Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Are Reviews Worthwhile?

I have a certain advantage over most writers, in that writing is my second creative career. I started out doing music, and specifically doing music for film and theater, and for sheer venomous bitchiness, nothing beats a theater critic. Fortunately there are also these saving words of wisdom from playwright Brendan Behan, which are well-known to everyone in the business:
"Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it's done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves. "
I bring this up because there was a lengthy opinion piece in the St. Paul Pioneer Press this weekend from alpha theater bitch Dominic Papatola decrying the end of the National Arts Journalism Project and the fact that, in this day of blogs, podcasts, and Internet chat rooms, just about any unwashed heathen can have an opinion -- and worse, publish it.

While Papatola's sheer arrogance is breathtaking, his piece did get me thinking. The truth of the matter is, as an author, I don't have much use for reviewers. Given the way the publishing cycles work, by the time a review of something I wrote appears in print, it's at least a year after I actually wrote the thing -- more likely two years -- and I've moved on. But as a reader, I'm finding that I'd much rather check out a book by reading the reviews on Amazon, as they're more likely to be written by someone who has actually read the book and understands the subject.

How about you? Have you ever bought a book based on a rave review, only to find that the reviewer clearly never read beyond the dustjacket blurb? Have you found that some movie critics are antireferences: if they love a movie, you know you'll hate it? Is there really any use for the "professional" reviewer anymore?