>The Owl Has Landed

>And the UPS lady told me they had two trucks in my neighborhood this morning, packed with copies. Our reviewer is on her way over now.

While you’re waiting, take a look at this op-ed from a man after my own heart: “Our obsession with spoilers has a diminishing effect, reducing popular criticism to a kind of glorified consumer reporting and the audience to babies.”

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Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

Comments

  1. Elizabeth Fama says:

    >I don’t mind spoilers at all, in books or in movies. I often ask for them. I’m much more interested in how the story is written — the construction of it — and I feel like my overly detail-oriented brain can concentrate on that better when I’m not distracted by plot surprises, or by trying to figure out the plot. Plus, I’m such a sissy I like to be emotionally prepared for unpleasant events. But I’m clearly in the minority.

    I do think the “leaks” provided amazing last-minute marketing for this book, in the news and on the Web.

  2. >For me, I find the focus on the ending of Harry and spoilers in general to be such a media-generated topic, mostly for people who wouldn’t be reading Harry if it weren’t for the publicity. I am sure that many of the 100+ readers who put the book on hold at our library just want to experience the final chapters of Harry for themselves instead of through a media-generated filter. For the life of me, I cannot see how that is an infantalized focus on spoilers.

    I will argue to the death that readers have the right to experience the whole book on their own. Reviews help people decide whether a book interests them (and librarians to decide whether a book wuld interest their patrons) but to give away every aspect of a book moves from reviewing into criticism. And I would also argue that the role of criticism is to discuss a work in depth with others who have already read/viewed the work in question. No one should be reading criticism without having first read the work being criticized…and reviews are for people who haven’t yet read the work.

    The tension between the two is very difficult, though. There are certainly times when I restrain myself from commenting in a review on a particular plot twist, but I am still too much of a reader to want to spoil a plot twist for another reader. So I write around it to the best of my ability, and usually it’s entirely possible.

  3. Elizabeth Devereaux, Publishers Weekly says:

    >I’m disconcerted to find myself disagreeing with Roger Sutton. Whenever this happens I have to rethink everything very carefully.

    In general I don’t believe in giving away spoilers, and more specifically I don’t think last week’s popular obsession with Harry Potter spoilers was entirely infantile (granted, some of last week’s noisy declamations undermine my argument).

    A review, ideally, should enhance a reader’s experience of the book. The chief pleasure of the HP books for me has always been Rowling’s ability to take me completely by surprise, even to astonish me. An early review of the book–and that’s what people have been talking about, an early review–that gives away very much of the story flattens the reader’s experience. A critical appraisal a month down the road is something else entirely, but that, too, should deepen a reader’s sense of the book.

    (And by the way, does it never occur to people like Nathan Lee that someone reading his op-ed piece might not yet have seen Citizen Kane? I learned the meaning of Rosebud by reading something very like his column when I was quite young, and while it didn’t spoil Citizen Kane — how could it? — it certainly closed off the most obvious way of enjoying it.)

    Anyway, the early review of Harry Potter books is something of category unto itself, isn’t it? I’ll look forward to reading the Horn Book’s review tomorrow.

  4. Roger Sutton says:

    >What’s happened here, though, is that everything about Deathly Hallows was being regarded as a spoiler. The Times review didn’t give away any more than a book review usually does–it wasn’t like it disclosed the fact that “Harry wakes up in bed with Suzanne Pleshette,” as one unrepentant Datalounge poster revealed.

    Elizabeth, the Rosebud reveal was made decades ago in a Peanuts cartoon. Gimme a break. Everything becomes fair game eventually.

    I don’t think a review should give away a plot twist gratuitously, but sometimes it needs to. And when it comes to reviewing children’s books, I don’t worry too much about that, because the intended reader of the book under review is not the same person who’s supposed to be reading the review itself.

    Finally, one person’s spoiler is another’s self-evident fact. I once saw a movie about a guy who fell in love with a girl who was really a dude. What, you couldn’t tell?

  5. Elizabeth Devereaux says:

    >I’m laughing over here, because of course it WAS the Peanuts cartoon that gave away Rosebud for me.

  6. >Sssshh, I had mine Friday evening …

    As to the criticism, I do not mind a critical literature review. As sdl said above, reading professional reviews help librarians make collection development decisions. We rely on reviewers greatly to do our jobs well. I do, however, mind when said reviewer criticizes the reader and not the work in question.

    In the case of the NYT and Baltimore Sun, I don’t think the rush to print reviews of HP was motivated as much by having the information available to readers as it was thumbing their collective noses at Scholastic and Bloomsbury for their embargo on the work itself. The books are going to sell regardless, maybe in spite of, those reviews and spoilers.

    I didn’t look at the reviews. And, in spite of being a habitual last chapter reader, I enjoyed this one from start to finish.

  7. Monica Edinger says:

    >”What, you couldn’t tell?” I couldn’t and felt such a dope when others told me it was so obvious, even the guy who saw it with me. I still blush to think about it.

    Thanks for reminding me of that movie (won’t identify it either for those who still don’t know it — some day they will see it, hit their heads, and say, “That was what Roger Sutton was writing about!”). I keep wondering when this whole spoiler thing became such an obsession and that certainly was one point where it became more important.

    My feeling is that if you have any concern about spoilage of something like this book don’t read the reviews, stay away from forums and publications where they are likely to be, and so on.

    I think writers (be it Rowling finishing her series or reviewers weighing in on how she did) should feel free to write whatever they want. Once it is out in the world (be it the book or the review) it is up to the readers to decide to read it or not.

    If the Times had posted headlines giving away major plot points on their front page I could see reason for a fuss, but they didn’t nor did the other publications I’ve seen so far.

  8. rindawriter says:

    >I read reviews not for literary criticism but to find interesting new books to read as efficiently as possible–pure and simple.

    Since I am an ingrained end-of-the-book reader now after many years of practicing this “bad” habit, spoilers never diminish my pleasure in experiencing anything well done. How could it? Since, if the book is well done, I’m going to go back and re-read and re-read it and probably memorize parts of it…

    I thought literary discussion of a book is just that, literary discussion and interesting if well written at all times, but a review needs to wear useful, practical shoes and no spangles please….

  9. >Here are two more: “And as you can see from my first memory of the cinema [being ten and shouting at the audience not to worry because E.T. isn’t dead], which was also my first act of criticism, I’m not above ruining an ending for others.”
    And, the one that I find more pertinent than the one Sutton highlights: “People outraged by spoilers should avoid all reviews before going to the movies or reading the book they’ve waited so long for, because the fact is all criticism spoils, no matter how scrupulous.”
    See, I’m not sure I know anymore what criticism is or does. The first quote I chose seems to indicate that the author of the op-ed piece, Nathan Lee, isn’t too sure either – unless it is an act of criticism to reassure the audience.
    The second quote gets more to my general issue with this discussion. What’s the point of reviewing (A) the seventh book of an interrelated series and (B) Harry-Freaking-Potter of which everyone has already formed some opinion or other. All a decent review of the book could really say is, “Yep, she stays true to form,” or “Mmm. This one wasn’t up to snuff.” But even if it wasn’t up to snuff, would you, as a critic, expect someone who’s stuck with the first sixth to abandon the last one because of what you wrote?
    The only point to a critique of HP7 I can see is to snag some of that immense HP readership for your publication.
    But again to that last quote. Papa likes. “All criticism spoils.” Of course it does. It examines the work of art as work first, art second.

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