Saturday, November 16, 2013

Week 13: appreciation/depreciation; the review

Assume for a moment you want to do a review of the same book you just did an introduction for. What's the difference between a review and an introduction?

Someone introduces you to your eventual spouse. Their responsibility for you two getting together is real but very minimal. They've just opened the door a bit and the rest is up to you and the spouse or, in this case, you and the book.

The person reading the introduction holds the book in his hands. He is about to read the book. As he reads, he will learn the plot, discover the themes, develop his own attitude toward the book. The job of the introduction is to give him some preliminaries and offer the introduction writer's appreciation of the book. The rest is up to him.

What if the marriage doesn't work? You go to a divorce lawyer and spill your guts! You tell the lawyer you used to be in love, but now! Now, forgetaboutit. You give the lawyer the good, so the lawyer knows the score, but the bad too, all of it.

That lawyer is like a reviewer of the book. He's in at the kill, there to praise where praise is due ("Your honor, Mr Jones is a highly successful businessman, respected in the community....") and to put the knife in too ("...which is why my client requests such a high figure for support, so that she may continue to hold her head up in that same community.")

A reviewer can do a lot of different things, and one thing he can do is slag the book, movie, tv show, concert, or whatever. One would not expect that in an intro.

The reviewer's job is to state an opinion (I hate to use the o-word after the conniptions many of you had with week 10....) The opinion can be based on anything: fact, fancy, comparison with other works or earlier works of the same writer/musician/actor. It can register a distaste for the elements of the book's plot, the writer's sensibilities, the actor's disappearing looks, the music's canned drum track, anything.

And another reviewer can praise these same things and write a completely different review. There is always an attorney for both sides, someone willing to argue the other way around.

Point is: you don't have to be right. There is no right. There is just your taste, opinion, knowledge, and insight.

That doesn't mean that there aren't crap reviews. You can love something and write a review that sings to the stars. I can love the same thing and write a review that can't get its boots out of the mud. Maybe you're smarter than me or better informed or a better writer.

I bet at this point you're wondering what a review should include. I prefer to let the material dictate my thoughts, but if you want some sort of guideline to some of the things that might go in a review (this discusses book reviews but can be applied generally), sort of a review of reviews, try this.

Later thoughts: having now written my review of 'Captains Courageous' and having a long back-and-forth with Sally in her week 12 book intro, especially my 6:14 comment, I feel much less certain about the difference between intros and reviews.

Well, that's what I have you all for--you struggle with it and maybe from your struggles I'll learn something I can teach future students if this course is able to run again.

Some thoughts on the 'Captains Courageous' review: I found myself back in English major mode, a place I never thought I'd be again after college graduation, June 1967. It was fun to do a bit of that, but I really had no way to join the two halves of the review, other than that cheating row of asterisks. The perfect is the enemy of the good (and it's even the enemy of the just-OK) so I leave it, imperfect as it is, for whatever interest it has and whatever lessons, good or bad, you might derive from it.

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