Fuse #8

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

What makes a good review?

Haven't a clue myself but it's a legitimate question. One answer comes from author Sam Swope. Here's his opinion:

"Interesting perspective, Kathleen. I believe that what Judith and
others have objected to in Kirkus (or anywhere, for that matter) are
not so much negative reviews as just plain nasty, ad hominen reviews.
I can understand that it wouldn't matter to you who wrote the review,
but June's question is a good one: WHY NOT? Where's the harm?

On the subject of reviewing itself, it's a devilishly hard business.
You've been asked for your opinion, but you have to approach the task
with humility, knowing no one has a lock on the Truth of the matter.
I've never reviewed for Kirkus, but I have reviewed for The New York
Times, which gives you more space, but it's still challenging.

There are four tasks in reviewing.

First, you must tell what the book is about in such a way that the
reader gets something of its flavor.

Second, you have to give an honest opinion and defend it. If your
opinion is negative, that responsibility is even greater -- it's not
enough to simply say, I hated this book or This is a terrible book. By
explaining your opinion, the reader (and the author) can understand
where you're coming from and put your opinion in context. Of course
you want to be fair and respectful to the author, but your main
obligation is to the readers of the review and by extension, to

Third, you also want to try to speak to something larger than the book
at hand -- for example, where the book fits into children's literature
at large, or what it says about our culture, or what the book might
suggest about childhood. This is tricky, given space limitations, but
it's not impossible.Sometimes you can do it in a sentence or two. But
it's quite hard sometimes to come up with that larger thought.

Last but not least, the thing has to be entertainingly written. This
is always HARD VERY HARD. A single review usually takes me (at least)
a week to write."


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