this piece in the Examiner identifying the 20 most annoying book review cliches. Because I am often guilty of several, it made me laugh. But it also got me thinking about my own pet peeves when reading reviews — and as an obssessive-compulsive "book comparison shopper" I read a TON of reviews.
So what follows is a list of "sins" I've noticed, mostly from the 100+ amateur reviewers on my Google Reader feed, and explanations of why I consider them to be no-nos. I hope you won't take this personally if you've committed these sins, as I don't have any particular reviewer, blogger, friend or family member in mind in pointing these out. But since today is Monday, and I'm already draggin' ass, what better time for a good, 'ole fashioned book-related vent?
1. "I really wanted to like this book, but I didn't." — This one always cracks me up. Really? You wanted to like it? Thanks, Captain Obvious. If you read a book hoping to hate it, well, you're not reading for the right reasons. Sure, it's fine if you didn't like a novel, but I already know you wanted to like it. Why else would you have picked it up? My guess is that reviewers mean this as a sort of backwards way of trying to rationalize that the time they spent with a book wasn't wasted. Instead, they've wasted their readers'.
3. "I don't want to say too much about the plot..." — Sometimes, this can work. I did this in my review of The Art of Racing in the Rain. But I still didn't feel good about it. Really, this tactic conveys to me a sense that the reviewer is just being lazy; that he or she isn't willing to craft a review that teases out what a potential reader needs to know about the plot, its themes and characters, without giving away too much. There are ways to do that. It just requires a little work.
4. Confusing empathy and sympathy — I realize this is quite nit-picky, but when I see this in a review — "I could really empathize with the characters," when it's pretty clear the reviewer means sympathize — it's as much as a turn-off as if s/he'd written "your" when s/he meant "you're." Back in March, I wrote a post about the difference between empathy and sympathy. They are certainly not synonymous as, sadly, many people these days assume. As one commenter said, "There is after all a reason why the two words exist, why they mean something different and to use an excuse of semantics is to mask one's ignorance and lack of knowledge in regards to language."
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, but I had to begrudgingly admit that others probably would find it brilliant. Same thing with Richard Power's Generosity: An Enhancement. I realize this is slightly counter-intuitive, because your opinion of a book is the cornerstone of the review. But I'd still maintain that a reviewer telling me that s/he may not have enjoyed it, but other readers might because X, Y and Z is far superior to simply dismissing a book because it wasn't to your taste or because you didn't "connect" with it. That sort of implies that you think a writer sat down to write a book only to please you. And that's just simple-minded, isn't it?
So, there you have it. What are your reviewer pet peeves? Take issue with any of these?