Thursday, June 26, 2008

In: Cues, Out: Reviews. Let’s Call the Whole Thing Lunch

In a column at The Huffington Post called “Why Entertainment Weekly Rules the World,” Tyler Cowen takes the time to let us know that the day of the review has gone the way of acid wash jeans:
The age of the review has been replaced by the age of the cue. There’s too much wonderful stuff out there to read pages of reviews. I want a letter grade and a few sentences on what it is and whether I might like it. If I love the product I can go read lengthier reviews on the web afterwards, when I understand the context and don't have to worry about spoilers. Most critics don't realize just how much they are dead in the water, and replaced by trusted intermediaries -- like EW or favorite bloggers -- who offer just a few guiding sentences. I often disagree with EW but I always know where they are coming from. I can usually gauge my own best guess, relative to the evaluation in their review.
OK: that makes sense. Except for the stuff that doesn’t. Like, if everyone is doing “cues” and not reviews, where on the Web are you going to go for those lengthier reviews?

And Cowen’s system seems to get terribly complicated. For instance, at one point he says that, despite the fact that Entertainment Weekly rules the world, if they like a book “I know to stay away. How could a critic be better or more trustworthy than that?”

Just in case you were wondering: from the very beginning, we decided that January wouldn’t offer “cues”: no thumbs up or down, no stars, or candles or bones or quantities of anything. (“Three fire hydrants means you’re all wet?”)

And why no cue systems? Because we think cue systems goofy and our readers are not. And because we’ve always assumed those readers have a certain degree of intelligence.

And here we all are.

The Huffington Post piece is here.


Blogger Barbara said...

And I, for one, appreciate it. There is such variation in taste - what works for me may just not be someone else's cuppa, but those simple ratings suggest that the only thing that really matters is how popular a book is - which is something completely different. (There's also the oddity that a book with a few reviews can be skewed up or down by a single reader.)

I stopped assigning stars to the books I catalog at LibraryThing because I realized that it was oversimplifying my response to books in ways I didn't like. Sure, giving a book that knocked my socks off five stars was easy, but I knew others may take my word for it and be disappointed because it wasn't their kind of book; if I loved aspects of a book but was bothered by other things, it looked the same as a book that had nothing stand out about it - an "eh" got the same number of stars as a "great, but if only that stupid subplot had been trimmed it would be much better."

I don't need stars or grades or fire hydrants (though that idea does kind of intrigue me...) I need to hang around people who actually want to talk about books.

Is that asking too much? If I need a star system because I can't be bothered to think, I probably don't have time to read, either.

Thursday, June 26, 2008 at 2:36:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Sun Singer said...

Most of the "cues" are coming from the rather trashy, other-side-of-the-tracks, under-side-of-a-rock part on the MEDIA MACHINE that features meaningless, yet addictive, buzz over sense and sensibility. Using these cues as a shorthand method of finding books and reviewers of substance sounds to me like a latrine-full of rationalisation for one's contribution to all this after realizing one is--and intends to stay--in very bad company.

"January" is where it's at.


Friday, June 27, 2008 at 8:15:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Linda L. Richards said...

Aw: how awesome are you guys?

Very awesome!

(Or should I say: "I give both of you five out of five kittens -- Boa constrictors? Bumbleberry pies? Wheels of cheese? -- for your sweet comments.")

Friday, June 27, 2008 at 9:36:00 AM PDT  

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