The discussions and readings at BristolCon were all excellent but I did particularly enjoy “Reviews: threat or menace?”. As the panel pointed out, the title suggests that reviews can only be bad or more bad, yet most of them were both reviewers and authors and had some interesting thoughts on the process.
Juliet McKenna‘s view was that both reading and writing reviews can give you a snapshot of what’s new out there. She is reluctant to trash a book in a review, as she knows how much hard work has gone into writing it. Jonathan Wright agreed that it can be too easy to slag off a book, that that style of writing can come far too easily. Paul McAuley continued that as a bright young thing, the easiest way to get noticed is to be funny and slag off the books you review, but he is now ashamed of having written damaging reviews, and that’s a large part of the reason he stopped reviewing regularly.
Juliet McKenna raised the point I have heard elsewhere about the responsibility of the reviewer to present a fair cross-section of what’s out there. Stats collected by Vida and Strange Horizons show that in the UK and US approximately 44% of books are written by women, yet less than 30% of books reviewed are by women. Although this bias is unconscious, once known about it should be acknowledged.
A quick check of my reviews index shows that to date I have reviewed 46 books by women and 76 by men (i.e. not quite 38% women). And apparently male reviewers have a much stronger bias towards reading male writers. (Incidentally, my current TBR is much worse, standing at 26 books by women versus 77 by men. If ever I needed an excuse to buy more books!)
But in general the views about reviews and reviewing were positive, despite the event’s title.