Nobody believes you when you say, "I don't read the reviews," and they probably shouldn't if you're just some baby author, gamely pretending to give less than a shit about the cruel and unusual judgment of others. But eventually, as a writer, or any kind of public performer I guess, you do stop reading them because ... you just stop caring. Really. Either the punters liked the book and bought it, or they didn't. It doesn't mean you would not be wounded by a harsh word. But eventually, you don't bother to seek them out as you once may have.
Mainstream reviewers in the print media judge often titles by criteria that shouldn't apply to them. It can make for an entertaining read, for instance when somebody who's been forced to grapple with Dan Brown takes out their resentment and superiority complex on the poor dumb rich bastard. But it's not going to affect Brown's sales, or more importantly, his writing. He'll just keep doing what he does and banking the royalties.
The other reason I don't read reviews is that having done my fair share of reviewing for money I know how fucking dodgy and unprofessional are many of the published reviews in the mainstream press. I avoid writing them now because there just isn't the money in it to justify my time. A hundred and fifty bucks for a week's work? No thanks. And it is a week's full time work to do it properly. I've always believed that a proper review demands at least two read thru's – the second one as you take notes – before you even put pen to paper. There are pro reviewers who work that way, but not many, and they are almost all fulltimers at a broadsheet.
But just because you read a regular 'name' reviewer in a broadsheet newspaper doesn't mean you're getting a better review than you would from a committed amateur at their blog. I've known a few fuckwits who simply reviewed the cover art and the blurb. Met one or two who boasted of trashing a book for purely personal reasons, or because they were simply paid to by a media outlet with a grudge. It's never happened to me, but it has happened to a few unfortunate authors I know of, most famously Matt Reilly. (And again, seriously, to what end? It's not going to affect his sales or his writing technique).
Anyway, long story short, I don't pay much heed to what's happening in reviewerland. But this piece, by Michael Robbins in the Chicago Tribune, was an engaging peek into their world. Partly because it was so honest:
No one dreams of being a book reviewer when he grows up. You might dream of writing poems or novels or essays or even, if you are perennially picked last for teams in gym class, literary criticism (“We don't want Robbins, you can have an extra player”; “We don't want him, either!”) These forms have their glamour, even if only the novelist is much prized by the united malls of America. But as Samuel Johnson almost said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote book reviews, except for money.” ...
Most reviews are merely serviceable, because reviewing is a service industry. Readers want to know whether they should read a book or skip it. Some publications append letter grades to their book reviews, a development I view somewhat as William F. Buckley regarded the Second Vatican Council. Deadlines are deadly to the polish of prose. Daily or weekly reviewing requires that something be said about works of which often there is not much to be said beyond "Read something else."
I'm kind of curious, given what a sophistumucated, worldly readership we gots here at the Burgerstand, just how many of you do read book reviews?