As I write this wrap up to the book reviewing series, I’m also beginning a book review, so it’s an opportunity to see if I can practice some of the wisdom of the wonderful guest posts, from Tod Davies, Jeff Baker, Adam Woog, Brian Griffith, Audrey Homan, Alisa Bowman, Kelli Stanley, Michael Erard and E. B. Strunkdotter. Recent news suggests that book reviewing is still a concern of authors and publishers. And some of the gaming of the system seems to be coming to light—witness the recent NY Times story on “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy” and the expose of British writer R. J. Ellis, who was for years faking his reviews on Amazon. And civility seems to be making a comeback in reviewing—or at least the most mean-spirited reviews are being discussed (though some argue that there is an epidemic of niceness). Perhaps with more and more books being published, consumers are thinking about reviews with a renewed seriousness.
Reflecting on the collective wisdom of the posts, I’m reminded of the century-old seven Cs of professional writing. Writing should be clear, correct, concise, complete, concrete, considerate, and conversational. Clear, and correct and concise, cover a lot of ground linguistically, but also in terms of taking the time to understand the book (so as to avoid the embarrassment of misidentifying a character or plot point). Complete and concrete entails understanding the place of the book in its genre or discipline—what has come before and how the book fits in that history—and justifying one’s remarks with textual or other evidence. Completeness also entails being honest about a book’s shortcomings but balancing that with a discussion of its strengths. Consideration comes into play in term of understanding and respecting what the author is trying to accomplish and subordinating your impulse to be clever (“This book create a great void in the field”) to the responsibility to be fair.
Finally, begin conversational helps the reviewer to focus on his or her readers—what do reader’s need to know about the book and what questions will they have about the book and your review.