2 thoughts on “Is it possible to make our book reviews both critical and generous? How do we balance the different readers’ needs?

  1. Talia Schaffer Post author

    Comment from Lauren Goodlad:

    I look forward to reading what emerges on this website very much: it’s a great project. I am wondering if folks have thoughts on best practices for book reviewing. I’ve noticed a surprising number of book reviews that do not give basic information about the book– I mean the kind of information that, however briefly, gives readers the sense of a book’s range of chapters. Perhaps others will disagree, but to my mind such info should be part of any full-length single or double book review (an review essay tackling multiple books is of course quite different). For example, I’ve seen reviews that will, say, drill down into two chapters on, say, George Eliot and Amy Levy, without even mentioning that the book features two other chapters on Thackeray and Margaret Oliphant as well as a chapter-length theoretical discussion of Ranciere.

    I understand that this kind of review might emerge with the very best of ethical intentions–simply b/c the reviewer does not recognize any obligation even to acknowledge the existence of those chapters due to inexperience or a different notion of what a review ought to do. But it sometimes conveys the sense, intentionally or not, that the reviewer hasn’t actually read the entire book or even has decided to take up only those chapters that are of interest.

    In any case,I would love to see a discussion on best practices for the book review.

  2. Talia Schaffer

    Patrick Maley posted a tip for teaching on Twitter, but it is also a good technique for book reviews. Phrase praise personally, critiques abstractly:


    Hey here’s a grading technique I like that maybe you want to try:

    Use ‘you’ to point out strength: “You offer a great reading of this scene.”

    Use ‘the paper’ to point out weakness: “The paper needs stronger evidence.”

    This tries to counter students feeling attacked by critique


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