No specific way. For example if a review is by someone "like me" and they liked it--that's all I need to know. Or it might describe the book as including something I like. Or it might explain how reading this book would teach me something etc etc
To me a review is either a recommendation or the opposite to a reader. It should thus not nit pick unless to emphasise a point, and cocnentrate specifically on why a reader should or should not pick up this book and have a look. It should take into account differing opinions and include both objective and subjective points, the latter referring to precisely why the reviewer felt this way in accordance with their interests so that a reader of the review can compare this to themselves.
On the other hand, a critique should be personal, and deal point by point in order to help the author improve.
Heh, I was thinking about an answer for this. Frankly it's a little bit 'Oh, come on' when you see the size of the preceding posts.
I've often thought reviewers ought have their licenses withheld until they've demonstrated good critiquing abilities. Anyone unable to prove they understand the valences of a poem etc. ought be precluding from passing judgement on it.
That said, writing a review is an excellent way of articulating one's own opinion to oneself as much as the reader. I've frequently come to change my mind about a novel etc. in the process of writing about it. If nothing else, it's an excellent means of ensuring I've actually thought about what I'm reading.
Jason Guriel's 'negative stance' argument is interesting. I'm pretty uncertain of what I think of it. What reading attitude ought one bring to a text prior to engagement? I worry that 'going negative' is going to adversely effect one's own experience of the text, regardless of the implications for the judgement.
This is probably because 'going negative' implies an inseparable hardening of oneself. The image of the enbittered, cynical critic is an omnipresent cliche in reviewing circles. Who wants to turn into that? Inviting the kind of venom one sees in movie reviews into poetry sounds ridiculous to me.
Contrary to ~ellierany, I believe that the most pleasurable reviews for the reader are those that demonstrate a genuine and well-developed involvement with the text. There's such a surplus of reviewers out there looking for the scathing one liner, it's actually becoming sort of boring. But a carefully considered argument with a lot of heart and soul thrown in? Downright rare, I'd say.
That said, I am myself possessed of unfeasibly high standards regarding what I'd consider worth rating highly. But then, hopefully that's not because I'm cynical but because I've an especially high appreciation of what is worthwhile when it finally comes around. Certainly I don't go in expecting to want to attack whatever is being presented to me.
I'd be wary of distinguishing too clearly between reviews and critiques. If deconstructing the text is the business of a critique and a critique alone, what exactly is left for a review? Ought not the reviewer to include in their writings the processes that have led them to form their judgements? I sort of think a review ought read like a 'lite' version of an academic essay. It's nothing without supporting arguments.
That said, writing a review is an excellent way of articulating one's own opinion to oneself as much as the reader.
That's very true. One of my friends writes about every movie she watches (not on a blog) to rediscover it.
I too am suspicious of the "going negative" stance. It's impossible to be tabula rasa before reading something new. If nothing else, the reading of something new is informed by what has previously been engaged with. Maybe he's suggesting it as a sort of "true test" of what's good: if you're sceptical at first but the work is so good that you still fall in love with it, then it's a masterpiece. Or something.
I believe that the most pleasurable reviews for the reader are those that demonstrate a genuine and well-developed involvement with the text. There's such a surplus of reviewers out there looking for the scathing one liner, it's actually becoming sort of boring. But a carefully considered argument with a lot of heart and soul thrown in? Downright rare, I'd say.
Oh, I agree. Some of these nasty reviewers are very entertaining (I'll admit to having enjoyed some of Logan's reviews; it's pure schadenfreude) but then you feel disgusted with yourself for liking it when you realise he's not saying much of worth.
I'd be wary of distinguishing too clearly between reviews and critiques. If deconstructing the text is the business of a critique and a critique alone, what exactly is left for a review?
True, no distinction should be arrived at too early, but is deconstructing the text the purpose of a critique? I mean, a critique may certainly deconstruct, but it may also just offer a few short suggestions, right?
I sort of think a review ought read like a 'lite' version of an academic essay. It's nothing without supporting arguments.
No one seems to have mentioned it (I didn't read through all the response letters) but a review has several simultaneous purposes to fulfil. Two the the main ones are (a) to inform the audience (as in, whether a book is worth reading or not) and (b) to be entertaining in themselves. The balance of these two purposes depends on the review's context. If you're writing a review of a London play for a national newspaper, for example, entertainment is the far more important of these two purposes, because most people who read the article won't be thinking of seeing the play. The fact of the matter is, that bad reviews tend to be more entertaining than good ones, so a reviewer, particularly of a play, or perhaps of a film which you know your audience is going to go to whatever you say, may well exaggerate a play's negative points in order to wangle an amusing review (and, by association, earn a name for themselves as a notorious, entertaining, even controversial, reviewer). This doesn't mean that you can't remain factual, just that the evaluation you give may not accord with your real opinion of a play/film/book's merit.
Poetry is a smaller world than film etc, and, just as the sort of people reviewing poetry are often poets, the sort of people reading poetry reviews probably also make an effort to read poetry. So in this case the balance between informing and entertaining should be more equal. Nonetheless entertainment is still a factor: I doubt it would have occurred to me to buy the books Guriel reviews. But I read the reviews anyway, because they were entertaining. Gushing reviews often just aren't.
Unlike reviews, neither critical analyses nor critiques are there to be entertaining, and they're written for different audiences as well. You don't distinguish between the two in your post, but I think it's important to do that as well. A critique is written for the writer themselves, not for a reader, and is written with the assumption that the work is in progress and may change; evaluative judgements are therefore made in comparative terms of alternative possibilities within the text. Literary criticism (these days; these distinctions are less well, or differently, defined in the past, and will only be complicated a consideration of that as well) doesn't necessarily set out to evaluate a piece of literature. Usually it sets out to show how that literature works (in terms of structure and/or content and/or relation to context, etc.), and any evaluation is done implicitly as a consequence of showing something the writer attempts but that fails to work. Again, this is for a different audience, and isn't designed to entertain; furthermore, it assumes the reader is familiar with the work, whereas a review generally assumes the reader is not. All may have the same sorts of content about what's going on, what does and doesn't work and why, but each is trying to achieve something different by relating that information, so the way it is related is also different. A bad review of a published book might have equated to an encouraging constructive critique of a work in progress - if the reviewer had seen the work at that stage, and wasn't writing with a public audience in mind.
Quite true. And it has been mentioned. For example, Robert Baird says "Is it too glib to say that what I look for in a good review is what I look for in a lover: that it be smart, witty, and pretty (and in that order)?" and he quotes Marin Amis as well (“The adversaries of good book-reviewing are many and various, but the chief one is seldom mentioned— perhaps because of its ubiquity…The crucial defect is really no different from that of any other kind of writing: it is dullness.” )
The problem that has arisen, however, is that (arguably) the most entertaining reviewer of poetry today, William Logan, is often "wrong", or rather, doesn't adequately justify why he says something is bad. So he's become something of a joke. I don't remember who, but one of those responders described him as one part Simon Cowell and one part Grandpa Simpson. Pretty entertaining, I thought. : P
In general, I agree that reviews need to be entertaining; review writing is a talent that needs to be honed just like any other kind of writing. What interested me about all of this debate is that several people stressed on the pedagogic value of reviews, or rather they wanted reviews to be pedagogical and in that sense closer to criticism. It's not something I'm against necessarily, but will it make reviews too academic?
You don't distinguish between the two in your post, but I think it's important to do that as well.
I didn't explain the distinction, no, but I didn't conflate the two either. I hope that's clear.
I like your explanation of the differences between critique and lit crit, but I wonder, about the not designed to entertain part. Criticism may not have as its purpose (or one of its purposes) to entertain, but the best criticism is usually pleasurable to the reader. In that sense, it is entertaining.
but the best criticism is usually pleasurable to the reader. In that sense, it is entertaining.
I agree, but I couldn't be bothered to mention it : P. I'm definitely a fan of essay-embedded lit crit jokes. Not least because if a critic is making jokes it's (paradoxically) both a sign that they don't think too much of themselves, but also that they're secure enough in their powers as critic that they don't think a joke will undermine it (fortunately they tend to be right; or perhaps the technique is so effective that I am consistently fooled by it. Who knows?)