You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘“bad reviews”’ tag.

IMG_9544

I’ve been reviewing cookbooks for some 12 years now.  Every once in a while, I write a critical review.  It doesn’t happen terribly often – maybe 2 or 3 times a year, a small fraction of the total.   There’s a reason bad reviews are infrequent: if a book looks really unpromising, my editor and I generally just don’t consider it for review.   It’s of no service to anyone for me to waste the paper’s column space trashing a lousy book, when there are so many good ones waiting for coverage.

I test most books for a good week.  I might test up to 15 or 16 recipes if I’ve had a chance to dip into the book for non-work-related purposes, but I never test fewer than about 8.

I often give a recipe the benefit of the doubt:  say I sloshed a bit when I was pouring soy sauce into my measuring spoon, or my oven thermometer battery died and I didn’t notice.  Suppose I eyeballed 1/3 cup of chopped nuts instead of measuring them.  My eye is pretty good at this point, but I’m human.  If I have any doubt that I didn’t follow the recipe to the letter, I disclose it in the review, or I give the recipe some leeway – for example, if it’s too salty from the sloshed soy, I know not to blame the author.  If I “fix” a recipe that’s going wrong, as we all do sometimes, I say so.

When the testing’s going downhill on a book, my heart sinks with it.  I know that when the review is published, someone – probably someone really nice – is going to have a bad day.  On the other hand, I think of the readers who rush out to buy the book, swept up in the 4-week wave of publicity that carries cookbooks out to the world.  I have a responsibility, I tell myself, to share what I know.  And cookbooks in particular are hard to judge when you’re standing in a bookstore, trying to guess which recipes will work.

That’s why, when I write a critical review, I pretty much stick to the facts.  As Pete Wells so entertainingly demonstrated in his famous takedown of Guy Fieri’s Times Square restaurant, a hatchet job can be a kind of prose holiday – you can take stylistic liberties that normally wouldn’t be on the menu.   But I don’t think I’ve penned a rant since my very earliest days reporting (and when I did, my editor had the wisdom to tone it down), because I can’t help thinking about how the author will feel.  I know how I’d feel.

In fact, every time I write a story, whether it’s a review or some other kind of feature, there’s comments and feedback.  Most of it’s helpful, and some of it is downright pleasant.  But every once in a while, someone goes ballistic, and I’m reminded that a tough skin doesn’t usually come with the package for those of us born writers.

On those occasions, I sometimes find it helpful to imagine my own critics as tiny figures on the floor, shouting through miniature megaphones, yet still inaudible.  “What’s that you say?” I reply. “I’m sorry, can you speak a little louder?  I just can’t hear you!”

So, cookbook authors, you might consider doing the same.  If I’ve reviewed your book unfavorably, imagine me as a very, very small T. Susan Chang, in a grimy apron, brandishing a tiny wooden spoon.  After all, in the scope of things, a cookbook reviewer is just a small cog in a great wheel.  You won’t be far off from the truth, and it might make you feel a whole lot better.

The views expressed in this blog post are entirely my own and not those of the Boston Globe.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 799 other followers

%d bloggers like this: