Writing Reviews

I listened to a delightful Radio National Book Show program on Tuesday. Ramona Koval was in conversation with Michelle Kerns and Laura Miller about cliches in book reviews. I am conscious that I need to monitor my own writing in this post (I note that I have used ‘delightful’ in my first sentence) but am relieved that both Michelle and Laura are self-confessed serial cliche users!

Their conversation was vibrant and I was hoping it might go on longer. By the end of their twenty-two minutes together I was thinking about how their insights and advice might be applied to other forms of writing. The podcast of their conversation can be found at this link. Ramona, Michelle and Laura lamented the use of ‘unputdownable’ in book reviews. I wondered whilst they were doing so what their views might be of ‘unturnoffable‘ as an observation about a radio discussion.

Michelle’s mention of E.B. White amplified my attention to their conversation:

The world of criticism has a modest pouch of special words (luminous, taut), whose only virtue is that they are exceptionally nimble and can escape from the garden of meaning over the wall. Of these critical words, Wolcott Gibbs once wrote: ‘…they are detached from the language and inflated like little balloons.’ The young writer should learn to spot them — words that at first glance seem freighted with delicious meaning but that soon burst in air, leaving nothing but a memory of bright sound.

I spent the rest of the discussion (and the day) dealing with the thought of words escaping from a garden or as balloons rich with meaning.

I liked the ideas explored in Book Review Bingo (more book review cliche fun than you can shake a riveting, unputdownable stick at).

I enjoyed those twenty-two minutes very much. I thought Ramona, Michelle and Laura’s experiences and their humour made for an excellent feature. Their ideas have encouraged me to think about how other reviews might be crafted. I hope ‘treasure trove‘ is not too much of a cliche to describe the Book Show. I have been away from the program for over six weeks and realise that when I do hear it there are wonderful treasures there.

I am off to read:

Engrossing, vivid, unstoppable: The Reviewerspeak Award results for April 2010

Bad writing: What is it good for?

… and to revisit this post about Mark McGinnis and this post about Jonathon Gold.

Photo Credits

On the platform, reading

Engrossed in her reading
she waited until the train stopped
doors opened
and at the “ding”
without taking eyes of her book
she jumped on
before it swooshed again…
The girl’s a pro!

Fifteen accounts of life, death, and everything that interferes

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