|Our debt to Wallace|
In 1981, Isaac Asimov wrote, only partly joking, that writers "...fall into two groups:
1) those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and
2) those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review."
I still fondly remembering when I discovered Netscape Navigator. That was when navigating the world wide web suddenly became a pleasure rather than an irksome task. Netscape Navigator was soon followed by Netscape Gold, which allowed WYSIWYG webpage creation. From that point on, I could not escape the fact that it was simply easier to place my commentary about books online rather than trying to publish a review of a book in print. So, in the mid-1990s I became caught up in the joy of sharing opinions and ideas via the internet.
|Robots of Dawn|
Let's be explicit: what is a "bad review"? For a science fiction author like Asimov, a bad review of a book that he wrote might involve a reviewer who does not seem to have understood the book (and possibly never even read the whole book) and who says discouraging things about the book, things that will scare away potential readers who might actually enjoy the book.
In the absence of perfect book reviews, I have come to value detailed accounts of books that save me from having to read them. Let's face it: there are far too many books in this world. We can't read even 1% of the available books. Lucky for us, the internet gives access to millions of descriptions of books that spare us from having to read them.
In 1981, Asimov provided a six point, two page-long guide for how to avoid writing bad book reviews. His suggestions cover conventional items like #1 and #2 in the previous paragraph, but item #3, above, only came into focus with the development of the internet and with the rise of internet trolls.
|One of the best selling Sci Fi books|
About 20,000,000 copies sold.
Numbers tell the story. A "publishing success" can be defined as a book that only a small fraction of the book reading public will ever read. For any given book, no matter how good it is, most people will not enjoy reading it. Publishers must resist the temptation to trick people into buying books. Publishers must concentrate on the task of competing to attract the attention of readers who could enjoy a particular book but who are too busy doing other things and who never get around to buying the book. Cue the hype.
Me, Myself and I
|Embodied mind. Nails it.|
My "nonreview" commentaries about books explicitly violate Asimov's rules for writing a good book review. In particular, Asimov's rule #6 is that a book review should not be about the book reviewer. Most of my "nonreviews" are all about me and my personal literary interests and concerns.
|Study guide to the mind.|
Asimov described an uncomfortable situation in which he was asked to read a book that had been written by an author who was an "important writer". Asimov was pressured to provide a "marketing blurb": a quote about the book. Sadly, Asimov found the book to be seriously flawed, so much so that he could not even finish reading it. When I find myself in this position then I prefer to live by the motto: if you don't have anything good to say, then don't say anything.
|Evolution and memes|
When confronted by "Asimov's dilemma", our natural desire to speak the truth raises its ugly head. Sometimes we are compelled to speak the truth even when we might be more comfortable not saying anything. In my case, I find that I can always imagine someone who would enjoy a particular book. The population of people who could enjoy some terrible books might be very small (maybe only the author's mother), but I can find something positive to say about any book. I suspect that this approach (just say one positive thing) is a common solution to "Asimov's dilemma" and a source of many blurbs that appear on book covers.
|"It is not a lie to keep|
the truth to oneself. "
Keeping the truth to yourself might not be a lie, but it also does not generate a conversation that will lead to change and a better future for book lovers.