Maxim recently published a review of the Black Crowes' new album, Warpaint
. It didn't like it much, giving it only 2.5 stars out of 5.
There was just one problem
. The album hadn't been released yet, and advance copies hadn't been made available. So how had the Maxim reviewer heard the album? Turns out he hadn't. Maxim explained to the Black Crowes that the reviewer made an "educated guess." Maxim later released this statement: "It is Maxim's editorial policy to assign star ratings only to those albums that have been heard in their entirety. Unfortunately, that policy was not followed in the March 2008 issue of our magazine and we apologize to our readers."
Nothing new here. As I point out in Hippo Eats Dwarf
, reviewers are notorious for not listening to albums or reading books before they review them. As the Scottish reverend Sidney Smith famously remarked, "I never read a book before reviewing it; it prejudices a man so."
The Kirkus review
of Elephants on Acid
had me wondering if the reviewer had actually read the book. It was a pretty good review (the reviewer described the book as "One of the finest science/history bathroom books of all time"), so I didn't want to make a fuss, but in summarizing the contents of the book the reviewer gave this description:
Some of the many highlights: a 1931 test to determine whether it's possible for a chimp to raise a human baby; a 1977 examination on the validity of scratch-'n'-sniff paper; a gentleman who, in 1928, proved males could be multi-orgasmic to the tune of six ejaculations in 36 minutes;
That's all completely wrong. The 1931 experiment was to see if a chimp could be raised as a human, not the other way around. The 1977 experiment had nothing to do with scratch-n-sniff paper; it involved pretending to transmit smells over TV sets. And the multi-orgasmic male experiment occurred in 1998, not 1928. But like I said, the reviewer seemed to like the book, so I'm not complaining.
I pretended to be testing a system called "Odoradio" which allowed us to transmit smells over the radio. My boss said it was the stupidest bit he had ever heard of...until I started getting calls from listeners who said it was working.
It was pretty hard to keep a straight face as I listened to people's tales of putting their noses on their radio speakers and being able to detect what I was "transmitting." Ah, good times.
I've read a number of books in which the book had an introduction or foreword written by someone who obviously hadn't read the book (at least, not the whole book).
And how often have you heard someone talking knowingly about food she's never tasted, or a city he's never visited?
As in every other craft, the quality of written reviews varies from wonderful to deplorable, with stops at every point in between.