Let’s talk about bad book reviews. And I don’t mean book reviews in which the books get trashed and the author is curled up in a corner crying. Let’s face it, some books suck, and those authors have it coming.
No, I am talking about when the reviews themselves are ridiculously awful. Some publications consistently have ridiculously over the top reviews. I subscribe to a mailing list that sends me one review a day culled from various sources. When I see that they have sent me a review from Rain Taxi I automatically delete it, because I know the odds of me actually learning anything about the book being reviewed are slim to none. This is bad and wrong.
If I have read through your excessively long review, and come out with no idea what the book is about, but a clear idea that you are a pompous idiot, the review was a failure.
If, instead of being concise and honest, you have danced around the actual topic of the book for five paragraphs and leave me thinking “well, the book sounds kind of interesting” only to find that when I read the book, what you meant by “an intense exploration of X” you meant “five hundred dull as dirty pages on X”? Your review has failed.
If your review meanders through an entire genre and I give up before you even get to the part where you talk about the book you are supposedly reviewing, if you ever do get there, your review has failed.
If you use some over the top language that I am unable to decide if you are saying the book is good or bad (This book was a visceral experience. Like a punch to the stomach. Like seeing your first love walk by with another woman while you sip an espresso in a small café in Paris.) your review has failed. I don’t care if it made you think of the guy you had a crush on in high school, because that doesn’t tell me anything about the book. For all I know, thinking about that guy fills you with a sense of dread and nausea and what you are really telling me is that this book is very, very bad. JUST SAY THAT THE BOOK IS VERY, VERY BAD.
Be blunt! Be honest! Be concise! Be realistic about the fact that people are reading these book reviews because they want to know about the books not because they want to know what ACT words you can still remember. So next time, professional reviewers, when you sit down at your computer, please stick your florid, overwrought prose where the sun don’t shine, and just let me know if I need to tell the author to do the same.