Book reviewing is big business—at least, it used to be. Publishers clamored to get their authors reviewed in big name papers (New York Times, anyone? Chicago Tribune?). Authors crowed over a spot in the now defunct Kirkus. Yet new book review blogs pop up every day, and several niche review sites, such as Bookslut and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, have a large core of dedicated readers.
Book reviews have been around as long as, well, books. Back when Ancient Egyptians and Phoenicians were first scratching out letters, people talked about what they’d read recently:
—Did you read Ahmose’s scribing of the Pharoah’s proclamation?
—Ugh, it’s so wordy! Mkhai’s is much better.
Until recent years, reading, and therefore reviewing, was limited to the upper and religious classes. Amongst these folk, books were the order of the day, dissected and discussed in minute detail. By the time the literary salons of the 17th century rolled around, book reviews had grown much more formal. Authors, critics, patrons, and other literary figures debated context, allegory, intent, and more, forming the basis of modern literary criticism. Some even published pamphlets, arguably the earliest printed form of book reviews. Others wrote responses in magazines. Not all of it was pretty.