CNQ's new editor, Emily Donaldson, wades into the discussion over negative reviewing:
I agree that positive reviews can be an art form (why wouldn’t they?) but I disagree with Jan Zwicky about bad reviews, which I think are necessary on a practical and cultural/intellectual level; especially if the alternative is ostracizing authors and their books, which people who take this position tend to advocate. That seems to me to be its own kind of awfulness, though it’s an approach that George Orwell, whose critical writing I admire a lot, supported. Orwell argued that we should “simply ignore the great majority of books and to give very long reviews—1,000 words is a bare minimum—to the few that seem to matter.” Mind you, I think he wasn’t trying to protect authors’ feelings, like I think Zwicky is, but to spare himself the pain of reading bad books.
But I really don’t get how ignoring bad, or just lame books fosters a healthy literary culture. Is it really better to say nothing at all than something negative, as many of our mothers have told us? I know several writers who’ve received negative reviews and been okay with it, who even took something away from them. There are a hell of a lot more books published now than there were even thirty years ago: shouldn’t we be allowed to vet them according to some kind of principle?
You never hear anyone making this argument about movie or music reviews, so why do we single out books for special protection—because they take so long to write? I think if we only ever say nice things about our books we infantilize both our culture and the people writing and publishing them. Admittedly, this is a harder reality for first-time authors, who might get only one shot at being reviewed, if at all. Is one bad review really worse than radio silence?