There is an article in the December 17th issue of Publisher's Weekly on the ethics of book reviewing. 34.4% of survey respondents "claimed they thought it is acceptable for a reviewer to back out of a review to avoid negative criticism of a book," (though the same percentage of editors find it unacceptable to back out of writing a review for that reason). This all comes from page 8 of that issue, for those of you who are interested in other statistics they garnered. Someone also recently (within the past 2 months) blogged about this, but I cannot for the life of me find the post. (If someone would be so kind as to send it, I'll link to it.)
I decided to write on this because I review quite a few books a month - I usually have one item to review for Choice, one for ,Tennessee Libraries, two for Library Journal, and occasionally I review for Journal of Web librarianship. I consider it my job to read the book (or examine the online resource, in some cases) with an eye as to whether it will be useful for someone. I take into account other works in the same vein, whether anything new is added compared to the existing books available, and whether or not the writing is accessible. I have only written one negative review, but I feel that review was deserved. It does my colleagues a disservice if I push the burden of a negative review to someone else, and it does them an even worse disservice if I give a "false-positive" review.
This seems to be an issue - no one wants to write a negative review. I understand that it's hardly a fun thing to do. I make it a point to be in a good mood before reviewing, and I always go in *hoping* to love it. There's nothing better than getting to tout an author who puts out something useful and well-written. I mean, to be quite honest, my job is to peddle the good stuff. the more good stuff, the more people I can help. On the other hand, I am not going to wax poetic about a crappy work just so someone will like me. I also resent those reviewers who always give good reviews, no matter what quality they are. My budget is limited. Do not peddle crap to me. I will hunt you down and send you nasty emails questioning your worth in the profession, your worth as a writer, and asking you what political conspiracy you belong to that you feel the need to erode my purchasing power by telling me that a turd is in fact a gold nugget.
Reviewers, consider yourself warned. Do your JOB. You don't review to become popular with authors and publishers, you review for your colleagues who don't have the time to read everything they have to buy. Have a little respect. If you're more interested in impressing a publisher, quit your day job and become a writer. If you're more interested in making an author happy, start a fan club and become a groupie. But keep it out of your reviews. Reviews have a purpose above and beyond padding your vita, folks. Some of us actually pay attention to what you write. (Unless we remember your name after you did a crappy job and lied to us. Which we will remember. Don't be "that guy."