How to Review Books: My Manifesto

Sometimes changes make tired old arguments look even more creaky.

This is how I felt when I encountered yet another back-and-forth about whether book reviewers should strive to be positive and avoid snark, or whether they should be hard-minded critics, willing to blame as well as praise in their criticism. Maria Bustillos has a rundown.

This debate is like the dance of the straw men. Each side exaggerates the position of the other, until a positive book reviewer is merely a shill, and a negative reviewer is snarky or narcissistic or whatever.

People: the world is changing. It’s not the case that a small number of publications review a few selected books every season, and readers are led by the nose to what has been selected for them to read. They have access to all kinds of books as well as to all kinds of critics. A million flowers have bloomed.

Critics want to take a consistent approach? Fine. Write a manifesto? Great. Criticize some other critic’s manifesto? Now you’re tipping into pointlessness.

Here’s my manifesto: Don’t argue about how to review books. Just review them.

Let your approach manifest itself in the reviews themselves, and let your audience decide whether or not they value the approach you’ve taken. There’s room for dialogue as well as promotion. Harshness and praise.

The critical voice – your voice – is your best asset. Don’t try to make it into something that it’s not to suit your theory.

Is what I just wrote positive? Snarky? Actually I’m not sure. It was my honest response. That’s what I’ll stand by. Good critics should too.

Onward and upward, people!

Carlton Dance Image Credit: GIFSOUP.COM

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