Right of Reply: Sue Gaisford

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The Independent Culture
The Economist's book reviewer replies to Michael Glover's criticisms of her trade

MICHAEL GLOVER ("Trust me, this is a great book", 9 December) asks who should be asked to review a political biography. He suggests an academic, another biographer, a novelist or a poet, and gives sound reasons for rejecting each. The one person he doesn't consider is the professional book-reviewer. We do exist, and we're the best.

We read at home. We seldom go to literary parties and meet very few authors, so we are not tempted to flatter our friends; the work is so badly paid that we wouldn't do it unless we enjoyed it and needed the money, so it is in our interests to be thorough. As we are not in competition with the authors we read, we are not tempted to denigrate them unfairly: we know that few publications will continue to employ a critic who costs them libel damages.

We can be savage if savagery is required - when, for example, the celebrity reviewers have sycophantically praised fashionable rot: we have nothing to lose. Our duty is to our readers: we don't want them wasting their money. We also need to entertain them, and to give them enough knowledge of the book in question for them to know about it without necessarily buying it. We don't waste their time with personal reminiscence.

I review for The Economist, whose journalists are anonymous. My first books editor, Gordon Lee, described the book pages as the "Windmill strip" - not too outrageous, but more fun than the rest. I write not as a specialist but as an informed general reader - and, until senility overtakes me, the older I get the better I am informed. I love the job and I don't actually want to know authors or to write a book. A reviewer should be like a juror: if you know the accused, get out of court.

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