A very amusing piece on book reviewing from the London Telegraph.
In a longer piece on writing, Thomas Sowell has some mordant comments about book reviewing:
What is maddening to me (even when it is not my book) are the reviews that don’t review.
The non-reviewing review seems to be considered chic these days. The first four or five paragraphs don’t even mention the book that is the ostensible reason for the review. Instead, the reviewer puts the whole subject “in context” with lofty generalities and pre-emptive assertions. Then the book’s title puts in a cameo appearance, followed by an analysis of what the author was “really” trying to do and the reviewer’s comments on its appropriateness, originality, and consonance with his own ideological predispositions.
All this is often just a prelude to a long editorial by the reviewer on the subject raised by the book—or even on a tangential topic suggested by it. Sometimes it takes some shrewd reading between the lines to figure out whether the reviewer thought the book was good, bad, or indifferent. Sometimes even a shrewd reading draws a blank. One of the reasons some people cannot get to the point is that there is no point to get to. In non-reviewing reviews, the only point often seems to be a display of the reviewer’s sense of superiority.
In addition to this ordinary garden variety of non-reviewing review, there is also the more imaginative non-review in which a steady stream of deep-sounding questions, miscellaneous sociological or psychological observations, and expressions of agonizing moral issues, all combine to conceal the simple fact that the reviewer hasn’t read the book.
The longest review any of my books ever received—several thousand words, spread over two consecutive issues of The New York Review of Books—contained not one word referring to anything past the first chapter of Ethnic America. The reviewer’s painful attempts to puzzle out the possible implications of this book would have been unnecessary if he had followed the more usual practice of reading the first and last chapters. The last chapter was titled, “Implications.”