Saturday, 11 February 2012

Adam Mars-Jones: 'The only bad review is one whose writing is soggy'

Adam Mars-Jones, winner of the first Hatchet Job award for a book review in the Observer, reflects on his craft

'A book review is a conversation that excludes the author of the book. It addresses the potential reader. A reviewer isn't paid to be right, just to make a case for or against, and to give pleasure either way.'

'It always seems a good idea to quote freely from a book, to back up points with solid evidence. The only "bad" review in my book is one whose writing is soggy, its formulas of praise or blame off the same stale shelf. A reviewer and a critic play different roles, though the same person can take them on at different times. A critic has some sort of authority, a claim to long experience or deep immersion, a marination in a certain class of literary product. A reviewer has no necessary knowledge, even of other books by the same author – there's no shame in flying blind. If a book isn't rewarding to read in isolation, then there's no point in invoking any larger perspective. Forget the hinterland! It's a mistake to imply that readers are being inducted into a mystery. They're being guided to pleasure or warned against disappointment.'

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