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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Thursday, March 27, 2008 8:35 am
Interesting Not All That Interesting
Posted by: Keir Graff

At dinner with some Booklisters on Tuesday night, we enjoyed a discussion of words and phrases (“interesting,” “well-written”) that shouldn’t appear in book reviews. The topic must be in the zeitgeist. Joyce Saricks, who was at the table, forwarded me this post from Paper Cuts: “Seven Deadly Words of Book Reviewing.” Their picks are poignant, compelling, intriguing, eschew, craft, muse, and lyrical.

I agree that those are overused and should be avoided, but I don’t think they fit the criterion we were discussing on Tuesday: don’t use words or phrases that don’t mean anything. Interesting makes no sense if the review doesn’t explain why the book is interesting, and if the review makes the case for the book’s interestingness, then the word is no longer needed. Well written? Well, if an author didn’t have a basic command of the English language, then it’s doubtful we’d be reviewing the book in the first place. And if the reviewer is trying to say something about the literary quality of the prose, then a more lyrical word should be used. (Just not lyrical.)

Everybody has personal pet peeves, of course–I dislike limn, yet a number of my colleagues use it to good effect. And we all overuse certain words, but given the number of books that Booklisters must review–and the rate at which we must review them–we’re all going to be guilty of the occasional poignant lapse.

Are there any words you’d like to see stricken from book reviews?

 

2 Responses to “Interesting Not All That Interesting”
  1. Keir Says:

    I should have added that I agree completely with what Bob Harris has to say about “craft.”

  2. Laura Says:

    I’m with you on limn. My father is said to have believed that one should never use the words interesting, meaningful, or significant in a paper. I mentioned this to some friends in college who immediately began classifying things: “Well, that’s significant, but it’s not interesting.”


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