Every once and again the issue of what a reviewer owes a writer gets bandied about in the book blogosphere. Should we write negative reviews? Should we disclose friendships/acquintances? If we criticize a book, what do we owe in the way of evidence an argumentation?
Well, a British court went a step further than "should," fining a newspaper more than $100,000 in damages for libel. Turns out, one of their reviewers made a claim about a book that turned out to be wrong, legally and libelously wrong.
This story and decision exceeds the bounds of what your average reviewer, professional or otherwise, will likely encounter, but it does remind us that reviews affect, in a very real way, the material well-being of authors. A bad review can hurt their ability to ply their trade. A good review can bolster it.
If there is an ethics of reviewing, it certain begins well-short of legal wrong-doing, but it's extremely difficult to define. Clearly, making up counter-evidence is beyond the pale. But how about if you just make a mistake? What if you give a book a bad review because you misunderstood, overlooked, or just plain forgot something?
These wouldn't be actionable offenses, but they seem to me breeches of a reviewer's responsibility to make judgments based on the books before them.
So the question is: what might an ethics of reviewing look like? What is the bare minimum standard that people who discuss books publicly and render judgments of them should uphold?