One-Minute Book Reviews

January 11, 2010

Jonathan Yardley’s ‘Second Reading’ Ends Its Great Run

Filed under: Classics — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:34 pm
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Jonathan Yardley recently stopped writing his wonderful Washington Post column on notable or neglected books of the past, “Second Reading,” and I haven’t linked to it nearly enough. But you can read some of its spirited reviews online, and I encourage you to seek them out. You’ll find good examples of the vigor, intelligence and moral fearlessess of Yardley’s literary criticism in his blistering denunciation of The Catcher in the Rye, in his mixed appraisal of Sula, and in his embrace of the underappreciated The Collected Stories of Peter Taylor.

February 8, 2008

And the First Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole Goes to …

This is the first in a series of Friday posts in that will recognize out-of-control praise for books (in addition to any other posts that appear that day). At the end of this post you’ll find an explanation of why I am withholding the reviewers’ names in most posts, though I am providing a link to the review when one is available.

And the first Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing goes to:

“Everyone in the world should read this book.”
From a review of Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier in the Washington Post, Feb. 23, 2007
www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/22/AR2007022201958.html

Comment:

The population of the world was more than 6 billion as of January 2008. And there’s no one among the 6 billion people who shouldn’t read this book? This praise would defy common sense even if the Australian hadn’t raised serious questions about the credibility of Beah’s story.

Why I am withholding the reviewers’ names in most of these posts:

These posts will generally withhold the reviewer’s name for two reasons. One is that the purpose of the Gusher Awards isn’t to say “X is a bad writer” but to say “This is bad reviewing.” X may be a good writer who had a bad day.

The second — and more important — reason is that at major publications the blame for hyperbole never lies with the reviewer alone. An editor (often more than one) has to approve the over-the-top praise. Here’s how the process might work at a newspaper or magazine with a substantial book-review section: An associate or deputy editor of the section assigns the review and edits it after it comes in. At least two other editors then read the review: the editor of the section and a copyeditor (whose job consists, in part, of making sure that the review conforms to the house style of the publication). The review might also be read by a) others on the staff of the section; b) the book-section editor’s boss (such as an assistant managing editor at a newspaper); and c) his or her boss, such as the editor-in-chief of the publication.

In other words, at least two or three editors — and as many as five or six — may have read an overheated review. But because it’s impossible to know exactly who approved the hyperbole, I’ll omit most names, though I may sometimes mention them for reasons I’ll explain on a case-by-case basis.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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