Authors, Editors and Reviewers on the Art of Reviewing, Part 4: Michael Erard

From Michael Erard author of Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners, (Free Press, 2012) and Um…: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean (Pantheon, 2007).

    I think the best review is a profile of the writer, a profile of the reader, a profile of the genre or tradition the book fits in (or aspires to be in), and certainly not a full profile, but a substantive gesture in that direction. A situatedness.

    The question that it’s getting at is, can you have a relationship with this book? There are many ways to get at that question. A good review is written by someone who’s read the book more than once; a bad review, on the other hand, is simply a report of how you feel after having consumed something. You don’t have a relationship with a meal (though you may have a relationship with a cuisine, a chef, a particular ingredient, or a restaurant) — or with most meals, anyway.

    I find that a lot of reviews — both pro and amateur — don’t know what it means to have a relationship with a text, or how to talk about people who also have relationships with texts. They’re purely lip-smacking, plate-pushing. Yeah, get the fries, but the burger wasn’t worth it. But the reader of that review needs to know more about that reviewer: how many burgers have you eaten before? How hungry did you come? What were you expecting? Have you eaten here before? etc.

About Ed Battistella

Edwin Battistella’s latest book Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels will be released by Oxford University Press in March of 2020.
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