The 20 Worst Book Review Clichés
Be it through practice or a good scalding, the young fiction writer soon learns to avoid three writing sins, the very same sins committed repeatedly by professional and semi-professional book reviewers in praising books that have themselves managed to avoid such horrors:
- strings of adjectives (describing words), taken to the extreme by this reviewer: “[his] stunning, funny, sad, prophetic, fantastical, satirical, achingly real and gloriously fictitious new novel..”;
- cumbersome adverbials (achingly, longingly, enormously). Why must the reviewer turn bold into “massively bold”, brilliant into “relentlessly brilliant”, dark into “unrelentingly dark”, inventive into “divinely inventive”?
- masturbating to one’s own florid prose. One reviewer heralded “a book of dangerous necessity” that is “frighteningly relevant”. What the hell does that mean?
No doubt the book review is a tough gig—poorly paid (if at all), limited in scope, heavy with reader expectation. Some reviewers do an admirable job despite all that; some reviewers write far better than the authors of the books they review. Others don’t. What follows is a list of the most inane, meaningless and hyperbolic terms and phrases used in book reviewing.
astonishing: which is to say, extremely surprising, the same state of mind experienced by a raccoon when it falls into a bin.
wildly imaginative: I call upon the honourable Mark Twain: “eschew surplusage”. The difference between “wildly imaginative” and “imaginative”? Surplusage.
taut: like a set of firm buttocks gripping a walnut. Alas, taut has been so heavily flogged by thriller reviewers it is now completely unusable when discussing buttocks.
tour de force: literally a feat of strength. As in, “After the avalanche, Mindy cleared the rocks blocking the entrance to her writing cabin in a tour de force. The subsequent novel was good.”
crackles with tension: like taut pork rind? It just so happens I love pork rind and, for one, would like to see thriller reviews adopt “crackles like pork rind” as standard nomenclature.
enormously intelligent prose: as in, good writing, ironically described with mildly nonsensical prose. (Consider: jealous prose, fat prose, homesick prose…)
a master: like James Patterson and his fiction sweatshop? Or like Stevan Seagal?
magisterial: like Steven Seagal if he were a feudal Lord pronouncing sentence on naughty serfs. (Did I just write a haiku?)
gripping: also a popular term with porn reviewers.
lyrical: as in, not actually lyrical, but enormously intelligent prose.
epic: a term so debased I now frequently use it to describe my bowel movements.
shivers up spine: this should be reserved for the physical act of shivers running up one’s spine. I simply refuse to believe that that many reviewers are scared reading Gone Girl to the point of quaking in their loafers.
heart-wrenchingly: just rewriting it as a quote made me hate myself a little more.
leave readers on the edge of their seats: a silly cliché when applied to people normally either reclined or firmly within the middest of a seat, possessed of no intention of moving no matter how exciting the book.
haunting: involves shivers up spines whilst on edges of seats reading masterful masterpieces.
masterpiece: seems to now mean above average, and thus remarkable.
remarkable: worthy of remark, arguably redundant given an entire review containing nothing but remarks has been written in order to remark upon said remarkable novel.
I’m not sure I will read a better novel this year: an admission that soothsaying is an unreliable parlour trick. Whilst I agree, I think the reviewer means that it is the best book they have read that year.
dazzling: a result of having one’s kindle set to brightness level 24.
unputdownable: unenormously intelligent unprose.
!: I believe it was the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union that declared, “To finish a sentence that is not demonstrably exclamatory with an exclamation mark is a matter of grievous immorality and you will burn in Hell.”