Blog by Toby Welch

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A Writer on Book Reviews

Kimmy Beach, the author of five books, most recently The Last Temptation of Bond, shares her thoughts on book reviews, both giving them and being on the receiving end of a review, “I truly do believe that it’s possible to be supportive in this industry, and to bolster one another rather than snarling one another into a corner. Yes, some books aren’t excellent, but to me, it’s as simple as this: if I’ve read the book and know that I can’t review it with an open, positive heart, then I simply won’t do it. I do realize that my not taking on a given book leaves it potentially in the path of the Snark Patrol, but I do what I can.”

“I’ve reviewed for well-known literary journals, and they want honesty and informative critique: essentially those elements that will entice the journal’s readers to pick up the book. In a recent review, I took a writer to task for a lengthy notes section I didn’t feel was necessary, but was careful to balance that criticism with my clear and honest respect for the poetry. In another case, I’ve singled out the cover art as too literal, given the subject matter. Again, not a huge problem regarding a book I loved otherwise.”

“It may seem hopelessly naive, but I truly do think that CanLit has the potential to be inclusive, supportive, generous, and friendly. Of course, I know that will never happen as long as creative humans harbour jealousy and unchecked competitiveness, leading us to beat our fellow writers over the heads with frying pans because their books—say— had a typo (I defy anyone to find a book without one), rather than supporting and boosting them up. I am bored silly by the recent "fights" about what’s the matter with this poet or that critic. Who cares? Why aren’t we just writing, reading one another’s stuff, and saying nice things about it when we can? I firmly believe that while there is plenty of room in this country for honest, engaged critique of literature (which, of course, may contain some negative elements), that purely negative reviewing for its own sake has no place in our book lives. To my mind, it borders on bullying, particularly as we’re told that we’re not to answer our critics. I completely ignore that bad advice. To remain silent in the face of a scathing review is to allow that review(er) to have the last word. Unacceptable.”

“I’ve had a few negative reviews in my career. I thank the reviewer for the thought put into the piece and move on. My work isn’t for everyone, and everyone doesn’t have to love it. There are plenty of writers in this country whose books I could never review because I simply do not like their work or find it substandard. But I’m not so haughty as to imagine that anyone cares about my bad feelings about a particular book. I keep those to myself.”

Thank you, Kimmy, for sharing your thoughts!