Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Reviewing Writing Style

I wish I were deft enough of a mimic to write a book review in the style of the author. Such a method might give the readers a better idea of the experience of reading the book, should they venture forth. Alas, I seem unable to command the bits of style that I absorb from reading.

Of course, a good mimic would have to cultivate an audience for such a stunt. Otherwise, readers might mistake the copied style for the reviewer's own style. Depending on the book, the method might backfire.

By the way, if a writer must review an author with alienating prose, should an assessment of the prose be part of the review? It will, of course, in this case, but should it?

3 comments:

Susan said...

I think mentioning style is very important, though unless you can nail down exactly what is wrong, I usually resort to references to the work being densely argued, or grounded in arcane theoretical debates. You can also do this in terms of audience - who will profit from reading a book. I've never been able to be specific, naming what it was that was the problem. The other phrase I've seen is the "this still bears marks of the dissertation".

So often the problem is not that there is anything wrong with the writing, but it's flat: there has been no thought for the reader.

Clio Bluestocking said...

You know, I almost went the "marks of the dissertation" route beccause it reads like someone who is asking for admission into a world of intellectual elites. This, however, wasn't the dissertation! Long, complicated, sentences with lots of dependant clauses, pointless parentheticals made me wish I could remember how to diagram a sentence. In fact, at several points, I forgot what the first part of the sentence had said by the time I reached the end of the sentence. Then, the jargon, obscure vocabulary, and made-up words, none of which added any more precision to meaning, meant I had to read the book with the Oxford English Dictionary as a companion. Even the OED was no help with the made-up words, and it listed others as so rare as to merit only the reprinting of eighteenth century dictionary entries. Obviously, this was an author who had no interest in communicating with anyone other than other specialists. I probably wouldn't have such a problem with it -- o.k., I would, because the book went beyond a challenge and made me feel stupid -- but it was an important subject that could have a broader appel if the author wrote with an eye to more than the handful of people who will be comfortable slogging through the prose.

The irony is that the last few books and articles that I have read have been like this. All of them come out of literary or American studies. How can people whose expertise lies in the English language be so clumsy and artless in using it?

Susan said...

I sometimes wonder if people forget that their subject might be interesting to a wider audience. FWIW, I think in 10 years that book will only be published as an e book.

 

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