Reviewing Books on the Web. Can’t We?

I’ve been thinking today about book reviews. The Atlantic thinks they’re no longer as relevant as they once were, and everyone’s been complaining since the Nineties probably about diminishing pages of newspapers’ books sections.

Who cares where books get reviewed, right? And I used to care how thoroughly books got reviewed, like wordcount-wise, but I’ve stopped caring. Who cares how long a book review is?

Okay I still do. Most folks are doing it wrong. Bookslut’s reviews are longer than the site’s name is bad. Too long, I think, given the site’s layout. The Daily Beast’s features on books are perfectly lengthed, just under 1000 words, for the kind of reader I turn into when my laptop’s on my lap. A browser. A Web browser makes me a word browser, and call me petulant but I won’t sit and scroll through multiple pages while the TV is on.

Daily Beast’s straight reviews, though, are of no use. Under 150 words, lighter than the new Kirkus Reviews. More ad copy than review. NPR’s are quite good. I’m happy about NPR’s book coverage, especially because it prints an excerpt from the text right after the review.

I’m looking for more good online book reviews. I want to start writing them. Here are some axioms:

  1. The purpose of a review is twofold: to assess a book’s success or failure with respect to its central aims, and to connect a book’s work to the work of all books before it.
  2. Reviews serve a purpose to readers by informing them of books they may want to read.
  3. Reviews should be published where readers will read them.
  4. If readers are reading off computer screens more than the newsprint or gloss of periodicals then that’s where the reviews should be.
  5. Reading online begets a different kind of reader, or the same-old reader with a different kind of attitude.
  6. Writing reviews meant to be read online requires a different kind of writing process. (Corollary to this axiom is a feeling I have that most online reviews are composed in MS Word windows and not, say, .php blog-post input windows, and that this shows in the writing and is a chief problem.)
  7. A book can be critically and thoroughly assessed in under 500 words.

Hell, let’s make it 400. Anyone able to point me to good under-500-word book reviews online is a new best friend of mine.

2 thoughts on “Reviewing Books on the Web. Can’t We?”

  1. Some of the best reviews of this nature that I’ve read in the past couple years are actually on The downside of that site, though, is that it’s incredibly hit-or-miss (and oftentimes you have to wade in hip-deep to find anything) and it’s hard to find a singular voice to follow unless you run across a great review from a single person and then click through to read more of their writing and find out they have very similar taste. Of course, most of the time, it doesn’t quite line up, or they’re a couple-shot reviewer that then dropped off the face of the earth.

    In essence, *shrug*, but I will let you know if I find anyone/site I trust in the future.

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