When I was learning to read, one of my teachers was Sidney J. Harris, a columnist for the Chicago Daily News. (His “Strictly Personal Prejudices” became “Strictly Personal” when the benign meaning of prejudice was forgotten.) Mr. Harris is the one who taught me “the purpose of a liberal education is to make your head a pleasant place in which to spend your leisure.”
Before discrimination became a dirty word it meant “to recognize a distinction or difference.” Discrimination implied that you knew enough about things to perceive differences. These days, it doesn’t seem to matter that you speak five languages or know the functions of the hippocampus, amygdala and nucleus acumbens. If you can’t summarize the latest episode of Survivor, discuss the most recent antics of Paris Hilton, or recite the win/loss average of leading sports teams you must be living in a cave. Too few distinguish between information that was derived from research and stuff heard on the “news” or read on the internet (or between information from the CDC site and “facts” gathered from their favorite list).
Many writers distrust Kirkus Reviews because the reviewers—however erudite—don’t put names to their opinions. Based on Kirkus reviews of my own work, the anonymous critics have quite different tastes. You have to read the book itself to know whether you will like it because until you read the book, you don’t know anything about the prejudice of the reviewer. (And all reviewers—all humans—have prejudices.)
Ebert and Roeper are trusted because--in their respective areas--they are masters, both are liberally educated in areas other than film, and they sign thier work. Even if you don’t agree with one of them, you can judge whether you will personally like a film based on what he says about it. (For instance, I don’t agree with Mr. Ebert that Apocalypse Now is one of the all-time greatest films, but I know his opinion wasn’t based on which side of the bed he got up on the day he screened it.) Mystery fans and writers don’t just prize a good review by Dick Adler or David Montgomery because they put their names to their opinions. Those of us who read them regularly know we can trust them to be informed and honest.
And good reviewers make you think even when they don’t convince you to agree.