The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing Perfect Paperback – 15 Jun 2008
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About the Author
Mayra Calvani is the author of two books. Her stories, articles and reviews have appeared in many online and print publications in the States, England and Puerto Rico. In addition, she is assistant editor of Voice in the Dark newsletter, where she writes a monthly column. She has lived in America, Asia, the Middle East, and is now settled in Brussels, Belgium, where she lives with her husband, two children and a variety of pets. Her hobbies include playing the violin and astronomy/sky observing.
Top customer reviews
Fundamentals needed by beginning reviewers include a command of the language, clarity of thought and expression, honesty, objectivity and tact. Assuming we have passed this five-hurdle screening test, the authors proceed to teach us their slippery art. "First, read the book." is their opening advice (p. 29). The curriculum that follows shows us how to target a specific audience, "hook" them with an interesting opening, fairly summarize the book, evaluate it, and made a useful recommendation about reading it. Any generalizations--especially criticisms--should be supported by carefully-chosen examples. The authors follow their own advice by including many examples of different types of reviews, both well and poorly written.
The book also includes advice about working in the book reviewing community. Readers learn how to deal with publishers, editors, authors, other reviewers and readers of their reviews. There are helpful tips on coping with the irresponsible, irate, and irrational members of each group. We are told how to find (mostly free!) books to review as well as web sites and print publications that distribute reviews. The book's extensive resource list will certainly drift out of date, but the authors commit to maintain the most recent version on the book's web site. The advice, examples, and these resources will keep this book valuable for a long time to come.
Calvani and Edwards also offer a passing perspective on Amazon.com. They like its easy accessibility and large audience. There is praise for its role as a training ground and as a way for new reviewers to build a reputation. On the other hand, they caution that Amazon is a stewy mixture of gushy reader reactions and fiery diatribes as well as disciplined professional reviews. We should sample from it with care. They also question the potentially biasing effect of Amazon's requirement that reviewers have a current account and actively purchase books.
If you plan to exercise your reviewing skills, whether here in the mire of Amazon or in some loftier setting, this book's lessons are for you. Enjoy!
In Part One, The Art of Reviewing, the authors examine what a book review is, comparing it to book reports, critiques, etc. There are sections on how to write a book review, including examples of published reviews by the two authors, on types of reviews, on "the absolute don'ts (or signs of an amateur), on "What's in it for You, the Reviewer", on how to start your own book review site, etc. etc.
Part Two deals with the influence of book reviewers and Part Three is entitled "Resources". This latter part includes advice on how and where to get started posting reviews, and provides useful information on online review sites and publications. I found this the most valuable part of the book.
I would have regarded this as quite a good book, had it not contained so many irritating instances of loose writing, including faulty grammar and sentence structure, lack of necessary prepositions, and so on, primarily in the first part of the book. I hadn't expected poor language in a book of this sort, written by experienced reviewers, particularly since the authors stress that such errors should not occur in the work of reviewers (they shouldn't occur in the work of authors, either!).
For example (on page 69): " ... you will state a little of the plot of each - or some - stories" - you can't say "each stories"! If this were just an isolated occurrence, it wouldn't matter, obviously, as we can all make mistakes, but unfortunately there are several such instances of sloppy language.
In one chapter the author concerned uses the word "readers" when she means "reader-reviewers", and "reviewer" when she means "professional reviewers", while on a later page the terms are correctly used. (This is perhaps due to problems co-ordinating the authors' individual contributions to the book.)
A sentence that annoys me is, for instance, "Reader reviews can be of any length, ... and say things a reviewer wouldn't." Firstly, a "reader review" is a review too, and, secondly, I find it a bit sloppy to juxtapose "reader reviews" in the first part of the sentence with "reviewer" in the second part. Further on, she writes " a reader who enjoys writing reviews may graduate into becoming a reviewer". But, again, a reader who writes reviews is by definition a reviewer, perhaps not a good one or a professional one, but still a REVIEWER.
We are advised to use words that all readers can understand. Firstly, it might inhibit one's writing style somewhat, should one attempt to do this, and anyone how could one tell? And, secondly, I feel the author's statement to be somewhat condescending, to try to follow her advice would be to "look down" on the reader and belittle his or her abilities. If anyone should fail to understand any of the words in the text he is reading, surely he could look up the words in a dictionary, or, in this day and age, check on-line? Of course we should write clearly and reasonably simply, but I feel that the authors' advice would tend to make for a puerile style that deprives the review of its individuality and richness.
There is a section on the importance of objectivity when writing a review, i.e. that we should not be influenced by personal feelings "but should be 'unbiased'. However, in a later section comparing the characteristics of various types of literary output, we read under the heading "Review" - "it is subjective". And of course a review is subjective, as each person has his own views, and when expressing his evaluation of the book must base this on his own, necessarily subjective, views. How else could one appraise the book if not through one's own value system? To my mind, the very essence or rationale of a review is the principle of subjectivity. (Again, in this section we come across the statement "A review is ... and may be written by readers as well as reviewers"!! )
A section pertains to the subject of the books sent without cost to potential reviewers. I feel to see the relevance of discussing the ethics of whether or not a reviewer may sell these books. They've been freely sent to them, of course they can sell them. How can they be prevented from doing so, anyway, since once the books are in their possession they are theirs to dispose of as they will.
And I really can't understand how receipt of a boring or uninteresting book you haven't yourself chosen but are obliged to review can be regarded as fair payment, as the authors argue. For firstly you're wasting your time simply reading such a/an misplaced/unwanted book, and then perhaps wasting it again writing the review, so how could the book be regarded as "fair payment"? And why would you value a personal library of such, for yourself, boring, uninteresting or badly written books?
To sum up, to my mind, and I freely admit my subjectivity, the book is significantly marred by its content of these errors and such illogical reasoning as I have exemplified, though I'm sure many readers will find the book as a whole informative and useful.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Recently I decided it was time to start writing reviews of some of the books I read. I've started posting those reviews on my own blog as well as here on Amazon, on Goodreads.com and elsewhere. This book has given me a road map for how I should be writing those reviews. (We'll see whether I'm able to follow that road map...)
Calvani offers some of the obvious tips -- you need a good knowledge of grammar, syntax, spelling and punctuation, you must be able to express your thoughts clearly and you must be honest. Readers use book reviews to decide whether to read a book. "A reviewer’s honest judgment is his stock in trade." Together with that honesty comes objectivity. You don't have to agree with the author. That means "ideally, you shouldn’t let your values, beliefs, and way of life influence your review." Finally, if you don't agree with author, at least be tactful in your criticism.
She offers a structure for what to look for when you're reading, including the various aspects of plot, narrative and flow, pacing, characterization, dialogue, description, symbolism and allegories, point of view, theme, tone and atmosphere and spelling and grammar that you should be looking for. Likewise, she provides a similar structure for reviewing audio books, non-fiction, graphic novels, works in translation, etc.
The book also includes a number of sample reviews, annotated to show you what a review should accomplish.
Calvani offers suggestions on how to handle some typical problems you might encounter after reviewing a book. If you got a free copy to review, is it okay to sell or give away the free book? What if the author or publisher sends a nastygram expressing displeasure at your negative review? What do you do if an author or publisher says they are sending you a book to review and you never get it? How do you handle books you receive -- but didn't ask for? And how do you handle someone who calls you every few days to ask if you've read their book yet?
The forward establishes the bona fides of both the writer of the forward and the authors themselves. The information is presented in a useful and intuitive format which allows the reader to absorb the information quickly and with a high degree of comprehension. The chapter divisions are logical and the overall layout of the book allows the reader to use this resource as a reference in order to speed the review of the material. Every term used by the authors is defined by them. They manage to do this without being either offensive in their assumptions or pedantic in their presentation.
If you desire a solid reference work which also enables the reader a thorough education in the art of reviewing books, this is the only book you need to consult! The knowledge communicated in "The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing" will keep the reader on a solid foundation to build their craft!
The Calvary and Edwards also talk about writing overly positive reviews or overly negative reviews and how to write a negative review or positive review. There are several review examples based on the same story, long reviews, short reviews, positive and negative so that the reader gets a good idea how to structure their review. There is a section that talks about various writing pitfalls to avoid that make you look like a novice which was helpful to me.
In The slippery art of reviewing Clavari and Edwards also discuss various online sites that accept reviews like Amazon versus other online sites that you have to pay to post your reviews. There is a lot site included in this book with the urls.
Calvari and Edwards also cover setting up your own website for reviewing, best practices for getting it started, how to plan the for it, getting your web presence known and how to contact publishers for ARC's (Advance Reading Copy's).
Calvari and Edwards also cover the difference between writing pre release reviews for publishers versus post release reviews for the general public. They discuss what publishers are looking for in a pre release review and how to address issues if you feel that you can't write the review the way they would like it to be written.
I highly recommend this book for the novice to intermediate reviewer, especially if your trying to get your name known and you want to turn your reviewing hobby into a profession. At the back of the book there is an abundance of contact information regarding contacts for various publishers, online and print media. Amazon reviewers will find this book especially interesting because there are several references to Amazon and the impact that reviews on Amazon have on a books sales.
The Slippery art of reviewing is well thought out and very easy to read,understand and very helpful. Five stars for the beginning reviewer, 4 stars for the intermediate reviewer. This is the books intended audience but there is good information even for the experienced reviewer.