Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Reviewer's Rules of Engagment

I figure I need a break from discussing the digests, so I've decided to instead post my Rules of Engagement for Reviews. The following loosely define what I aim for in writing a review, as well as what I hope to encounter in the reviews I read.

1. Brutal Truth or, as John Clute would have it, Excessive Candour. The reviewer is obligated to express his/her views of a work with utmost honesty, whether praising excellence or defining flaws.

2. Professional Impartiality The reviewer has no allegiance or ties to any author, publisher or publication. It is essential that the reviewer reflect only his/her own representation within a given review. Trust is the core of the reader/reviewer contract.

3. Basic Knowledge The reviewer is obligated to present context for a work's placement within the genre. Using Brutal Truth, the reviewer should fearlessly situate the work under examination, whether praising inventiveness or defining been-there-done-that repetition. Hence, the reviewer must be conversant with the history of the field and its literature.

4. Entertainment The reviewer must do his/her best to entertain readers. Having an opinion is commonplace; expressing that opinion with vim and verve is what distinguishes the masterful reviewer.

5. Clarity is an essential component to the successful review. The reviewer should have the ability to express complex thoughts and ideas clearly within the body of the review, leaving that review accessible to any reader. Not all readers are sophisticated, doctorate-possessing literature professors. Be aware of the range of your audience.

6. Lack of Pretension The reviewer may utilize any suitable style for any review, whether straightforward or lofty and elitist. Beware, however, of the dangers of slipping into pretension. Gazing wistfully into one's own rear end may be suitable in private, but in public fails to fulfill requirement #4.

7. Viewpoint The reviewer will fully engage with the text under review, and is necessarily required to present his/her own unique interpretation of that work. A review should be the individualistic expression of the reviewer's innate taste.

8. Thoroughness The reviewer is obligated to present a thorough (though not necessarily extensive) opinion of the work under review. A good review, by its nature, cannot be entirely "spoiler-free", especially if the work's failure lies within the details of the plot, or even its resolution. While the reviewer must be cautious and tactful in examining such elements, to avoid such would be dishonest.

9. Lack of Agenda As with professional impartiality, the reviewer must opt to represent no particular agenda. Criticizing a text for its political underpinnings, philosophical stance, sub-genre or, worst of all, due to the personality or identity of the author under review, is forbidden.

10. Love No reviewer who does not love the field in which he/she works is worth anything. Remember always that literature is a community of lovers, and let that color the crafting of your reviews.

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