Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Blogger Tip #1: John Updike's Rules for Writing Reviews

The From Picked-up Pieces (1975):
1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.
2. Give him enough direct quotation — at least one extended passage — of the book’s prose so the review’s reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste.
 
3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy pr├ęcis [a summary or abridgement]. 
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.) 


5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author’s ouevre [complete works] or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it’s his and not yours? 
To these concrete five might be added a vaguer sixth, having to do with maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. 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. Never, never (John Aldridge, Norman Podhoretz) try to put the author “in his place,” making him a pawn in a contest with other reviewers. Review the book, not the reputation. Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys in reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end.
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Let's discuss in the comments - I feel like I suddenly have guidelines to reviews, and I am going to follow these simple ones! My recent review of GIants Beware! started incorporating a few of these (I used the blurb, a Goodreads rating, and directly quoted the author). Thanks to Shannon @ Giraffe Days for the post .
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6 comments:

  1. He wrote something on how to review? I had no idea. I never had any guidelines before.

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  2. Also, I just realized you are Indian, too. Not a lot of Indian book bloggers out there!

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  3. @Sonia - Yay!! :)

    These guidelines are pretty good tho - I loved this line in particular:
    " 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."

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    Replies
    1. It's good advice. People should leave their prejudices behind when they review.

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  4. Oh wow, this is what I've been begging for. I love the idea of using quotes and paragraphs from the book to solidify a claim you make about the book. I've always tried to ignore the reputation of a book, but sometimes it still influences me and I end up disliking a book whereas I might have liked it otherwise! Thanks for sharing!
    Juli

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  5. I think this is key: "do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt." I see people doing that a lot these days. I try to keep it in mind, to focus on what I think they set out to say, and how well they said it, not on something I wish they'd done!

    They're re-releasing this book (it's been out of print for a while) and I've got a copy on pre-order. Still haven't read any of the Irving books on my shelves but he's always seemed like a writer I'd love to read.

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Thank you for the comment! I will always reply to each comment, and if you leave a link, comment on your site as well.

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