Jonathan Ball on Reviewing: An Interview at Lemon Hound

Sina Queyras interviewed me for her blog, Lemon Hound: check it out. This is part of a series of interviews Sina is doing on reviewing.


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One thought on “Jonathan Ball on Reviewing: An Interview at Lemon Hound

  1. Jonathan, you make your points very decisively in this interview, but I have to say I disagree profoundly with your most oft-repeated one, which could be summed up with this quote:

    “Let’s say I am assigned to review a novel by Nicole Brossard, and you’ve decided to read my review. What do you care about more: Nicole Brossard’s new novel, or Jonathan Ball’s opinion? Anybody who cares more about my opinion… is a fool.”

    Exactly wrong. (In my case. And since you’ve used “you” in your example, and then gone so far to relegate “me” to the fool’s corner, I feel entitled to rebut in the language of absolutism.) If I didn’t care about your opinion, I wouldn’t go near your review. I’d read Brossard’s novel. Why should I care about your *description* of her novel more than I care about the novel itself? If I need a description, I can probably find one on the back cover.

    I read a review to discover the reviewer’s opinion. Either I respect the reviewer and want to see what she says, or I respect the publication and/or its editor and am curious to see what their selected reviewer says. (Or maybe I am curious for some reason other than respect.)

    Typically, a review frustrates me if it offers no evaluation. I don’t want Jonathan Ball’s summary, I want his friggin’ take on the thing! Non-evaluative seems most useful to me when it occurs in something like Survival, where the point is not to assess an individual work but rather to show how that work fits into a larger context.

    Generally, I stay out of the whole discussion about reviewing because I’m no longer a reviewer and I’d rather use my actual stories and poems to assert my aesthetics or whatever.

    However, I will add this: I have in the past reviewed. And I did it as freelance journalism, part (a laughably tiny part) of my (already laughably tiny) income. If an editor wanted me to review something, I did so. I didn’t send back books that struck me as unsuccessful. I did the review–partly because the editor wanted it and I had agreed to deliver it, and partly because I wasn’t going to turn my nose up at the money. (Of course, if I’d been asked to do something unacceptable, such as change my evaluation to fit the editor’s wishes, then I would have had to reject the money. Never happened, though.)

    So your suggestion that evaluative reviewers use their “free time” assessing books is not universally accurate. For some of them it’s (very under)paid time.

    The passage from Foucault is compelling. Well-executed (and appreciative… therefore evaluative) reviews often do just what he describes. But, unlike Foucault, I’m more often put to sleep by reviews that tiptoe around evaluation rather than those that tramp on in.

    Yikes, long comment here. Honest, I only meant to drop two cents in the bin!

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