out what’s hot in the latest releases? Litbloggers, Library Yhing (someone seriously needs to explain to me how this works, please!) Amazon, the newspapers, friends? Or do you not bother and just go and browse in your local bookshop and dip in and out?

The link to the Testament review is here, by the way, in case you’re interested.


KAREN said...

I write a weekly book review for my local paper, but only write nice things about books I've enjoyed - like recommending a book to a friend. If I don't enjoy a book, I don't review it because I'd be uncomfortable criticising someone's work. Especially when I'm not published myself! Plus, what I don't like someone else might.

These are the kind of reviews I like reading, too. Most of the glossy women's monthly mags I borrow from the library operate on this principle, so those are the only ones I tend to read.

Alis said...

Yes, I agree, Karen - I'd much rather read a 'recommending this book' type review than a hatchet job or even a 'not sure this book's worth the money' type review.
Maybe all reviews should be like this so people just promote work they like rather than slagging off work they didn't. That way, everybody would know that if a book hadn't been reviewed, nobody liked it. Yeah, I know, pigs might fly...

Akasha Savage said...

I usually read the books that have been recommended to me by word-of-mouth...and I don't just read the ones that have favourable comments...I like to have a go at all of them and make up my own mind.
But I am very much a 'look what's on the bookshop/library shelf' sort of person. I like reading books by people I've never heard of's surprising what you end up reading!

Tim Stretton said...

I made a deliberate decision only to blog about books that I've enjoyed. It's undeniably fun to write knocking copy but it's not a very praiseworthy thing to do.

If you're being paid to write a review, that's different, because it's dishonest to praise something you thought was crap. But as long as I'm choosing which books to write about, I'll stick to ones I think have some merit.

Alis said...

Once you know how hard it is to produce a book that's even half-way decent, it feels too harsh to criticise other people's efforts, doesn't it? And so much 'criticism' is actually just the wrong book ending up being reviewed by the wrong person, books being such personal things.