Seems that book reviewing “rules” and ideas are showing up in a variety of blog posts recently. Last weekend, Author Jeff VanderMeer, who also occasionally reviews books, weighed in with his thoughts on book reviewing as a whole (and lists some of the posts that prompted his thoughts). He lists eight things he tries to do in connection with any review.
I don’t know that I’ve ever articulated any set of rules myself. And I’ll admit there may be one or two times I’ve violated his sixth principle, sarcastic asides. None come to mind but the potential is there and I’ll let others judge. That said, I think the real meat of VanderMeer’s post isn’t necessarily in the enumerated items. Rather, it’s this paragraph from “a few other things” he tries to keep in mind:
I always try to tell the truth as I see it, regardless of how others may perceive me or the review as a result. Admittedly, there are good reasons sometimes for revealing the truth gradually, or allowing the reader of the review to do some work in interpretation, but you must tell the truth.
I’m certainly not picking nits with whether this should have been an enumerated item or not. I just think that’s perhaps rule number one when it comes to reviews — or anything else a person publishes or posts (excluding satire or the like).
And I also think he’s right on the mark in noting that “most of it has to do with being fair, honest, and forthright.”
I have long felt that any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae or a banana split.
Kurt Vonnegut, NYT Book Review, Jan. 6, 1985