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Ye Olde Gentleperson’s Guide to Writing Online Reviews

To remain a Gentleperson and an Online Book Reviewer is a challenge indeed.

1) Every Gentleperson knows that it is considered bad form to review a book before such time as she has finished reading it. The status update can be the enemy of noble reviewing. Proceed carefully, Gentle Reviewer. Sit with a book a few days before you attempt to proffer an opinion. 

2) A Gentleperson does not refer to an author by first name alone. Last name, or first and last name. It can be a dicey matter to add a Ms., Mrs., or Miss in front of a female writer’s name. Unless the gentleperson has met the writer personally, you cannot know how the writer chooses to refer to herself.

3) If a Gentleperson dislikes a book, it is considered bad manners to refer to everyone who likes said book as “tasteless” or “stupid.”

4) It is worth considering the author’s intent, but you must acknowledge that this is unknowable to you.

5) Someday, Gentle Reviewer, you will encounter a book you don’t like! I feel for you. It should be acknowledged that this is a difficult situation, and you must proceed delicately. Remember when you are reviewing the very bad book that a team of people loved the book and thought it was a good book. The author’s intention was not to write a bad book. 

6) Do not fall in love with the wit of your dislike, the clever spectacle of your hate.

7) Remember you cannot prove “good” or “bad.” You might discuss how a book made you feel. You might discuss literary technique (or lack of it.)  

8) A Gentleperson is always trying to improve his craft. Read professional reviews and collections of literary criticism. Read broadly in the field where you review but also fields beyond that. A Gentleperson reviewer must have a sense of greater context and where a given work exists in the spectrum of other works. 

9) Gentleperson, read deeply, not just quickly. You are not in a contest to read the most books in a year. (Unless you are — in this case, please don’t review books online and best of luck with your contest.)

10) Gentleperson, remember that the author did not likely have a say in a) the jacket, b) the copy and c) much of anything except the words on the pages. Unless you have something really remarkable to say about the matter, resist reviewing the jacket or the copy or the blurbs. Focus on the text.  

11) A healthy skepticism of other people’s opinions is useful. Know what YOU think. Historically, the crowd is mistaken all the time.

12) Authors make choices. You may not always agree with them. This does not make the author a “bad writer.” Like and even love are not synonymous with skill.  

13) That you found a typo does not make a book “badly edited.” Typos happen even in the most fastidiously edited books. Move on. 

14) Remember that authors have goals besides making you like their characters or even their books. You can be improved and fortified by reading books beyond what you like.

15) An author may be delightfully charming online. His books may still be terrible or mediocre. The reverse is also true. Wonderful, beautiful books sometimes come from prickly, unpleasant people.

16) Gentleperson, if you find yourself writing a review that more or less echoes what everyone else has already said about a book, here’s a tip: there is no need for you to write aforementioned review! Provide a link; move on. 

17) One of the hallmarks of an ungentlepersonly review is poor copyediting. A judicious use of Google can spare the Gentleperson the acute embarrassment of having the author’s name and the title of the book spelled incorrectly. If at all possible, try to get the details of the book itself right, too — the character names, places, ages, etc. 

18) The internet is a gift, Gentleperson. The ability to blog is a gift. Above all, the Gentleperson’s goal should be to fill her online space with that which is beautiful, useful, constructive, clever and true. 

(friday nonsense no. 12)

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