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:
- “captures the very essence of” novel: But of course, which novel doesn’t capture the essence of something or another? From James Bond to Jane Eyre and Fight Club, your quintessential book reviewer phrase.
- “an irresistible story” novel: Apply to any novel or biography. Preferably, use the phrase before the preposition “of” followed by a noun or description. Examples: an irresistible story of love, an irresistible story of two worlds, an irresistible story of justice.
- “lively cast of characters” novel: From the NYT to Amazon, blogs and publishers, this seems to be a phrase that all reviewers fall for at one point or another.
- “inner circle” memoir: Mostly for policy wonks, but applies to rock bands too.
- “washington insider” novel (or memoir): Same as above; applies to John Grisham novels too.
- “not your typical diet book”: Or is it? It appears that all your diet books are not your typical diet book.
- “master of suspense” novel: Too many chiefs, not enough warriors? Anyone?
- “emotionally charged novel”: Watch out, the next book might just “push you over the edge.” (And this is where I fall in the fold.)
- “timeless classic” novel: Classic or not, there is plenty of timelessness.
- “the quintessential novel”: Precedes descriptions like “the Lost Generation” (Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises), post-World War II New Orleans (John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces) and of the Jazz Age/about the American Dream (F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby), among others.
Another test you can run is breaking up and joining phrases:
- “most gifted storytellers” novel: Care to guess how many gifted storytellers there are?
- “most innovative storytellers” novel: And innovative ones?
- “most innovative and gifted storytellers” novel: But combine the two, and you get Dean Koontz, the only innovative and gifted storyteller.
Yet, there is hope, dear Millions readers:
- “combustive movements”: Seems to apply only to Hannah Arendt’s On Revolution – which, by the way, is a great discourse on “turbulent politics.” (I succumb, once again.)
- “masterpiece in the art of fiction”: Or should we say art of magical realism? Presenting: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Google away and enjoy the folly. And, by all means, please speak loudly when we “fall into the same trap” here at the Millions.