A coda to my last posting:
There' s a big difference between a book review and a book discussion.
The purpose of a book review is to bring a new title to readers' attention. In essence, a review is introductory. It announces the titles, summarizes the plot, and offers guidance on what type of book it is and the types of readers to which it will appeal. With those purposes in mind, I offered the review-writing guidelines in "On the Tricky Business of Reviewing."
In contrast, a book discussion is an ongoing conversation about a book. Book clubs exist to foster discussion of books; and now, with Websites and blogs proliferating, book discussions can be had electronically as well. While I don't believe that negative reviews have any value, I do believe that negative comments are absolutely appropriate in a book discussion.
For example, at the start of my career I had the great fortune to work with a beloved historical novelist. I was reminded of her the other day, so I went a-hunting on the Web to see if people still read and remember her. And, sure enough, I found a UK-based Website where one person gets a book/author discussion going, and others post their thoughts and comments. So, one person started out by saying, "Oh, I absolutely love her. My favorite book was X, though I wasn't so crazy about Y." The next person responded, "I read some of her stuff, and while I liked her characters, I found the atmosphere to be claustrophobic." And on the discussion went, with each person opining. The result was a wonderful, rich look at this author and her books. Since I've always idolized her, I never really thought she had any flaws, but as I read those comments, I realized that some of the criticism was valid. It hasn't stopped me from loving her, of course, but I do feel that I have a deeper understanding of her work and her readers.
In the best of all possible worlds, reviews would be a place to start, with the conversation continuing from there.
I like Amazon.com reader reviews for this reason. It seems that a lot of Amazon customers take the time to read other people's reviews, and then comment on those reviews and add to them. I don't think there's a writer or publisher alive who doesn't like to see this sort of conversation about their work. I wish every reader in the country would post reviews on Amazon.com, no matter how brief.
If you read this blog on any sort of regular basis, you know that my mantra is Subjectivity - the ruling goddess of fiction reading. If you want superb proof of Subjectivity's reign over our publishing universe, have a look at the Amazon reader reviews of A Confederacy of Dunces.