Launched in 1998, Mosaic Literary Magazine is a quarterly print publication exploring the literary landscapes of Black and Latino writers. Each issue contains an interesting blend of essays, profiles, and reviews. Its publisher, Ron Kavanaugh, is a former director of the Bronx Writers Center, of Marketing and Public Programs at Bronx Museum of the Arts, and founder of MosaicBooks.com, a site dedicated to African-American literature on the internet. Though Kavanaugh prefers to assign reviews, freelance reviews are also considered and writers are paid an honorarium and contributor copies. Visit the site for submission guidelines.
Thanks for being here today, Ron. What do you look for in a book review?
The review should summarize the book — characters, locations, et. al. — without giving away the plot. It should refer to pivotal touchstones on which the book may turn or rely. But honesty is paramount. The review should refer to critical points as writing style — did the writer hit his or her intended mark? — or literary influences that may have contributed to style or storyline. The review should be direct without being either overly harsh or gushing praise.
What are the most common mistakes amateur reviewers make?
Too much enthusiasm, to the point of the review seeming to be an advertisement. Also, assuming the reader of the review has prior knowledge of the book and not explaining the book well enough for the reader to care about the book and therefore the review.
Do you think there is much value in being unkind but truthful when a book really stinks?
Sure. Some authors should never be published and I think it's a reviewer's responsibility to critique to that extent. Assuming that everything: publisher, writer, reviewer, bookseller, and and reader are connected then not to review books honestly is to perpetuate a bad writer's career, lessening the chances that a decent writer may be published instead.
Do you take into consideration the feelings of an author when you review or do you refuse to be swayed by them?
The African-American literary community is quite small and incestuous so I often meet writers and explain that we aim for honesty above all else. Oddly, it's the bad writers that hold reviews in the highest esteem.