Hot-button topics abound in cyberspace, where everyday bloggers term themselves citizen journalists as we necessarily revise our definition of legitimate media. But let's be frank, shall we? WallStreetJournal.com ain't hiring every Joe with a URL and an ATM card to give financial advice. It follows that not everyone who blogs about books can expect to be taken as seriously as folks writing for sites affiliated with well-established publishing and bookselling brands.
Yet some can. The digital soapbox offers an interestingly sticky wicket when we discuss effective genre fiction criticism, who's got the creds to be considered a reviewer and the age-old question of whether authors should respond to criticism they deem unfair.
Yes, though it seems hatched online during Web 2.0, brouhaha between authors and critics is nothing new, as Laura Lee Guhrke points out in her exceptional new historical romance, "With Seduction in Mind ."
The novel's hero, Sebastian Grant, is incensed upon reading a review panning his play's opening night and attests:
"This critic calls my play rubbish, but his review is what belongs in the dustbin." (Guhrke, 16)
The "him" Grant is disparaging actually is Daisy Merrick, an 1896 working-class "girl bachelor." Daisy's found her often impolitic social skills -- and always judicious intolerance of sexual harassment - has left her unable to keep a job. So when her publisher brother-in-law asks her to fill in for his theater critic, Daisy jumps at the chance. After all, she needs the gig, and now she'll be a "published author," her dream job.
Similar to some of today's online critics, Daisy doesn't write under her own name:
"Imagine the repercussions," she exclaims. "Resentful writers would be coming to vent their spleen at the poor critic whenever they received an unfavorable review. (21).
Grant learns Daisy's identity from her brother-in-law, his publisher. Rather than apologize for Daisy's shredding Grant's work, his publisher issues an infuriating directive: Daisy Merrick, with no appreciable writing experience, will edit the novel Grant has long owed his publisher! And Grant, who once was the toast of literary Europe, is stuck mentoring Daisy's abjectly mediocre attempts at novel writing.
And therein lies the irony about the online "citizen critic": Often, readers not trained in writing or literary criticism offer valuable insight into what makes a novel work. Of course, sometimes the inexpert reviewer mistakes for criticism the destructive itemization of perceived flaws, a bastardization of the literary review if ever one existed.
There's a great deal of astute commentary about romance fiction at sites and blogs, in user-generated comment boxes and right here at BN.com, where you can publish "reviews" of as many books as you'd like -- hopefully only those you've read.
Once you've filled in the form and hit "post," just like Daisy Merrick, I'm pretty sure you're entitled to say you're a published reviewer, even if your name is "Anonymous."
'Cause, you know: Everybody's a critic.
What skills, background, etc., should a book reviewer/critic have to be considered legitimate or reputable? What do you look for in a book review? Why do you enjoy writing customer reviews at sites like BN.com - or why not?
Read more about "With Seduction in Mind" in Eloisa James BN.com Review column, "My Brilliant Career!" James says WSIM is a sexy, funny and poignant take on what happens when a heroine covets a career that pitches her into a man's world.
Laura Lee Guhrke visits BN.com's Romantic Reads next Monday, Sept. 7! Chat with the author about WSIM and her award-winning novels.