What Role Reviews:

Rebellion, Rarity, and Reading Local

By Liz Merton


Sage’s piece last week on “discovering” and loving books before they “become cool” got me thinking about reviews. Here we are at Read Local® offering our opinions on the books we find and fall in love with. But what role do reviews play if we are all searching for the undiscovered gem? Do reviews inherently sully the process?




With the limits of time and money, however, reviews represent a means to conserve resources. At Read Local®, we spend a lot of time digging up potential books to review, reading (and not always finishing!) books (some turn out to be complete duds), and comparing what we read to the popular works available to determine a lesser-known work’s possible contribution to the scene. We generally don’t make anything off our efforts. (As the note in this website’s footer indicates, we will make money off Stoneman House books, but they are a new press and their first releases aren’t due out till later this summer.) We also spend quite a bit of money buying the books we read. Some we’ve found at used-book sales . . . and, from time to time, we’ve lucked out discovering a winner for a buck. Quite often, though, the books we want haven’t had the distribution that would mean they would end up on a used-book rack or at a library sale. A great majority we dig up on Amazon, with Kindle Direct Publishing giving very small presses and independent authors a voice. (Yes, we have mixed feelings about Amazon, but it has provided an outlet for artists that might otherwise struggle to have their words read. You can read more of my Amazon thoughts here.) We also scour the websites of small presses.


By curating a Read Local® list, we aim to save you time and money . . . and we also hope to fuel your own independent digging into, well, independent literature. So while advocating a path away from “critical acclaim,” we hope not to create simply a parallel form of acclaim (one that merely wears different clothes). We want to encourage a sort of literary self-sufficiency, where readers embrace and enjoy the (dare I say it?) “rugged individualism” of hiking up uncharted book mountains and finding at a bend in the path their next favorite read, a read unknown by anyone in New York or at a major magazine or on Buzzfeed.


P.S. If you’ve got a winner, drop us a note with details. We always enjoy hearing about independent-press wins, lesser-known gems, and “no-hit wonders,” and if we hear of a fit, we’ll check it out and post it here.