The ARC Dilemma

Does anyone read formal book reviews anymore?  Those thoughtful, usually well-written reviews published in newspapers and magazines?  We’re all so busy on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Booktube, etc., that who has time? Well, I do, but I read only a few reviews every week.  And, I admit, I stick to archaic blogs for my social media.

Still, I do enjoy Goodreads, and I read consumer reviews, mainly because I like old books nobody bothers with anymore. If we want to know what people think of Walter de la Mare’s Memoirs of a Midget, we try Goodreads.  One consumer reviewer says the only two characters he has ever missed after finishing a book are Don Quixote and Miss M., the narrator of Memoirs of a Midget.  Another indignantly protests the use of the word “midget” in the title, but then says he adores the book.  It’s the “apology” method of reviewing.  (“I apologize for all the political incorrectness of all books written in other centuries.”)

New books demand reviews, old books demand remarks. That’s my theory.  Mind you, I prefer writing remarks, so that’s my thing.

This winter, however, I got carried away at Netgalley, a site where publishers make new books available to readers, bloggers, and reviewers.  (You request them and see if they’ll grant your wish.)  Publishers tend to be generous.  And that’s why I have many new books on my “screens”–but how can I possibly read them all?

Some of them are very good, others not so good.  But one shouldn’t get carried away with ARCs (Advance Review Copies), since they do deflect from reading the classics and other old books. And then one’s blog gets skewed.  I’ve seen blogs change because the blogger becomes a slave to review copies.  It’s never a positive thing. 

Then other thing is:  I don’t really know when to run my reviews (or my remarks).  My assumption has always been that one waits till the book is officially published, and, in case you don’t know,  new books always come out on a Tuesday.  

Netgalley, however, has different rules.  There are publication dates for the books, and there are archive dates.  I haven’t the faintest idea what an archive date is, but it sounds as though I should have done my homework by then, doesn’t it?  

For instance, Anne Enright’s Actress is officially published on March 3, but the archive date is (was) Feb. 29.  So I posted my review/remarks on Feb. 29, and it already felt too late, because I’d seen reviews popping up at The Washington post and many British publications.  So it’s a dilemma.

Years ago, a bookstore owner told me that nothing killed a book like an early review.  The readers read the review, look for the book, which the booksellers are not allowed to put out till the publication date, and the sale is lost. By the time the book is on the shelves, the reader has forgotten about it.  Nowadays you can “pre-order” the book, of course.   But all is confusion.

It’s a complicated world of books.  Who understands it?