‘Against Reviews’ by Elizabeth Gumport
As a young journalist, my still very fresh career began with reviews. Seeing my 100-200 word (incredibly gratuitous?) opinion published online or in print was a thrill, It felt like my short blurb about some awful local band mattered, as if I held the power to alter the subject’s career forever.
Elizabeth Gumport’s article, published in n+1 magazine in June 2011, takes the humble book review to task. While hers is not an opinion I share entirely, in a culture driven by other people’s opinions on film and literature determining what we want to read or watch, it is a refreshing and often blunt assessment of reviewing.
‘Nobody insists we fuck strangers—why must we read them?,’ asks Gumport. ‘Why do we prioritize some imaginary “public” over people we actually know, and who read our work? Why don’t we want to write, and read, for our friends? Perhaps we fear our freedom.’
Reviews are useful for satisfying our sense of curiousity, but could these brief blurbs of who/what/where/when be stunting our journalistic desire for more? Though it’s not a specific point made in Gumport’s piece, it got me thinking about how society’s obsession with the review, in conjunction with the growing epidemic of a collective short attention span, could harm long-form journalism.
And, of course, books.
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