In the wake of the news on Kirkus shutting down there has been some mention of whether or not the blogosphere would be picking up the slack left from the continuing loss of book review publications. Of particular note with Kirkus is that they ran negative reviews, something Booklist (who I review for) rarely does. (We don't generally run a review at all if the book is not up to our standards although you will certainly see negative reviews for books by big name authors that are basically warnings that "patrons will be disappointed" etc.) (You can read more about Booklist reviews in this recent interview with senior editor Keir Graff.) So there's been talk (again) of turning to the internet in general and blogsphere in particular for the reviews that we lose by losing Kirkus (which is apparently around 5,000 reviews a year). And of course there's lots of mention that blogs likely can't pick up the slack because they are so opinionated or lack a certain level of professionalism, etc. And honestly I agree with that. Personal blogs are not going to replace a highly respected professional review journal that has been around since 1933. The one thing that I took away from the Amazon Vine discussion at Betsy's was how much of a lightening rod the term "professional" can be among bloggers and also how many people think "being a regular mom who writes about books" is in some ways superior to being a literary critic because they are apparently more in tune to what "ordinary" people want.
This would be the "just folks" backlash in case you're wondering.
But mostly I think professional reviewers are valuable because they are trusted. Positive or negative, you could trust a Kirkus review as being well informed. Was it perfect - no. None of them are. (I read a review of Timothy Decker's latest book on the Boston Massacre, For Liberty, in Booklist where the reviewer mentioned the picture of five dead soldiers. No soldiers died in the Boston Massacre as pretty much any American 5th grader can tell you. One would hope that librarians reading the review realized it was the reviewer's glaring mistake and not Decker's.) (The book is fantastic by the way!) But the professionals are not just you tapping away at your keyboard - you write for an editor who will ask questions and give you standards and guidelines. (I'm still wondering how that dead soldier bit got past the Booklist editors though.) More than once I've submitted a review for Booklist and my editor, Donna Seaman, has asked a question or two or made a suggestion that has tightened things up and made the whole review a lot clearer. It never hurts to write for someone else especially someone who knows what they're doing.
So, I'm wondering why the discussion about Kirkus seems to include only the demise of professional reviewing and the increase in personal reviewing - with the entire middle ground overlooked. I'm talking about the hundreds of literary magazines out there (print and online) that have been publishing reviews for decades often by well regarded critics and authors and always for editors. Dan Wickett has always been pretty much ground zero for links to lit magazines and journals and readers can find a wealth of resources there for a ton of great reviews (and essays and stories and interviews). Kirkus is going away but so many alternatives are still with us and should be more widely read. Is it as easy as subscribing to just one publication? No - but the lit mags also review a lot more small press titles than pretty much any other resource and they have more space. (As someone who writes 175 word reviews for Booklist I can tell you that short space leaves a bit to be desired sometimes.) You get a thoughtful review, some insight, an opinion or two and maybe some quotes. And your supporting the national literary conversation! It's a win-win!
And speaking of excellent reviews, well it wouldn't hurt to just read Dan's site all the time anyway, He writes about books and stories and magazines all the time and he does it exceedingly well. I have no idea if he ever wrote for Kirkus but who cares? Dan's great and he's not the only one out there. You just have look patiently and carefully and pretty soon Kirkus will be simply a distant memory and all those new trusted resources you have found will have taken its place.