Re-post: The Seven Deadly Words of Book Reviewing, by Bob Harris (NYT)

Bob Harris, if I have the right one, used to be the deputy editor of the New York Times Book Review, and subsequently contributed to their Arts Beat blog. I ran across this post of his from 2009, and since I try to review books I’ve read, but generally feel my reviews could be better written, I found it very helpful. Below you’ll find the beginning of the article, with a link to the rest of it. When you write a review of Tangerine Tango (to which yours truly has contributed several pieces) you’ll know how to do it really well.

Like all professions book reviewing has a lingo. Out of laziness, haste or a misguided effort to sound “literary,” reviewers use some words with startling predictability. Each of these seven entries is a perfectly good word (well, maybe not eschew), but they crop up in book reviews with wearying regularity. To little avail, admonitions abound. “The best critics,” Follett writes, “are those who use the plainest words and who make their taste rational by describing actions rather than by reporting or imputing feelings.” Now, the list:

poignant: Something you read may affect you, or move you. That doesn’t mean it’s poignant. Something is poignant when it’s keenly, even painfully, affecting. When Bambi’s mom dies an adult may think it poignant. A child probably finds it terrifying.

compelling: Many things in life, and in books, are compelling. The problem is that too often in book reviews far too many things are found to be such. A book may be a page turner, but…read more

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