Seven Deadly Words of Book Reviewing
Like all professions book reviewing has a lingo. Out of laziness, haste or a misguided effort to sound “literary,” reviewers use some words with startling predictability. Each of these seven entries is a perfectly good word (well, maybe not eschew), but they crop up in book reviews with wearying regularity. To little avail, admonitions abound. “The best critics,” Follett writes, “are those who use the plainest words and who make their taste rational by describing actions rather than by reporting or imputing feelings.” Now, the list:
poignant: Something you read may affect you, or move you. That doesn’t mean it’s poignant. Something is poignant when it’s keenly, even painfully, affecting. When Bambi’s mom dies an adult may think it poignant. A child probably finds it terrifying.
compelling: Many things in life, and in books, are compelling. The problem is that too often in book reviews far too many things are found to be such. A book may be a page turner, but that doesn’t necessarily make it compelling. Overuse has weakened a word that implies an overwhelming force.
Reviewers often combine these first two words. Like Chekhov’s gun. If there is a poignant in a review’s third paragraph, a compelling will most likely follow. Frequently reviewers forestall the suspense and link the words right away, as in “this poignant and compelling novel…”
An impressive amount of bile is unleashed in the comments section, I suspect we all have words and phrases which drive us to distraction when used (or more likely misused) in print.