More Fallout from the CCBC Discussion
Sorry to be late posting today, over the weekend I got caught up in the CCBC thread on reviewing where both my own views, and, more generally the issue of NF reviewing, came up in many posts. A few key themes emerged from the discussion that are worth our continuing to consider here. On the one hand the topic of reviewing quickly brought out the many embattled subcommunities within the worlds of books for young readers. The librarians who write and read the solid majority of journal reviews made clear that they face three daunting pressures: little time to consider a book, little space to comment, and the weight of knowing that they are advising cash strapped peers on collection development. In effect their review is saying: do you need this book if you already have that one. Will you be disappointed with it? Will it stir up trouble for you? If so, do you need it anyway. But the authors, especially the NF contingent, feel that their depth of research and care in writing is slighted by short reviews that summarize content, flag — and thus give undue weight to — potential points of controversy, and in which a reviewer who knows less then the author about the topic, or has not carefully reviewed the author’s sources, opines that the author is wrong or off in a fact or interpretation.
The authors yearn for lengthier, more engaged, reviews that reflect the care that went into making the book. The reviewers insist they do not have the time, space, or mandate to produce that kind of review-essay. But then, as Nick Glass pointed out, this conflict of needs, this bottleneck, is only in review journals where now the term "reviewing" is spreading all over the place to include blogs, even twitters. Although, as we have discussed here, blogs have their own hazards.
Thinking over this entire landscape, I realize there is one basic difference in POV between especially the collection development oriented reviewer and serious NF authors: while our books may be about Selma or Sea Urchins, about a Civil War battle or the Taj Mahal, they are really about something else. Anyone who really investigates a subject realizes that knowledge is constantly changing. The deepest message in all our books is not this fact, that theory, that interpretation. Rather it is inviting young readers into the search for knowledge. If the phrase lifetime learners means anything, it is that our book excite young people about a process of knowing. Our books are our best take, now, given what we were able to learn, about that topic. Our books are a slice of truth, to the best of our ability to render it, right now. Our books are not enscribed in tablets on Sinai. They are not final knowledge, they are a moment of knowledge in the flow of formation. A reviewer who evaluates a book in terms of right-wrong, familiar-unfamiliar, current view-old view is missing the point. Our books are good if they engage young people in knowing, thinking, and learning about the world. And it is that passion which reviewers need to keep in mind in determining what belongs in their collections.