I write a weekly book review for my local paper and occasionally a customer will fetch up at the library and tell me they read it and liked it. I'll refrain from cuddling them and saying 'thank you so much. I love you,' while turning Menopausal Red, and say instead, 'Oh! Er, thanks, um, I mean...yes. Ahem. Good. Marvellous.' Or something equally cutting-edge.
There was just such a customer today, but before I could ransack my brain for a response, a man behind him said crossly, 'oh I'm sorry, but I never read it. Half the time you people haven't even read the books you're criticising. Can't stand 'em m'self.'
'Neither can I,' I said, which threw him. I longed to point out the irony of him criticising my book review column without having read it, but he was in possession of a pair of eyebrows that could only be described as "beetling" and brought to mind the sort of man who might harbour a grudge against women who looked like his mother.
The thing is, I don't criticise books I big 'em up, which is hardly the same thing. I'm not in a position to slag off someone's writing, even if it's not my cup of tea. If I don't get on with a book, I don't review it - it's as simple as that. I much prefer to recommend something I've loved, like you would to a friend, bearing in mind that they might not like it anyway as it's all sooooo subjective.
Maybe it's the name of the column that should change. REVIEW does imply possible bitching. 'Book of the Week' or 'Recommended Read' have more positive overtones. 'Local Lady Says Nice things about a Book she read at the Weekend.' Bit long-winded. 'Yo, This Book's a MoFo!' might attract a younger audience. Would befuddle the oldies though.
On balance, I think it'll stay as it is. People know where they are with a Book Review.
As long as they read it first.