Back to the drawing board . . .

Carrie A.A. Frye, a.k.a. CAAF, is again guest-blogging over at Maud Newton’s place and today she mocked traditional book reviews by outlining them this way:

A hook lede; a few paragraphs of flat-footed narrative summary; a graf about “what I like” followed by a graf about what “I didn’t like” (as if the best model for a review was the legal system, with justice weighing the scales); and then the final graf that synthesizes “the amount I liked it versus vs. the amount I didn’t like”; to arrive at: Should you buy this book?

CAFF labels this as “the straight review tack” of which she doesn’t seem real impressed.

I find this all rather depressing as that is almost exactly how I have been posting my reviews on this site! Now I will be all self-conscious next time I post a review . . .

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season – oh, and watching golf too).

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5 Comments

  • Certain formal articles can only be written accordingly, to what?, but to a form.

    Try to write a novel or movie or sonnet that has no what? — form!

    The form she describes is what? — the simplest and most to the point way of telling someone about a book without simply saying — I didn’t (did) like it.

    A book review is different than an essay about a book.

  • Formality isn’t necessarily the issue, but providing a provocative angle is always a plus. Bear that in mind, my friend.

  • Yes, but how many provocative angles can anyone come up with over the course of tens of thousands of book reviews; and hundreds on any given popular book?

    After awhile, artifice, contrivance, provocation, cleverness all get in the way of what the reader wants – a quick summary and an informed opinion.

    I always read the movie reviews in the localpaper, but you know, the little capsule reviews the paper carries from week to week of current movies in theaters is probably every bit as useful, as the longer, more analytical one.

  • Oh, please don’t feel self-conscious! Really.

    What I was trying to get at: The NYT Book Review has lots of space and resources. It seems to me like they could make better use of that space by varying the type of criticism they offer.

    I would disagree with Mark B. in thinking that a formula equates to form.

    I agree with him in that I sometimes prefer capsule reviews to longer ones. For instance, the Briefly Noted section in the New Yorker does an excellent job of gracefully telling the reader a little about the book and evaluating its merits.

    My problem with the NYT Book Review lies in the fact that often the longer reviews aren’t achieving much more than a short one might. There is, in fact, very little analysis provided for the word count.

    And with the space available — and again, the resources, this is the freaking Gray Lady after all — it seems like the reviewer should have the luxury for a more in-depth discussion of the book that allows for analysis. I think of James Wood here as a model. Or the reviewer might simply enliven the review with voice, which I thought the Oates review was a fine example of. Also Choire Sicha’s recent “Bergdorf Blondes” send-up.

    But for a paper to regularly provide those types of reviews would mean taking fiction seriously as a form, and thinking that there might be more to a discussion of it than a mere summation of the plot. And right now I don’t see NYT as leading the fiction discussion, and that’s all that I was jabbing at.

  • Oh, please don’t feel self-conscious! Really.

    What I was trying to get at: The NYT Book Review has lots of space and resources. It seems to me like they could make better use of that space by varying the type of criticism they offer.

    I would disagree with Mark B. in thinking that a formula equates to form.

    I agree with him in that I sometimes prefer capsule reviews to longer ones. For instance, the Briefly Noted section in the New Yorker does an excellent job of gracefully telling the reader a little about the book and evaluating its merits.

    My problem with the NYT Book Review lies in the fact that often the longer reviews aren’t achieving much more than a short one might. There is, in fact, very little analysis provided for the word count.

    And with the space available — and again, the resources, this is the freaking Gray Lady after all — it seems like the reviewer should have the luxury for a more in-depth discussion of the book that allows for analysis. I think of James Wood here as a model. Or the reviewer might simply enliven the review with voice, which I thought the Oates review was a fine example of. Also Choire Sicha’s recent “Bergdorf Blondes” send-up.

    But for a paper to regularly provide those types of reviews would mean taking fiction seriously as a form, and thinking that there might be more to a discussion of it than a mere summation of the plot. And right now I don’t see NYT as leading the fiction discussion, and that’s all that I was jabbing at.