Generally, I believe - have always believed, as far as my own reviews are concerned - that book reviews should stand on their own; that regardless of requirements in length, they should be written so that every word counts; and, as a consequence of this, that I don't feel right about going into detail on my thoughts about a book before (and, to a lesser degree, after) the actual review is written and/or published.
(Yes, that was a long sentence. If I remembered even 1/4 of what I learned in my linguistics grad program, I could probably diagram it, but I don't, so I won't...)
I even feel a little funny about mentioning the books I'm in the process of reviewing, which may be going too far even for some people. I have no problem discussing these things in private email, generally. But I know the number of hits that come to this site because people are searching for book reviews, and I'm concerned that casual surfers - and even egosurfing authors - will pick up on my thoughts about a book before the review's published. And that goes against my feeling that a review should stand on its own, etc.
On the other hand, the folks at Booklist (their blog, Likely Stories, is linked from the left-hand sidebar here) regularly list the books in their to-be-reviewed pile. They go into detail about their opinions on passages within novels, as well as their general approach to a review they're still writing. I have a lot of respect for the staff there (and not only because they asked me to review for them). They've also been in the "review" business far longer than I have, which is a mere seven years so far. I find their blog fascinating because it goes into the little details that I also deal with often, though don't talk about much here. Like the problems with reviewing and quoting from uncorrected proofs, my dislike of reviewing from photocopied galleys (sometimes necessary), the challenge of staying original even when reviewing similar books... and so forth.
Also, talking about good books in a public forum (like a blog) does give them additional publicity. This isn't, and shouldn't be, the ultimate goal of the book reviewer, though as a reader, I certainly do like to spread the word about worthwhile novels. The converse, I suppose, could be said for my going into greater detail (than a review allows) on what I didn't like about a book.
And finally, given that reviews are just one person's opinion, namely my opinion in this case, how much does this matter in the grand scheme of things anyway? (Probably not a good excuse, here.)
Anyway, if they are comfortable with posting details on reviews-in-progress, who am I to question it? Is it time for me to start rethinking my own position on the issue?
I have been testing the waters, to some degree, by not-so-subtly hinting at the book I'm currently reading for review. I still feel a little not-right about it, I admit, which is one of the real reasons why I deleted my earlier post about Hudson Lake, the novel I covered for HNR Online last week.
What do you think - should reviews stand on their own? Is it appropriate, or helpful, to post thoughts about them in advance of the review's publication? Or, third option, am I simply thinking about this issue way too much?