Thursday, April 8, 2010

Reviewing the Reviewers

Michelle Kerns is my favorite literary columnist right now. (I can be fickle. Susan Schorn was my favorite earlier today.)

Kerns already called out bad book reviewers by creating a bingo board from their clichés. Now, she’s taking the next logical step.

She plans to monitor 20 outlets that review books throughout the year and tabulate how many clichés they use. She will also record their cliché density by graphing how many they use per 100 words.

Then, she’s going to release her results at the beginning of each month; so we, the readers, can see which publications are doing their job and which are cobbling together clichés into a facsimile of an actual review.

In her words:

Clichés are leeches. They drain the blood out of everything a reviewer is trying to say ... Burn those leeches off, baby, and you’ll find you’re left with something worth saying. Or, perhaps, you’ll find you have nothing to say whatsoever. Sometimes, it’s a toss-up as to which scenario is more terrifying.

The best part is Kerns is not afraid to name names, both good and bad. She calls out a Publishers Weekly review that forces 10 clichés into 218 words and a New York Times critic who needs to stop “limning.” (Full disclosure: I have used the word “limn” in a book review. I was young. I didn’t know any better.)

Kerns also compliments reviewers who avoid clichés. She especially praises NYT critics Janet Maslin and Dwight Garner. About Garner, she says, “His reviews are so good — and so cliché-free — I’m not entirely certain that he is mortal. Hey, Mr. Zeus, come on down and give me a visit.”

(I saw Clash of the Titans Tuesday. Everyone who invokes Zeus in that movie either gets god-raped or smited. Kerns may want to rethink her request.)

I will be following (and updating you) on Kerns’s progress. If this gets enough attention from readers and critics, Kerns could change the way people approach literary critiques.

(My only knock on Kerns is she makes an unnecessary reference to the Ides of March in her lede. Isn’t that the same sort of lazy writing she is fighting against?)

Speaking of bad book reviews, amateur critics complain about literary classics on Amazon!

My favorite is an anonymous poster’s take on Jane Eyre:

Endless, pointless description. DESCRIPTION, DESCRIPTION, DESCRIPTION!!!

To be fair, that’s not too different from my take on Moby Dick.

-Jason Lea,

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Blogger Seth said...

Here, I believe, is the review that immediately warns the reader, "don't listen to this reviewer!"

"This book is 3 words over and over again: MY LIFE IS BAD."

April 8, 2010 at 1:46 PM 

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