The Help Desk: Among friends

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

A local novelist's new book just got a glowing review in a major review outlet. That's great!

The problem is, I happen to know that the writer who wrote the review — also a local writer, by the way — is a good friends with the local novelist. They've been in programs together and they've done readings together, and they hang out together. The review, of course, mentioned none of this. There's no way it can be considered an impartial review.

My sense of fairness is sorely being tested right now, Cienna. Is this kind of incestuous familiarity between reviewer and reviewed considered acceptable in the reviewing community? If not, should I let the outlet know, or would that make me a lousy snitch?

Hollie, Crown Hill

Dear Hollie,

You're right to feel affronted. It's common for artists and critics to socialize and work in the same small circles, but failing to disclose a personal relationship with a subject is egregious and unnecessary.

When making a new human friend, I first invite them to send me a notarized document affirming that yes, they are engaging in an act of friendship with me freely and willingly, which I submit to all local papers in the "announcements" section for three weeks. At that time, I instruct them to meet me at Friendship Bridge, which is the name of a real bridge for some reason. At the apex of this bridge, we hold hands and chant "friendship, friendship, friendship" three times for the world to see.

Instead of writing to the reviewer's outlet, I advise you to contact the reviewer directly and ask them to explain themselves. Perhaps they can – perhaps the relationship is not as close as you perceived it to be (for instance, reading at the same event doesn't meet the "disclosure" criteria for me, as individuals who are invited to read rarely have a say in who they read with – or even know beforehand).

If they can't, perhaps you should submit your own announcement to the reviewer's outlet rejoicing in their relationship. It's the honest thing to do and who doesn't like to celebrate friendship?