A couple of weeks ago, in a post touching on the question of reviews, I said this:
Turning a static review into a debate strikes me as a good thing, particularly as regards putting the reviewer on notice that they will also have to defend the merits of their words.
Today, Self-Publishing Review provides us a perfect illustration of the benefits and pitfalls of this kind of conversation in the review of Nathan Charlton’s Terra Nova: The Search, by Levi Montgomery.
I will not directly address the story, which I haven’t read, or the review, which I cannot judge because I haven’t read the story. In this case, the reviewer looked unfavorably on the author’s work. But in responding to the review, the author uncovered the fact that the reviewer had failed to read the entire story:
I’m actually curious if you read the whole thing, because everything you mentioned happens in the first 50 pages (and most of it in the first 30).
The reviewer’s defense of this novel approach to reviewing was weak:
I actually read the Prologue and Part One, which would be something over seventy pages, and I neither stated not implied otherwise.
Which prompted the site’s editor, Henry Baum, to weigh in:
I didn’t know Levi Montgomery hadn’t read the whole book. And didn’t assume I had to include the criteria – “in order to review the book you have to read it.”
That it did not occur to the reviewer that he was both required by ethics to read the entire work, or at the very least disclose that he had not read the entire work, seriously undermines his credibility in every other regard. Charlton’s book may be just as Montgomery describes. But having deceived the reader with a lie of omission, and having defended that lie of omission by blaming the victims (readers) for assuming that Montgomery was required to read the entire work before shooting it full of indignant holes, is probably not the right way to go about establishing your credentials as a reviewer.
If the internet is about trust, and in particular about building trust with individual readers, then that cuts both ways. It’s not only the case that authors have a test to meet, but reviewers as well, and in both instances I think readers profit by this kind of interaction. Even if the conversation devolves, as it did in this case, more information is better. Precisely because this existed we now know more about Nathan Charlton and Levi Montgomery and Henry Baum, and we can use that information to make more informed decisions about our content choices.
— Mark Barrett