It’s kind of a puzzle. How does a book reviewer review a how to book on book reviewing? More than other reviews, the reader may judge the book solely by the review itself. After all, since the reviewer just got done reading about writing book reviews doesn’t the quality of the review reflect the value of the book?
Underlying that question is the insurmountable obstacle faced by Mayra Calvani and Anne K. Edwards in their The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing. Any user’s manual can tell you the steps involved in an art, craft or hobby. Yet the end result ultimately hinges on how skillfully the tools are used, something beyond the control of the author of the user’s manual. That said, Calvani (a Blogcritics contributor who has been offering a series of interviews this month with reviewers and review editors) and Edwards provide a worthwhile reference and resource tool for those interested in book reviewing.
The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing is appropriately titled. As Calvani and Edwards observe throughout the book, reviewing can be a slippery slope. A desire to please or to remain on a publicist’s or publisher’s mailing list are just a few of the items that can impact the objectivity of any review. And Calvani and Edwards stress that there’s only one way off that slope: honesty.
This theme is also reflected in the very first paragraph of the section of the book captioned “How to Write a Book Review.” It says simply, “First, read the book.” Particularly with the proliferation of blog and internet-based reviews, there are a number of reviews that repeat verbatim or with slight variation the publicity material sent out with the book. It seems to reflect an ethic, to use the term lightly, that getting a free book is more important than being honest with the reader of the review.
One of the best aspects of The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing is the emphasis on honesty and ethics in various issues that book reviewers can face. Yet that is far from all that Calvani and Edwards provide. The basics are there. Their five keys to book reviewing point out the crucial difference between bias and objectivity while they also outline the key components of critical reading and analysis. To the extent the book attempts to “teach” book reviewing, their use of sample reviews is a laudable approach, particularly when those samples are then compared to actually published reviews. They touch briefly on the print versus blogging review dust up and their extensive list of resources for getting reviews published may alone be worth the price of admission.
The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing may be a near-essential tool for someone thinking about or just starting to review books. Yet it can also serve as a handy reference and reminder for already published reviewers. As with all user’s manuals, though, the ultimate worth of book and the tools and tips it provides will hinge on the knowledge, skills and talents of the individual user.