Writing a Review when the Book Puts No Step in Your Groove
Janet Maslin reviews The Help in a two-sided, thoughtful assessment. She calls the novel "problematic, but ultimately winning," and always gives support for her opinions. When she says that the author, Kathryn Stocket "renders black maids' voices in thick, dated dialect," she gives an example from the book that will make the review's reader wince in understanding ("Law have mercy, I reckon I'm on do it."). Maslin's review seems more reliable in its ability to list pros and cons of the work without ever being overly critical or gushingly praising. Had the Maslin just torn apart Stocket's work, I would have been less likely to take the review seriously. As Dr. Jerz said, it is very easy to climb on a pedestal and criticize. Maslin doesn't do that, she is clear about what she perceives as the book's flaws, but is also quick to temper her review with commendation.
I wrote my own review on a book that I was, to borrow a term from The Simpsons, rather "meh" about. The book was OK. It was a quick read for me, but much of that was due to the predictability of the plot (up until the end, which threw me, I'll admit), and the simplicity of the characterization. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the book; it was relaxing, not mentally taxing (oh, look at me with the internal rhyming), and tied up loose ends neatly. Writing the review was difficult for me, because I felt like I lost sight of my purpose. Was I trying to convince someone to read this book? At first I thought that was the purpose of a review, but what about all the "bad" reviews out there? Am I just summarizing the characters and events in the book? Dr. Jerz gave us a clear answer of "no" to that. So, I'm telling people what I thought of the book? Well, after years of being immersed in the knowledge that "I liked it" or "I didn't like it" are not appropriate reactions, where does one start? And if I didn't have any passionate connection or deep hatred for the book afterwards, would the person who read my review be left with similar feelings of "meh"? That's certainly not a reaction I want anyone to have after reading something I've written. Did anyone else have the same type of problems when writing their reviews?
In Karyssa's entry on the same subject, she provides links to tutorials about review-writing, and examines the reasons for certain techniques in reviews.