Monday, December 14, 2009

In memoriam: Kirkus Reviews

The news last week that Kirkus Reviews would fold after 75-some years was greeted largely with a ho-hum or, in some quarters, outright glee. Kirkus was famous for being negative and one agent was quoted as saying "Good riddance."

The point of the pre-publication reviews -- Library Journal and Booklist are two other standard reviewers -- is to help librarians decide what to order. When newspapers did book reviews, they also helped editors decide which books to review, so they were influential beyond the tiny circle of actual readers. And of course they provide jacket blurbs if your book doesn't get a lot of reviews in other media.

My first book, Debt Shock, happily displayed a blurb from Kirkus Reviews on the paperback edition: "Unequaled in its astringency and vigor...With one terse, wry, inarguable statement after another, Delamaide...lays bare the crisis that made headlines." Because Kirkus had such a reputation for negative reviews you felt doubly good if you got a good one, and didn't take it personally if you got a bad one.

The review for Gold was somewht more tepid, though not out-and-out negative. "A modestly effective end-of-the-financial-world thriller involving skulduggery on and off the commodities exchange....Tidy plotting, solid background, and brisk pace make an appealing debut until the story, along with the gold market, collapses near the end." Oh well.

Finally, Kirkus had some kind words for Superregions: "An engaging look at Europe's economic prospects, forcefully demonstrating that the continent's future will depend on furthering regional alliances that transcend outmoded and restrictive national boundaries. ...Superregions is full of good ideas, and a fine guide for researchers, businesspeople and others interested in Europe's -- and everyone's -- future."

Sadly, my hiatus in publishing has outlived Kirkus Reviews. They were by and large kind to me, so I don't mind standing up at the memorial service and murmuring some praise. I always had the feeling that those librarians and editors, if not the blurb writers, appreciated having a more skeptical point of view in looking at new books. After all, you can't buy or review all of them.

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