I don’t have time or energy to do this discussion the justice it deserves today, but it is a topic I’m deeply interested in, not just as something that’s relevant to me, but as something that has pretty serious implications for reading and reviewing culture as a whole:
Should people who are writers also be reviewers? (Particularly in a literary scene as small and as close as Melbourne’s, where everyone knows everyone) Is a reviewer’s expression censored somewhat for fear of making enemies amongst their peers?
Over on Literary Life today, Megan has posted about her stress about this issue. The post (sorry, Megan, but…) is a bit of a stress-rant, but the discussion which follows is well worth a look-in.
The post comes at a particularly relevant time for me, as I’ve just submitted my next review for Catalyst, and it’s reasonably negatve. It’s of a book from a debut novelist, which is a category of writer who usually get softer reviews so as not to crush any dreams. But it’s also from a French/American, and I was a bit disgusted with myself when I was writing the review, finding myself thinking, “This woman won’t meet me.” Because of this, I somehow gave myself permission to say just what I was thinking – while I made sure all criticisms were grounded and just, I didn’t go to the pains that I would for a Melbournian or Australian writer to say these things very softly. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t generally censor myself in writing reviews about people I know or have the capacity to know in the future, and if there is an existing relationship I’ll always flag it for total disclosure. However, the way I deliver negative criticism is something I’m much more aware of for these people, than remote authors who are (in the case of classics) dead, or else so remote to my sheltered existence (as with the upcoming review of Elena Mauli Shapiro’s novel) that they probably won’t read the review or ever meet me.
Is this sort of self-preservation bias acceptable? Avoidable? Should writers be reviewers at all?