I’ve been thinking some more about the YA Lit Symposium. One session I went to was directly applicable to this blog, and really got me thinking about what it is we do here. The session was called The Future of Review Guidance and it was a panel discussion with three people you know well from the Adult Books 4 Teens blog at School Library Journal. Francisca Goldsmith, Angela Carstensen, and Carla Reimer asked two questions:
- What is the role of the professional book review now that social media outlets serve as book information resource channels?
- How do book-related social media communications address various needs of library staff who work with teen readers?
Angela and Carla both surveyed the teens they work with (for Angela, high-school girls in New York City; for Carla, middle schoolers in Oakland, California) and discovered, unsurprisingly, that the number one way they learn about books is from friends, and almost all of them also recommend books to friends. They also find books by browsing the shelves in stores and libraries, by reading reviews, by getting recommendations from their school librarian, and by reading blogs and magazines.
The panelists spent some time defining a professional review. Professional reviews, as we both know well, are usually short (160-250 words), include both description of the book and analysis, and have some kind of statement about the book’s suitability for a given audience and/or its marketability as a published work. They distinguished professional reviews from reader reactions, which is what you generally find in avocational blogs, and places like Goodreads and Amazon.
They talked a bit about the ways these two approaches differ, and how both can benefit the reader. One positive feature of the prevalence of reviews on blogs is that there are more opportunities to learn about books that are more marginally reviewed in professional journals, whether that means things like manga or books from small publishers or books that provide a more diverse reading experience in many ways.
One of the issues that comes up with librarians, however, is how to incorporate these social media “reviews” into the normal process of reading reviews and selecting materials. You might be able to read five SLJ reviews in the time it takes to read one blog post, just as an example.
They also talked a bit about e-galleys and how they might be changing the review game.
But now for just a little analysis on my part. One of the things I think we try to do here at Crossreferencing is to blend our experience as reviewers with some personal reaction. We try to place what we’re reading in a larger context, whether it is books with similar themes (e.g., Dead Siblings, Three Archaeological “Men”)or books with different approaches (e.g., Nonfiction Styles). Of course, it is much easier to do this if you have an unlimited word count. Writing 1,000 words is always easier than writing 150.
But I do think we try to go beyond our personal reaction. I think–and I actually said this in a comment at the YA Lit Symposium session–that having one another to bounce reactions off of helps keep us honest. Commenters on a blog can serve the same function. It’s easy to just make a blanket statement (and heaven knows, I’ve done my share of that, even on this blog), but it’s useful to have someone else to have some back-and-forth with, to help clarify the ideas.
Perhaps in another post, we can discuss the question of e-galleys. The panel also mentioned the pay-for-review issue, but since that isn’t an issue that has arisen for us, I don’t have much to say about it.
Just for the record, the books we discuss here are mainly library copies, with some ARCs that we pick up at conferences, and some e-galleys from Netgalley and Edelweiss.
I know you’ve got a lot on your plate right now (including a computer that is in the shop), but I’d be interested in your comments when you get a chance. I especially was thinking about how the comments about reviewing and reader reaction fit into your literature-major understanding of literary criticism, and how that fits into this blog.