OPEN UNIVERSITY FEBRUARY 16, 2007
by Eric Rauchway
1. Write a book before you review one. You'll learn lots of useful things about the performance you're assessing.
2. Write about the book you're reading, not the book you would have written, the author, the political position you impute to the author, or the book, on a similar subject, that you are now writing.
3. Eschew predicate adjectives, especially "persuasive" and "convincing" and their opposites. The least persuasive sentence in any book review is, "The argument is unpersuasive." What you mean is, the argument does not account for facts (a), (b), and (c). Saying so specifically will add a mote of value to civilization.
4. Avoid quips: to criticize the author, quote the author saying disagreeable or foolish things.
Edmund Wilson said something like, we created the New York Review of Books because The New York Times Book Review didn't exist. He referred I think both to the newspaper strike, which meant that for the moment the NYTBR literally didn't exist, and to the ideal NYTBR, which according to him didn't exist. It would be unkind to repeat this sentiment--the NYTBR did, only last year, publish a rather excellent essay by its editor on Richard Hofstadter--but perhaps, reading the various comments here, it wouldn't be wholly untrue.