Once upon a time, only professional reviewers wrote book reviews. The greater the number of publishing credits and letters after your name, the greater your chances of being taken seriously. Of course, it doesn’t take a degree to work out if you like a book (though in the case of Edward Bloor’s Storytime, you might need an MFA to work out why). And a good review is still a good review—whether it’s over at your friend’s blog, or in the Books section of The New York Times.
Recently I wrote about the Internet killing professional book reviews, ending with my hope that pro reviews stick around. In my book (pun gleefully intended), the difference between a pro reviewer and a casual reviewer (“amateur” is unfair—how can you be an amateur at deciding if you like/love/hate a book?) is the amount of time spent thinking about the volume in question.
Casual reviewers read a book, write up a hundred words in the space of half an hour, and move on. Pro reviewers make notes, flag pages, talk to authors, find connections, and consider the bigger picture (how the book fits into a certain genre, if it makes any particular leaps or bounds etc.). Both kinds of review are valuable—few people have time to read a pro review every time they’re on the lookout for something new to read, and short, casual reviews are handy for readers trying to avoid spoilers.
But how does a book review work? What is it that makes a book review useful? Why care what reviewers think? Who cares what reviewers think?