October 3, 2010

Blogging more respected than ever, book reviewer says

What exactly do many-toed cats and self-aware kites have in common? According to New York librarian and reviewer Betsy Bird, they’re both major trends in children’s books this year.

Bird spoke at I-House on Wednesday about her career reviewing children’s books on her popular blog, Fuse #8.

“In the beginning, blog reviews got zero respect,” Bird said. But they’ve been gaining legitimacy in recent years—now quotes from bloggers are featured on the cover of books, she said.

According to Bird, social networking has played an immense role in disseminating reviews. She uses services such as Goodreads and Amazon Reviews to reach a direct market, as well as Twitter and Facebook.

Bird also expressed concern over the privatization of libraries and the potential for censorship. Library Systems and Services, a private company based in Maryland, recently acquired a number of struggling public libraries.

“Would a privatized library have a system for dealing with challenged books?” Bird asked. She worried even detective stories could come under threat. “There’s a gun on the cover of Pinkerton. We must get rid of all copies of Pinkerton,” she said, parodying what she sees as the faulty logic of censorship.

Bird lists honesty among her chief duties to the readers, criticizing other reviewers for accepting gifts. No stranger to such offers, Bird joked, “I have received cupcakes in the mail...and it’s unfair, because I love cupcakes.”

Bird also addressed the issue of writing critical reviews. While she said she never does critical reviews of books by new writers, she does review books she doesn’t like. If you don’t do critical reviews, she said, “You’re a cheerleader and not a reviewer.”