Monday, June 11, 2007

On reviews and Essay Reviews

The NBCC is having a major hissy about large newspapers jettisoning their reviewers. OK, I can understand that. Librarians got kind of nervous when the internet started stomping on our toes, too.

Here's the deal. I don't like long essay-style in-depth academic essay reviews. I prefer brief book-talk reviews. Tell me what's hot about the book and what's not. Convince me to read or not to read it. I prefer the lower-case review. The book-talk review.

There are many people who enjoy the longer essay-reviews. I have two colleagues who absolutely wallow in them. English majors would be lost without them. They are valuable to intellectual inquiry and literature studies. I found them very helpful when studying for my English Lit. degree. Bravo!

Here's the problem. Do they belong in to a newspaper that is actually catering to the average Joe and Jill? Sadly, probably not. (I'm leaving the New York Times and Washington Post out of this discussion. They're Different.)

Review essays are literature. Let's treat them as such. I mean some of this is good stuff. Really insightful and, darn it, incredible reasoning. Well-written, even. It is literature. Publish it in academic literature or literary magazines where the audience that appreciates it will find it.

For the rest of us, just give us the book-talk review. Adapt. If librarians can do it, so can book reviewers.

Best Wishes!


zirelda said...

Stupid question, but are book reviews the ones found in the jackets and the back of the books? Those are the ones I read along with a paragraph randomly chosen from the middle of the book. Then I read the whole thing if both the review and the paragraph catch me.

Booktender said...

Good question!

The quotes and summaries on the book jackets are "blurbs." They're strategically located and placed on the jacket by sincerely clever marketers at the printing house.

On most popular fiction, you'll see blurbs from, say, The Cleveland Plain Dealer. That is a newspaper that does a lot of reviewing of popular fiction.

In Library Journal, Publisher's Weekly, and other Libraryland publications, you get a review that is one or two paragraphs telling you a bit about the story, about about why the book is "good" or "bad" and, if you're lucky, a recommendation at the end. The booktalk-review.

In newspapers like the New York Times, book reviews are essay-length. These essays, excellent examples of logic and writing, go in-depth and may draw some parallels between the particular work and other things the author has done, it can also often disclose the ending of a book. These are long - often the taking up a whole page of a tabloid-sized paper.

Finally, there is the literary essay. A critique of the work or works of an author. A look at themes, technique and other details that only we English Majors could love.

Each has its own place. In today's Newspaper World, it's possible that only the booktalk review is going to help sell papers.

It's a rapidly changing quagmire out there in mediaworld.

zirelda said...

I had no idea... it's been a long time since I've been involved in the English world I guess.

Cool. Thanks for the info.