Authors, Editors and Reviewers on the Art of Reviewing, Part 5: E. B. Strunksdotter

E. B. Strunksdotter (a pseudonym) works in the book reviewing profession.

    Ed Battistella has asked me to tell you “ what makes a good book review.” My humble opinion on the matter follows.

    • Accessibility/clarity–Jargon is the enemy of clarity. Brief reviews “cannot bear the weight of stylistic flourishes” (phrase stolen from another editor) . Reviewers should write as if for generalists. The following is unacceptable: “The intertextuality of the framing narrative objectively correlates with the synechdoche, the parataxeis being the vortex of the allegorical imagism (which is the doppelganger of metafiction).”

    • Accuracy—If the review cites a person, a book, a chapter title–any “fact” whatsoever—that fact should be correct and accurately spelled, punctuated, and so forth. Which is to say—check it!

    • Authority—Random opinions are irrelevant. The opinion should emanate from a verifiable expert on the subject.

    • Brevity—Do not ramble [see elsewhere in this document].

    • Comparisons—A critical review of 200 words can include citations of works that are comparable/complementary/superior/inferior/etc. This information is important to readers.

    • Fair mindedness (as in lacking bias)—A reviewer should let us know if he/she is an arch enemy of the person who wrote the book he/she just received for review; has a viewpoint entirely antithetical to that of the book; is first cousin once removed of the author; etc. Any such circumstance smacks of conflict of interest (real or perceived). The reviewer is therefore disqualified.

    • Focus—In reviewing a book on, say, Shakespeare, the reviewer should not digress and rattle on about, say, Elizabeth I’s ruffled collars (unless her ruffled collar is central to the book).

    • Good grammar—Eschew passive voice! Do not dangle participles or misplace modifiers! Mind your collective nouns (sheep nibble grass/a flock nibbles)! Put periods and commas inside quotation marks! And so on.

    • Opinion/evaluation—Without opinion, a review serves no better than the information on the publisher’s website or the jacket flaps. I don’t want synopsis; I want to know how valuable (and for whom) the reviewer thinks the book is. Should I buy/read it or should I give it a pass?

About Ed Battistella

Edwin Battistella’s latest book Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology was released by Oxford University Press in June of 2014.
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