Saturday, December 10, 2011

Destroy the Rules!


John Updike once wrote six rules for book reviewing, which have been followed faithfully by Loyalist members of the literary status quo:

1.) Understand what the author tried to do.
2.) Use enough direct quotations.
3.) Confirm your description of the book with quotations.
4.) Go easy on plot summary.
5.) Cite a successful example of a book (author's or other). "Try to understand the failure. Sure it's his and not yours?"
6.) "Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition; an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in an ideological battle . . . Review the book, not the reputation."
John Updike was of course himself a caretaker of a tradition, what might be called acceptable "literary" writing, best represented by the refined tastes of The New Yorker magazine. Literary fiction is a narrow form which has been stagnant for decades and best should have been buried with Updike.

The much touted objectivity of writers of the literary establishment is a pose. Look carefully and you find tons of bias. Worse, it's bias in favor of a stale type of literary art.

With new ways of bringing books to market, and expanded ways of announcing them, should come also a more exciting style of writing. That's what this blog was set up to announce.
Updike's rules, especially #5 and #6, put handcuffs on the reviewer, whose chief task is to get the casual onlooker reading the review. Book review sections have been dropped from newspapers across the country for one major reason. Because they were boring!

There is one rule for book reviewing: BE ENTERTAINING.
I've begun putting my ideas into practice at Blitz Book Review, which can be accessed at 

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