A new Australian newspaper called Saturday is set to come onto the market next year. I hope it does well, we need a lot more diversity in the Australian market. The newspaper will review books, nothing unusual there. What is unusual is the book reviewers will be anonymous, with the by-line for each review just containing made-up initials.
In a discussion on the Sunday Extra program on Radio National Erik Jensen, the editor of the newspaper, said that anonymity should lead to more fearless reviews. He said many book reviewers were prone to timid reviews as they did not want to offend writers they knew in the small Australian literary scene. This argument is frequently used to criticise the standard of literary criticism in Australia. Whether it is true, can only really be answered by each individual reviewer.
Jensen feels that giving reviewers anonymity will make them more fearless in their reviews, and result in better reviews. Stephen Romei, the literary editor of the Australian, was also part of the Sunday Extra program. He wondered if anonymity might encourage more negative reviews of books, as the reviewers tried to show that anonymity meant they were now free to say what they really thought about a book.
There is always the problem that a writer who personally dislikes another writer could use their anonymity to attack that writer. Conversely, if there is no by-line, how do we know that a glowing review was not written by the writer’s best mate or an editor who hopes to win the author over to their publishing house.
I read reviews in The Age, and I always check who the reviewer is so I can establish where they are coming from and if they have any knowledge of the genre they are reviewing. For example, Lucy Sussex (pictured) one of The Age reviewers, is a literature professor at Latrobe University who writes speculative fiction so I feel she is qualified to judge science fiction.
In contrast, I read a review in The Age by a literature professor of a Mathew Reilly book. The professor seemed to judge it against classical works of literature, and not as the techno-thriller it is. His big complaint was the lack of sex, which seemed like a juvenile attempt at suggesting readers of techno-thrillers are asexual.
I would prefer reviews to have a by-line and be knowledgeable and fearless, but also tactful.
Would you bother reading anonymous reviews? I am not sure I would. I am unlikely to read anonymous reviews on Amazon.