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What Book Review language “Really” means

February 28, 2009

Found this via

Here is a quick guide for translating this review-speak into actual critique, with advice from authors, editors and agents on how to fix these mistakes and make your book more saleable.

Decoding stock phrases like “an interesting beginning” (you’re pushing the envelope, not sure we like it and/or too much exposition, bucko) “elaborate, emotional prose” (“some authors seemed to have never met an adjective they didn’t love”) makes for a fun read for a reviewer- and maybe a helpful guide to what other reviewers are doing.

I know that I have certain words and phrases I return to, but they aren’t necessarily on mediabistro’s list:

“vivid” “lyrical prose”  “elegant” – I really really liked it.

“savor” “evocative”- Great, possibly foodie writing.  I kind of wanted to lick the pages, actually.   Or I was jealous that I hadn’t written those sentences.  “lyrical” and “elegant” also may apply here.

“some readers might enjoy”- but it’s not my style, thanks.

“the prose is sometimes/often dry,”- someone confused informative writing with bloodless academia, lost me utterly even though the topic was fascinating.  Whoever wrote this should hire John McPhee or Diane Ackerman as ghostwriters.

“flawed but endearing characters,”- I have a crush on at least one of them, probably the befuddled man with the wittiest dialogue.

“whimsy.”  If I’m going to read romance, it had better have a sense of humor!  Goofy, lighthearted romance that makes me giggle.

“banter” “biting humor.”- the sweet spot I have for Beatrice and Benedick in “Much Ado About Nothing,” or Debbie and Martin in “Grosse Point Blank.”

“cloying.”  The romance took itself way too seriously.  I had to watch “Die Hard” and suck on a lemon just to feel normal again afterward.

“suspenseful” “gripping” “a real page-turner,”- I kind of hate myself for defaulting to these, but if the mystery’s so good I miss my subway stop/bedtime/a phone call or two, because I want to know what’s coming next… I’m not sure what other words to use to describe. There are really only a few things better than a mystery that good.

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