Despite the fact that fewer people are looking to traditional venues to guide their book selections (something Jane addressed earlier this week), it seems to me that a negative review still has significant capacity to do damage. I’m speaking in particular of Adam Haslett’s Union Atlantic, a widely anticipated debut novel from the author of the much praised collection You Are Not a Stranger Here. The subhead in Michiko Kakutani’s February 7th New York Times review reads “A Lumpy, Disappointing Book.” Ouch. Although this does not accurately capture the whole of the review--the same sentence continues “at times, gripping and keenly observed”—I imagine that the folks over at Nan Talese/Doubleday were less than delighted. I read the book as an ARC over the summer and I admired, but did not love, the novel. The comparative coldness of its main characters (here criticized by Kakutani), however, seemed to capture something of the zeitgeist, the culture of corporate malfeasance and unabashed greed that precipitated the recent collapse of the financial industry.
So now my question is, to what degree do bad reviews affect your reading/buying decisions? Do you pay attention to damning print reviews from heavy hitters like New York Times or the New Yorker? Every so often, a spectacularly awful one piques my curiosity. Jane’s post and the subsequent reader responses seem to indicate that reviews, especially old-school print reviews, don’t hold the power people in publishing think that they do. And yet. Reviews are part of building word of mouth; sooner or later, someone, somewhere, needs to know about a book in order to read it and comment. A write up like the one Haslett got can quiet the potential “mouths” (actual or virtual) upon which we increasingly rely.
What say you? Does a lukewarm-to-scathing write up give you pause? If you need help finding some examples of either, check out theworstreviewever.blogspot.com, a blog devoted to wound-licking in the wake of bad reviews