Servant of the Secret Fire

Random thoughts on books and life in the reality-based community

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The name I've chosen comes from "Lord of the Rings," when Gandalf faces down the Balrog in the Mines of Moria. My Hebrew name is Esther (which is related to the word for "hidden" or "secret") Serafina (which means "burning"). This seems appropriate because although I don't usually put myself forward, I do care very passionately about a lot of things. Maybe through these blogs I can share some of these passions, as well as less weighty ideas and opinions, with others.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

The hazards of being an Amazon reviewer

That reviewer rating ... those helpful votes ... those unhelpful votes. I admit it. I’m addicted to checking my profile to see how I’m doing – #27,792, 106 helpful votes/124 total, thank you very much. It’s much worse than the habit of clicking the SiteMeter on this site and checking how many people have seen the blog, how they found it, etc.

The problem with the reviewer rating, though, is that there is a temptation (although I don’t think I’ve given in to it yet), to pull your punches, especially if what you’re reviewing is something about which a lot of people have been very enthusiastic. Two cases in point: 1) I found Therese (the movie about St. Therese of Lisieux) to be very superficial, but a lot of people were just gushing about it. Maybe I was expecting more of it than it was aiming for, but I did feel that it could have been so much more that I felt justified in being hard on it. Still, I heard that little voice in my head saying, “A lot of people are not going to like this review and are going to give it a ‘not helpful’ vote.” I admit that occasionally I will do the same if I really feel that someone hasn’t gotten the point, but generally I won’t vote at all unless I find something to be decidedly unhelpful. 2) I also knew that I was probably going to get in trouble with some Narnia-philes with my generally negative review of The Last Battle, but I bent over backwards to be fair by starting out with a disclaimer that I might be irredeemably prejudiced against it, pointing out that I had rather enjoyed the middle books of the series, and suggesting ways in which parents could blunt what I found to be the problematic areas of the book by discussing it with their children. I would think that even lovers of the series would want to point out that Lewis lived in a different time and was raised with a sense of white (specifically British) male entitlement that he would have been more exceptional than he was to overcome.

Anyway, I will try my best not to be seduced by the siren song of the Amazon reviewer rating and to be guided instead by the words of my new “Amazon friend” Brian: “[The review of Therese] was probably a little too honest and will eventually get you a lot of negative votes but that goes with the territory of being honest with one’s opinion.... Best of luck and keep writing those reviews, Amazon needs more intelligent reviewers like yourself.“ That means a lot more.

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