One-Minute Book Reviews

February 19, 2008

Are Publishers’ Reading Group Guides Deceptive? Quote of the Day (Gail Pool)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:18 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Publishers’ reading group guides are a form of advertising, and like all advertising, they are one-sided at best and deceptive at worst. Gail Pool offers an excellent critique of the guides in her recent book Faint Praise, a lament for the anemic state of book reviewing in America Pool argues that publishers’ guides mimic the analysis found in reviews but lack the critical distance that good reviewers bring to their work:

“Even readers’ guides are promotional: produced by the publishers to enhance the books’ value for – and sales to – reading groups, they may be designed to encourage more thoughtful reading, but they don’t encourage a critical approach. None of the guides seem to ask readers to question the quality of a book’s prose, its clichéd characterization, or the problems in its story line. They start from the premise that books are good, and it’s their purpose to help readers ‘understand’ why they are good, not discover that they aren’t.”

Gail Pool in Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America (University of Missouri Press, 170 pp., $34.95, hardcover, and $19.95, paperback)


Pool gets this exactly right. One-Minute Book Reviews posts its own free online guides partly to encourage the “critical approach” that publishers don’t. All of these guides are saved in the Totally Unauthorized Reading Groups category.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. I wonder if the guides started out simply as extensions of the kinds of notes a teacher might have for the books of “the canon” that we studied in school. My volatile opinion, long before I knew any better, was that some of the stuff we were reading wasn’t as good as other stuff. Wrong. I just didn’t understand it yet. Suffice it to say, we weren’t there to bash the canon even though I felt like doing it. If the guides begin with the assumption that the book isn’t be taught in a school class if it’s not good, then, they won’t do any bashing either. Somehow, though, the guides seem to have crossed the line and have become gushy as in, say, five thumbs up or you’ll laugh till you pee.


    Comment by knightofswords — February 19, 2008 @ 11:12 pm | Reply

  2. That’s an interesting parallel. The possible connection between readers’ guides and teachers’ notes hadn’t occurred to me. I agree that lot of mediocre books are taught in schools and that some of those supposedly objective “notes” don’t help.

    The publishers’ guides, though, seem to be in a class by themselves. Many teachers at least choose the books they teach and believe they’re good. Publishers’ guides are often written by freelancers who may not even have that level of commitment.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — February 20, 2008 @ 1:03 am | Reply

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