Essays

Writing the ‘Quintessential’ Book Review: ‘An Irresistible Story’ of Googling

By posted at 8:16 pm on May 29, 2008 4

Book reviews are not the easiest things to write in the world. No, this is not an “oh, me, book blogging is so hard” piece. Though, judging from the New York Times Magazine‘s cover story of Emily Gould last week, that may be appropriate, too. I digress.

The books I read motivate me. If I am moved by one, I am compelled to write and talk about it, making sure I entice as many people as possible to check it out and share the experience. And, vice versa for books I dislike. It is tricky, however, to keep your audience interested without giving away the whole book.

I became very self conscious about my book reviews during journalism school. (Hence, the lack of my verbose dispatches of old.) Picking the right words to describe a style, characters, the story flow and experience proved harder and harder. Escaping cliches, in other words, became more difficult. And that brings me to today’s theme. (This is called burying the lede in journalism.)

Reading about some new releases last week, I noticed recurring themes and started to Google them. The results were entertaining – or, from a creativity point of view, dismal. My methodology is to pick a phrase and put it in quotes (e.g., “lively cast of characters”) and add the word “novel” next to it (as in: “lively cast of characters” novel).

Here are some phrases and searches I found to be especially intriguing and entertaining:

Another test you can run is breaking up and joining phrases:

Yet, there is hope, dear Millions readers:

Google away and enjoy the folly. And, by all means, please speak loudly when we “fall into the same trap” here at the Millions.

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4 Responses to “Writing the ‘Quintessential’ Book Review: ‘An Irresistible Story’ of Googling”

  1. Emily Colette Wilkinson
    at 10:09 pm on May 30, 2008

    I remember a bit in Balzac's Lost Illusions–a professional writer expounding his formula for writing a book review. It does not involve reading the book, but determining one's opinion of the writer (or if the writer was someone to oblige/offend), and then tacking together a few haphazardly selected quotes from the novel using just the sort of phrases you've indexed here.

    Ah, the mechanics of genre.

  2. Hi, I am Chris Balmes.
    at 4:00 pm on May 31, 2008

    Intriguing post. Maybe it would be better if reviews were treated like fiction? Borges's short story "An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain" fits that bill.

    Your post also reminded me of a post on NYTimes 'Papercut' blog, though that took a different approach.

    http://papercuts.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/03/25/seven-deadly-words-of-book-reviewing/

  3. maitresse
    at 12:53 am on June 2, 2008

    One of my favorite formulaic endings: "____ teaches us what it truly means to be ______ (human, a woman, black, American, ettc– fill in the identity that corresponds to the projected market)"

  4. Richard
    at 6:29 am on June 3, 2008

    Go to a newspaper database (or maybe Google — I did this on Nexis years ago B.G.) — & do a search for "book review" & "on steroids" & you will get some funny results — as in "Holden Caulfield on steroids," "Emily Dickinson on steroids," "Oscar Wilde on steroids," "Huck Finn on steroids," etc.

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