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Is all publicity good publicity?

posted by: July 9, 2012 - 2:22pm

This Bright RiverThe CradleWithin the book industry, having a review of one's work published by the New York Times is a huge benefit that likely will increase any author's sales. It certainly adds to the author's visibility. That is, if the reviewer has fully understood the book published. Take, for example, the recent fiasco that befell novelist Patrick Somerville and his new work of fiction, This Bright River. A couple years back, his debut novel, The Cradle, was plucked from near-obscurity with glowing praise by well-respected Times book reviewer Janet Maslin. Lightning struck twice for Somerville, or so it seemed, when Maslin chose to review his current follow-up. But then the problems started.


Unfortunately, Maslin misread a crucial event in the prologue of the new novel that Somerville purposely left ambiguous. Because of her error, Maslin read the novel through the wrong lens, and her generally middling review refers to the book as having a "lack of focus" and is "sometimes foggy". The author's wife read the review aloud to Somerville, who "pressed [his] head deeper into the couch, trying to get to its springs and asphyxiate". This, among much more, he describes in a Salon essay published last week titled Thank You for Killing my Novel. Within it, we learn of the process that resulted in the Times publishing a correction, including the long, amusing email back-and-forth between the author and Ed Marks of the Times' Culture Desk.


All this leaves readers with an obvious conundrum. How much can we trust reviewers? When even someone as well-regarded as Janet Maslin can botch an assignment, it can be tricky. One solution is simply to take even the most well-read reviewer's opinion as simply that. Just one person's opinion.


Revised: August 13, 2012