Fight Soba By Exercising Freedom of Speech–write reviews of books!

Silence is a form expression, expression of protest. I applaud WordPress and Google for blacking out their main pages today in protest of Sopa. My form of protesting Sopa is the reverse, I am speaking out, speaking out to encourage those who love written speech to exercise their freedom of speech by doing what Sopa would stop, the productive sharing of thoughts on books. Reviewers are crucial to authors for helping to “get the word out” about books, meaning to authors getting the good word out. I would like to invite anyone to add a puff-piece review of a book in the comments section of my blogs. In keeping with my aged mother’s wisdom of “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” I won’t post bad reviews. If you have a well thought out essay or argued review, email me at Cynthia at oestarapublishing dot com, with the review in the body of your email. If your essay or argued review fits the critera below, I’ll be happy to post it as a blog with your by-line and a link to your web page.

There are basically three types of common review formulas as well as particular reviewers’ own review formulas. They are puff pieces, argued reviews; and essay reviews. Puff piece reviews are very short, only two or three short paragraphs. Puff pieces are the short, bare-bones type of review that give a simple description of the book and then usually an effusive endorsement of the book; thus, they consist of a description and an adulation. The description portion tends to be a paragraph or two and then the third paragraph is devoted to a gushing adulation of the book. A puff piece can be just one paragraph comprised of description and adulation. I’ve read puff pieces which were just three sentences–the first two sentences the description and the third sentence the adulation. Some reviewers like to give a little more depth and so use more than three paragraphs, but the format is the same. The bulk of the review is a straightforward description of the book with the final paragraphs praising it. Many high-caliber reviewers follow this format, with the final paragraph of adulation making specific mention of characters or scenes the reviewer enjoyed most. A variation of the formula is that the reviewer states in the first sentence what the reviewer’s opinion of the book is, then gives a description, and finishes with a forceful statement of the reviewer’s opinion of the book. The puff piece is not always a mindless, silly gushing. Stodgy professors, famous authors, and respected reviewers all write puff-pieces.

Essay reviews tend to be four lengthy paragraphs or even longer. In the essay review, the reviewer brings in information other than a description of the book and how good it is. For fiction books, this information tends to be some biographical information about the author to say what of the author’s personal life influenced the author’s writing of the book. Literary trends, schools, or devices that the author uses or follows are also often mentioned by the reviewer to place the book in a literary context. For non-fiction books, the reviewer will touch on additional information of the book’s topic—science, history, psychology, what-have-you—and the reviewer does so for a variety of purposes. Sometimes the information given by the reviewer is to help the reader understand the context of the book. Also the information is given as a reason for the reviewer’s negative or positive evaluation of the book. For instance, the author includes this information, which is good; or the author includes this information which is bad because it makes the book a rehash of what is known; or the author touches on this information as a springboard into new and interesting ideas. Sometimes the reviewer gives the information as a sort of conversation with the book. As in, the book mentions this which has to do with all these other things the reviewer knows (and tells the reader about!). By relating the reviewer’s own experience or knowledge of the subject in the context of what the book discusses, the reviewer shows the book is engaging. Essay reviews are usually a delight to read because the reviewer applies her or his own knowledge to the task in the way of an informed conversation. I love to hear about the connections the reviewer finds between her own experience and knowledge and that of the author. A really knowledgeable reviewer can take a point or detail an author has given and expound upon it, making the book and the review very interesting reading. As a reader, my favorite review to read is raves of my novels—ah well, yeah, but I meant to say my favorite reviews to read are essay reviews by reviewers letting us listen in on the “conversation” between the reviewer and the author.

In argued reviews reviewers give their reasons, supported with concrete examples from the book reviewed, of why the book is good or not. Argued reviews tend to be lengthy, five to eight paragraphs. When composing an argued review for non-fiction books, reviewers mention the salient points of the book in the order the book mentions them as well as quoting key lines from the book. For fiction books, reviewers evaluate how well they liked the characters, discuss the exciting or dull moments, and also mention any instance of a turn of phrase that particularly appealed to or displeased them. For each element of the book mentioned, a quotation is given. One of the most important aspects of an argued review is that it praises or disputes the book’s over-all message. What the book is telling readers can be submerged in facts and figures, in the case of non-fiction books, or submerged in great characters and an exciting plot, in the case of fiction. Reviewers do a great service when they focus on the hidden, disguised, or expertly subtle messages of books so that readers can take part in thinking about books as message bearers.


About Cynthia Clay

I was judged to be a computer program on Shakespeare at the First Loebner Prize Competition of The Turing Test—a truly science fictional experience. I'm an author who likes to write sf, fantasy, updated versions of old myths.
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