A Nomenclature of Book Reviewers

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I’ve been writing professionally for over a decade. My books have been reviewed many times during that period. Sometimes I’ve read those reviews with pride, sometimes with a smile, or a frown, a sense of bemusement, or an expression of WTF?  I’ve also read lots of reviews of other author’s works. All of that has allowed me to develop a sense of various reviewers’ styles.

So what follows is a non-exhaustive nomenclature of book reviewer types (and take this in the spirit it’s written, i.e. exaggerated for fun :-)).

The Professional:  The Professional does just what it says on the tin.  The Professional reviews books for a major publication or site but does so in a way that’s of only moderate use to, you know, actual readers. The Professional isn’t so much interested in prose, plot, or characterization, but moreso in how the book does or does not deconstruct the assumptions of post-modern Western civilization. The Professional despises “fun” books.  He/she writes book reviews primarily for other Professionals(so they can chat at dinner parties), not so much for readers.  Still, the Professional sometimes provides an important viewpoint.  But beware the Jaded Pro, who’s read every damned thing and finds it all just so tedious. The Jaded Pro has “world weary” tattooed across his/her knuckles, wears a t-shirt that says “fuck all this shit” and is basically just phoning it in.

The Semipro a/k/a The Fan. The Semipro is a book blogger, but not a Professional. He/she is just an avid reader who loves the genre he/she reviews. The degree to which a Semipro is educated and/or well-read in the genre varies, but the Semipro writes reviews born of a love for books and does so in the language of a general reader. These are (IMO) the most useful and best reviews, and are often very insightful. Ah, but beware the Fanboy Semipro, who once met G.R.R. Sanderfuss at a con and was immediately smitten. For the Fanboy Semipro all other books must needs be compared against the masterful storytelling of that dreamy G.R.R. Sanderfuss and will inevitably be found wanting in the comparison.

The Smartypants. The Smartypants is a variant on the Semipro, but is different enough to warrant his/her own category. The Smartypants probably holds an advanced degree from a quality university and peppers his/her reviews with words the average reader will need to look up. The Smartypants often has very insightful things to say if one can endure the convoluted way he/she says it. Of course, one must beware The Pseudo-Intellectual Smartypants, who’s not so much interested in reviewing a book as making damned sure that you know he/she has a Ph.d in something and that he/she is one smart cookie. Any review that contains a sentence like, “This reminds me of a passage from [obscure novel], which I read in the original French/Hebrew/Esperanto and….” is strongly indicative of a Pseudo-Intellectual Smartypants.

The Snarker. The Snarker uses book reviewing as a way to demonstrate his/her wit and cleverness. Despite that, the review itself is often quite good (and funny). Unless, of course, one is dealing with the Bitter Snarker. The Bitter Snarker is often an aspiring but unpublished writer, or a writer/editor who’s met with only modest commercial success, and who uses the review as a vehicle to inflict his/her bitterness on the world that wronged him/her, or otherwise refused to acknowledge his/her genius.

The Hater. The Hater is an unpleasant human being who hates every damned book. The Hater writes the first draft of his/her review in smeared shit on the plain gray walls of the one-room garret in which he/she holes up, and from which he/she looks down on the world through eyes nearly blind from spite. Worse still is the -ism Hater. The -ism Hater views the world through the lens of that one undergrad class they took that one time at that one mediocre college, which class “opened their eyes” to the injustice of the world as reflected in their pet -ism. Now the -ism Hater hates every book everywhere for failing to adequately rectify the evil of that -ism. Eventually the -ism Hater grows up or devolves into gibbering madness, either of which is to the good.

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6 Comments

  1. This is exactly why I approach my book reviews the way I do. I really don’t understand fandom, I just like the stories. I want my reviews to self contained, not full of references to other books people may or may not have read. I endeavor to be direct in my language, highlighting what the author has done well. I try to highlight weaknesses only when it detracts from the story.

    Love the blog post and thanks to Peter Orullian and Aiden Moher for pointing me this way via Twitter.

  2. I definitely fall into “The Fan” category and try not to fall into the “Fanboy” role. Reviews are hard to write, because sometimes you just want to say “this book is better than Chicago style pizza, you’ll love it!”. 🙂 I try to make the reviews fun and informative, but I am still fairly new to the game and have lots to learn.

  3. Heehee. Great post.

    I have no idea which one I fall into – just not hater. Because I tend not to hate books, people or things. Although, I can have a good ol’ rant about things from time to time.

    Probably fall into the fan category, bordering occasionally on the Fanboy and (lamentably) sometimes into the smartypants side of things, if a book talks about politics/history that I know. I *hope* I don’t come across as a Pseudo-Intellectual Smartypants…

  4. Pingback: SF Tidbits for 5/8/12 - SF Signal – A Speculative Fiction Blog

  5. I suppose I’m a cross of semipro and smartypants, which I’m fine with–I just hope I do it well! Semismarty? Propants?

    Semipants.

    ……..wait, maybe not.

  6. Any tips for interviewers? Good questions to ask, bad questions to ask…

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