Thursday, 15 June 2006

John Updike's Rules of Reviewing.

So you want to review a book? Perhaps you could follow John Updike's pointers (first published over 30 years ago):
1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.

4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending. (How astounded and indignant was I, when innocent, to find reviewers blabbing, and with the sublime inaccuracy of drunken lords reporting on a peasants' revolt, all the turns of my suspenseful and surpriseful narrative! Most ironically, the only readers who approach a book as the author intends, unpolluted by pre-knowledge of the plot, are the detested reviewers themselves. And then, years later, the blessed fool who picks the volume at random from a library shelf.)
Check out the the whole list of rules at Critical Mass.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for pointing the way to this, Ted! I need this advice! I jumped into doing it without knowing the rules sof the game and sort of worked them out from thinking about what I liked and disliked in other reviews. I agree about the regurgitated plot - and have you noticed how many reviewers here do just that? I don't read reviews because i don't want to know what's going to happen!

    This bit from the original post struck home:

    Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in an idealogical battle, a corrections officer of any kind.

    my problem is that friends are always asking me to review their books. if i don't do it, will the book get reviewed at all? if i do do it and am honest, will they speak to me again???

    Ted, have you thought of reviewing? There are plenty of opportunities if you'd like to try it. (And seeing how well you write about things bookish here, i think you should give it a go.)

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  2. Glad you liked the link, Sharon! As a matter of fact, I HAVE noticed some reviews revealing the plot of the book... (the fan reviews on Amazon are mostly guilty of this) and I find that really annoying, because I just want to know if they think the book is good or not!

    I have thought of reviewing some books and posting them up on this blog, but I would have to finish reading some first... and that's going to be tough, because I have this policy of reading only ONE book at a time, and my current read happens to be Midnight's Children which is taking me forever to finish! (I'm lovin' it tho. There! My review.)

    I might change my mind though, and start reading multiple books at once. I'm playing with the idea of reading this Naguib Mahfouz book I have and reviewing that once I've finished it.

    Also thinking of getting Xeus's Dark City and reviewing that, but I'm afraid if I don't like it, I might write something that offends Lynette. I guess I can understand the sentiment that you shouldn't review your friends's work :D

    But I suppose if I had friends who asked me to review their work, I would first ask them to be totally open to criticism. Authors have to learn to take the heat, even from friends. But since I don't have any friends asking me to review their work, I don't have to worry about that problem... tee hee!

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  3. ted - read 'midnight's children' slowly because it is such an important book and becasue it shaped so much of what came after - i'd call it a touchstone (and it took me ages too and at one point i had to skip a bit to get restarted again)

    if you feel comfortable reading one book at a time, just do it that way ... don't let me or anyone else put pressure on you, just enjoy yourself ...

    as it said in that article (in better words) - don't review books in a genre you don't sympathise with

    if you do review lynette's book just remember what kind of fiction she's writing (horror, suspense, popular) and measure her against that and not against 'midnight's children'!!!

    a couple of times i was critical but fair about the books i reviewed for the star but the authors were happy and felt i was fair ... i was so relieved! and the one time i was on the recieving end of a review (for the silverfish collection i edited) i actually thought the criticism was generally justified and cleverly written

    but no-one likes a reviewer who is trying to score points for themself!

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