13 Common ‘Mistakes’ in Reviewing You Can Ignore (except the last one)
On May 21 2019 (thanks Google for bringing this to my attention in June 2020), LitHub published a piece entitled 13 Common Mistakes in Book Reviewing and How to Avoid Them by Jay A Fernandez.
I don’t believe this article is good advice, especially not for fellow book bloggers.
Let me tell you why:
Book reviewers can say whatever they want, however they want. They (we) are not all New York Times reviewers toting a MFA in Creative Writing. Some of us are 16 years old, some of us think that 1 star means awesome, and some of us don’t give a shit what other people think about our reviews. Most of us just want to spread the book love. We don’t need a qualification to do that: we simply need social media.
The author of this piece writes well over 500 words before he even gets to the first point of his list, blathering on about his first ‘real’ job (whatever that means) as a reviewer in the mid-to-late 90s. Dude. Most book reviewers on Goodreads probably weren’t even born then.
Here’s his boring ass list of what not to do when reviewing books:
1. Grandiose Claims
Apparently, if the author is a debut, you’re especially not supposed to shout about how amazing their books are, despite the fact that some of my absolute favourite novels of all time (she says grandiosely) have been debut novels.
If you’re going to declare something the best of the year or brilliant beyond imagining, you better have read every other novel released this year and have a record that proves you’re one of the most well-read critics on earth. Humility and restraint work to your advantage. The opposite makes you look foolish.
No, it makes us look enthusiastic.
You go ahead and say this is the best book you’ve ever read. Go right ahead and say it’s the most epic romance that’s ever graced the world. Just please be accurate. Please do not make a grandiose statement that Lord of the Rings is a bad romance novel or something like that (unless, of course, you’re looking for female representation in novels by dead rich white guys, then go right! I jest). Otherwise, do whatever the hell you want.
2. Something about lacking clarity
but to be honest, I skimmed that part because it was boring and not making much sense.
3. Repetitiveness and Redundancy
(ironically, also in that title.) But you go ahead and fill your review with gifs of the same thing if that’s what you’re feeling. Sometimes things need to be repeated to make sure the point gets across. Sometimes, things need to be repeated to make sure the point gets across. Sometimes… oh, you get my point.
4. Casual narcissism
I mean, you’re a writer, so imagine the situation reversed: You’ve spent a year, maybe three, sweating this novel, and a random MFA student spends half his 1,500-word review talking about my this and I that. It’s unseemly, misguided, and, I dare say, disrespectful.
Is this list actually a satire and I’m just not getting it?
This point in particular annoys me. Just because our name is on the review, the author of this piece thinks that means we should never explain that the review is our opinion. He wants us to present it more as fact. True, this is what you’re supposed to do in university essays, because the professors and others judging your tertiary-level work want you to convince them of your argument… but this is not needed in book reviews. We are sharing our opinions and they are going to be subjective and no matter how nice you are about it, someone is going to disagree. We’re not writing book reviews for university grades. We’re writing them for each other. We’re writing them for ourselves. We want our personalities to be in our book reviews because we care about reviewers as people, not just marketing tools.
5 Over-explication of plot
Here’s a good, broad rule of thumb: never describe concretely anything in the plot past the midway point in the book.
Sometimes I go looking for spoilers and I can’t find them because people don’t talk enough about plot.
6 Excessive Length
This list has 13 points and he wants to talk about excessively long reviews? The article is over 3000 words.
7 Nonsensical arguments
This whole piece is a nonsensical argument.
8. Self-flattering literary references
If you want to refer to other works of literature in your review, especially as a comparison, go right ahead. It helps me know how you feel about Twilight, Harry Potter, and The Hunger Games and so on. Hey, if I don’t get your reference, I’ll skip over it. No harm, no foul.
9. Limiting assumptions
One of us here is making assumptions, and it’s not me. The only assumption I ever have is that no one will read my reviews
10 Structural seizures
Structure your review however you like. I’ve gone through several different structures over the years, including subheadings, but I found I prefer to write my reviews like I’m telling a real-life friend all about this book I can’t stop gushing about (whether love/hate/meh). Whatever I think, wherever I think, is what’s written in that structure. It demonstrates what’s at the forefront of my mind and what points I remember to bring up last.
11 Inconsistent pronouns
This one encourages the reviewer to use ‘the reader’ instead of ‘us’ or ‘we’… but we’re readers too, and I feel like this isn’t an appropriate criticism to have. We’re part of the reading experience, and we can write about it as part of a collective if we want to.
12 Lack of criticism
You can be nice and only write nice things. Go right ahead. No one is stopping you.
13 Conflict of interest
This one is the only one I actually do agree with. You shouldn’t review your friend’s book. Or, at the very least, you need to disclaim that you’re friends. I even put disclaimers on my reviews when I don’t know the author but once I read their book, I want to be best friends so I reach out and tweet them.