The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing by Mayra Calvani and Anne K. Edwards

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Title: The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing
Authors: Mayra Calvani and Anne K. Edwards
Genre: Nonfiction
Publisher: Twilight Times Books, 2008
Source: Personal copy

This little title popped out at me after seeing it on several people's blogs. I thought to myself, I am new to this book blogging business. I am sure I could use a few tips for improving my review writing. When I saw it was about $4 for my Kindle, I couldn't pass it up. Over the past several weeks I have read little sections of it at a time, trying to implement improvements in my review writing. (Did it work? I'm not sure. I think I write much better reviews when I am not focusing so hard on writing a great review. If I focus on the writing itself rather than fitting the label of great, things flow much more easily).

I've decided for this post I won't "review" this book per se - it is far too intimidating to review a book on book reviews! Instead, I would like to evaluate its usefulness for me as a book blogger.

Calvani and Edward's book seems to be mainly targeted toward those who are writing reviews in the attempt to get published. While there are comments and a few sections directed specifically at bloggers, for the most part our particular group is not the main focus. The book gave some templates for writing a well planned review - a hook at the beginning, summary, quotes perhaps if you want an in-depth review, reasons certain aspects of the book were enjoyable (or not). There were many facts describing the types of reviews certain publications might be looking for, whether they want analysis or brevity, pre-publication or post-publication, etc. While this information was useful, I do think there is a higher degree of freedom in the blogging world. In my case at least, I am not necessarily seeking to be famous. The idea of writing book reviews for the sake of writing a review and being published never occurred to me before I started blogging (although I am going to try and submit some reviews to a publication this year, which I am sure will require a slightly different approach to writing than this blog). I started blogging because I wanted to talk about books. I wanted to share my thoughts and personal experiences with books, as well as evaluating what I did and did not like about them. The personal introspections I sometimes bring to my posts would obviously not be appropriate in a publication like The New York Times. For that reason, my blog is subtitled "Reviews and Reflections," not just "Reviews."

So in that way, the book was not hugely useful to me. I am essentially writing my reviews for my own personal enjoyment (while hoping it provides a little to my readers as well). However, the book did bring a few different aspects of review-writing in general to my attention that enhanced the learning experience. I think one of the most important lessons shared is to remember the author. Sometimes a snarky review seems called for, and I know I have given in to the urge more than once. However, I understand the trauma of having a story into which you poured your blood, sweat and tears rejected. I don't think that reviewers need to spoon feed faint praise for books they didn't enjoy. However, I do think there is a difference in being harsh and vindictive rather than honestly and fairly discussing aspects of the work that were subpar. The book also reiterates multiple times the various marks of the amateur. While I actually am an amateur, I still like to think that I can run a dignified and respectable blog. I appreciated the little hints of what to do in order to avoid appearing like an amateur, although there were a few I disagreed with, mainly because I think as bloggers we have a little more freedom to express ourselves (while still maintaining fairness to the author and the book).

Overall this was an interesting read with some good insights into book reviewing. I learned some useful tips that I have implemented into my own writing. However, like any book trying to teach a skill, it proclaims that its way is the best way, and I thought several of the recommendations were not necessarily the best way to write a review or applicable to bloggers. With that said, these are published authors, and I am a lowly little blogger scribbling out her thoughts on the couch in her pajamas (although published authors also spend time in their pajamas, I hear). I found some suggestions to be helpful, but this hasn't become my book review bible.


  1. I felt the same way about this book. It took me some reflection for me to get the most out of it, and ultimately it left me wanting something that considered book blogs a little bit more.

  2. Thanks for this - I had been considering this book, but wasn't really sure if it was something for me - as I am also not looking to become a published professional reviewer.

  3. I'm the same - my reviews are much better when I'm not focusing too much on how I'm writing and just 'going with the flow'. If a book review is taking a long time to write, it's usually a sign that it's not working out.

  4. This sounds like an interesting read. I know that it is definitely different for bloggers who want to seem professional and personal at the same time ... sometimes more to one side depending on the blogger. Still, I find myself sometimes wishing I had more of a kind of template for how to write reviews. I am always looking for ways to improve my writing and I'm thinking that this might be a useful tool for me. I'll definitely add this book to my list of blogging tools. Thanks for the review.


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