After 20 years at the University of Oregon, I have retired. So, I will begin posting about my new experiences here and hope you find them interesting.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Phony Reviews Prompt Amazon Purge

As many of you know, I have reviewed books for a number of years now.  I spend a lot of time on my reviews because I attempt to parallel the events in the novels with actual history of the period as evidenced by quotes from the ancient sources.  This much work, however, is seldom reflected by many other reviews I have read on Amazon.  I don't know how many reviews I have read that clearly appear to be a slight rewrite of the book's dust jacket.  Therefore, when I read that Amazon had purged thousands of reviews from their website, I actually applauded this move.

Amazon Book Reviews Deleted in a Purge Aimed at Manipulation - NYTimes.com:

I'm not sure what criteria were used to effect this purge and if I knew the particulars I might not be so approving but I hope Amazon has enough technology at its disposal that it based its purge on some aspect of the review that would indicate it was not a thoughtful analysis of the work.

The New York Times article I read pointed to a high percentage of positive reviews being a criteria Amazon may have used to determine which reviews to eliminate.  This particular criteria is not as foolproof as it may sound, however.  I find it really hard to be totally negative in a review.  I am more comfortable reviewing books the way I critique photographs when I am asked to be a judge at the Emerald Photographic Society where I am a member.

We usually begin a photo critique by pointing out the positive aspects of an image then we discuss what could have made an image better.  This method helps a photographer learn but does not totally discourage a potential photographer from trying to improve.

With a book, it is different, to be sure, but there are basic attributes that I look at to evaluate the book's potential for success.  Are the characters well drawn and 3-dimensional?  Is the story plotted well with pacing to keep the reader interested?  Has the author researched the setting to the extent that the environment is accurate and can immerse the reader in the time period?  For historical novels, are places or social practices described or items used accurate to the period?  How accurate are historical events?  If historical events are compressed or altered are they manipulated to advance the plot or simply inaccurate because of poor research?  It is a given, of course, that the book should not be filled with grammatical or spelling errors.

I have frequently been asked by self-published authors for reviews.  When I open a book and right away I find it is filled with errors and that the writer is not experienced enough to write what we used to call in the journalism trade a decent "hook" - an opening paragraph or scene compelling enough to make a reader want to continue to read, I prefer to simply not review the book (I must be honest and admit I prefer not to waste any more time on it) rather than write a scathing diatribe about the amateurish nature of it.  This is not to say that all self-published books are not worth reading.  I have found some real jewels among the ranks of self-published books.  Furthermore, I must also point out that I have, unfortunately, found books filled with errors being promoted by publishers who have sought to cut corners by minimalizing or even eliminating the editing process.  Ultimately, I view reading as an investment of my time and I expect a decent return on investment.

One other thing about the New York Times article caught my eye.  The reviews of a retired librarian named Mrs. Klausner have also been targeted by Amazon.  Apparently, this amazing woman cranks out seven reviews a day and speed reads stacks of books the rest of the time.  When the woman was asked about the validity of her reviews, she explained that she doesn't sleep much and people should "Get A Life, Read a Book!"  I'm sorry Mrs. Klausner but, although I find reading a good book to be an enriching experience, I prefer to balance my life with attending plays and concerts, watching a good movie, playing an interesting computer game, experiencing beautiful art and architecture, or tramping through the woods on a rainy day photographing mushrooms with my fellow photographer friends.  Spending too much time in imaginary worlds means you are spending too little time in our own and we have such a limited time allotted to us.

My son called me this morning and we were discussing the latest movies we had seen and books we had read and I told him I had so many books to read, movies and performances to see and games to play I was afraid I wouldn't get to them all before I checked out of this world and he said "Well, look at it this way Mom, it's better than just sitting around waiting for the inevitable!"

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