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Reviewer jargon

April 11, 2010

Reading Michelle Kerns, Book Examiner, keeps me honest. Or so I tell myself. She’s very funny, especially on the subject of book reviewer cliches. And she’s so very right.

I am working my way through a pile of YA books… and kicking myself mentally for having sent my book review editor a column Michelle wrote about book reviewer cliches in newspapers.

What was I thinking? Now, more than ever, I’m fretting over the words I use too often. What, other than the word “engrossing” do you use for the fact that you forgot the characters weren’t real? When every word counts, as it does in ink and paper journalism these days. In my defense, I haven’t used the word luminous yet.

Clichés are leeches. They drain the blood out of everything a reviewer is trying to say, blood that would be better off pumped straight from the writer’s carotid artery onto the page (see Book reviewing as a blood sport for more bloody details). 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 as to which scenario is more terrifying.

Drat. I’m learning about food clichés too, in my food journalism class. This week’s assignment: write a review. Try not to use the words “tasty” or “delicious.” (Or, for beer reviewers- let’s try to move beyond “crisp” versus “sweet” maybe? Because hoppy and malty kind of have to stick around.)

With word counts at a premium, how the heck do you say what needs saying without having to use too many words to explain what you uniquely mean? Part of me is worried about writing accurate descriptions of certain taste experiences. I wonder how many times I can claim that some stunningly delicious morsel ricocheted from my taste buds to my spine before some reader or editor recommends that I write my next review from a padded cell. Delicious food is a full-contact experience for me- and I’m equally exuberant about high end sushi, a piece of dark chocolate, good beer, or sometimes even bar food. I wonder if I’m burning reviews out with all that enthusiasm- or making people feel cynical. “Oh there she goes with the exclamation points again.”  Books too- I need other ways to say how completely impressed I am by a good story, how fully the outside world goes away and I get involved in the characters.

I need to learn new adjectives. Or dig around til I use new ones. Also, no more reading Michelle til after I file.

Time to go read more engrossing teen novels with fully realized, engaging characters and surprising plot twists.

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