Wednesday, February 25, 2009

John Updike

I’m looking forward to next Wednesday when Barrie Summy hosts the second Book Review Club installment. Last month, the Olympians helped me discuss Rick Riordan’s PERCY JACKSON series. Don’t worry, I’ve already got my people talking to Zeus’ people about a possible return.

Anyway, I wanted to share an article with my fellow reviewers from Guide Live that I stumbled across this past month. It lists John Updike’s 5 book reviewing principles:

My rules, shaped intaglio-fashion by youthful traumas at the receiving end of critical opinion, were and are:

1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.

2. Give enough direct quotation--at least one extended passage--of the book's prose so the review's reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste.

3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy précis.

4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending....

5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author's oeuvre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it's his and not yours?

To these concrete five might be added a vaguer sixth, having to do with maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in any ideological battle, a corrections officer of any kind. Never, never...try to put the author "in his place," making of him a pawn in a contest with other reviewers. Review the book, not the reputation. Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys of reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end.


  1. "To these concrete five might be added a vaguer sixth..." I though that this portion was your own addition, until I checked out the *Guide Live* link you provided above. Nevertheless, a summation of this paragraph may be:

    6. Be honest with your self and with others – keeping in mind, that as a reviewer you are working solely for the love of the written word.

  2. I'd agree, Marty. Sorry about the confusion on #6. Updike had said 5, so I hated to add a #6 in there. Like you, I was unsure if it was him or the Guide Live writer talking -- hence the entire excerpt in italics.

    Your #6 is much more succint. Well said!

  3. In case anyone missed it, John Updike died January 27, 2009 of lung cancer. He was best known for his Rabbit series and his reviews in The New Yorker.

  4. OMG! What book am I going to review????? I forgot February is so short!

  5. Dang, I haven't read ANYTHING by John Updike. I've got to get on that. I feel like a failure!

    And I'm with you PJ - I totally forgot that we're coming up to the next book review. I'll probably do Aryn Kyle's THE GOD OF ANIMALS, since I should be finished with it by next Wednesday.

  6. February is too short, PJ.

    Well, confession time -- I haven't figured out which book I'm doing either. I may try and stick with the Greek theme.

  7. Mitch -- No worries on the John Updike front. I haven't read any of his books, either.

    Maybe one month one of us can post a book review on an Updike book. We'd use his 5 reviewing criteria, of course.