Boys love owls!

I really enjoyed this essay by Charles Baxter which, besides making me laugh until I teared up, put into words what I have thought of reviews, particularly of children’s literature. “Boys will love this book! Boys love owls!” a review will say (in Baxter’s terms).

Obviously I am interested in reviews, because they bear on sales, which bear on my success as an author, which bears on my personal happiness, but reviews are often what Baxter calls “owl reviews.” For example, reviews for my first book seemed to correspond to how much the reviewer liked baseball. Well, I knew that all criticism was autobiographical (who said that? Wilde? Shaw?), and to be fair, the purpose of most reviews is not to put a book in context, it’s just a recommendation on whether or not the book is worth buying… but if the reviewer is basing that on personal prejudices and stereotypes, how well does it serve as a verdict?

Baxter’s essay describes the problem, but doesn’t solve it. I’ll still be skewered by the first reviewer who simply hates mushrooms (or who knows as a fact that boys hate them), and I’ll brood about it for weeks.

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