Adventures in Reading

The incredible shrinking book review, or to read or not to read
September 10, 2008, 12:36 pm
Filed under: thoughtful | Tags: , ,

A recent edition of Publisher’s Weekly “Soapbox” article caught my attention. Titled “Blurb Service,” I wasn’t sure whether I was meant to be annoyed or amused. (I hate when that happens.) More or less the article discusses that newspapers are shrinking the space available for book reviews and thus book reviews ought to “shrink accordingly.” The author Laurence Hughes [1] goes so far to suggest that reviews could even be hacked down to “blurbs,” all that readers really want.

There’s obviously a lot of tongue and cheek commentary roaming throughout the article, but it got me thinking. And here’s my confession: I have never read a book review from a newspaper. So dear publishers, you’re already missing at least part of your target audience there. Likewise, as I’ve discovered through book blogging, there is an enormous literary community passionate about books and reading nano-seconds away from you over the Internet. Whether it’s blogs, reviews, or book communities such as LibraryThing, I get (nearly) all of my book news online.

I confess though there’s a stinging truth in Hughes idea of “the blurb.” I only read entire reviews if it’s from a reviewer I know is also an interesting writer or if it’s a book I’ve already read. Otherwise I skim until I get to the good part: to read or not to read.

[1] Amusingly enough the name of an ex-boyfriend too!



That article was an interesting read… I agree about the “blurb” – that’s why I include a “Recommendation” section after each of my reviews. I realized that I was ending each of my reviews with a sentence that began with “Overall, …”, so I figured I’d pull it out into its own bolded section. I’m keeping it at the end, though. I think it’s easy enough for your eye to skip to it if you don’t want to read the rest of my rambling.

I’ve also toyed around with writing a review-haiku for each of my reviews, to see if I can get my point across in 17 syllables. I might have to implement that. :)

Comment by fyreflybooks

Eeeks–I confess I’m a skimmer as well. Most of the time. I think a lot of us are. But, it is interesting to see publishers and authors giving away ARCs to book bloggers. I think they’re getting the picture. I’ve never read a paper review either.

Comment by Trish

me too! I almost always skip to the end of reviews! (it’s why I try, most of the time, to keep mine short.)

you know what publication I like? The London Review of Books. but not so much for the reviews as the personals in the classified section. they’re so… pretentious. it’s very funny.

Comment by Jena

I almost never read reviews on paper. Those quotes from magazines and newspapers are just plain dreadful. Full of empty adjectives and fluffs.

Comment by Matthew

Interesting that you say you read the entire review of books you’ve already read. I do the same thing!

For books I haven’t read, I’ll usually skim enough to see if the book looks interesting, and then, depending on the reviewer, how much time I have, and the length of the review, I might go back and really read the whole thing.

I don’t read newspaper reviews anymore, only because I don’t get the paper anymore. When I got the paper, I actually enjoyed the review section–not enough to seek it out online, but if it showed up on my doorstep I’d head right for the book reviews.

Comment by Teresa

When I lived in the Washington D.C. suburbs, I used to read The Washington Post Book Review every Sunday. But that was 18 years ago, and now I skim the occasional print review I encounter, like everyone else who has commented here.

Comment by Jeanne

I am guilty of skimming also. I won’t buy a book without skimming it first! In fact I almost didn’t buy my latest book “Pinch Hitter,” written by Dean Whitney,
due to the fact that it was a novel about baseball. I am not a baseball fan at all but thought I would skim through it to give it a chance. As I got skimming through it I realized that the book actually had a story line and wasn’t just about baseball. I bought it and I loved it! This author writes in such a visual way that I felt like I was right there with the characters throughout the story. I am glad I bought and read the book.

Comment by Becky

I thought blurbs were for the back covers of books, not to act as reviews. I would rather see a few longer reviews then a bunch of really short reviews (blurbs).

Comment by Avid Book Reader

fyreflybooks: I love the haiku idea! Perhaps it could be a future round of Weekly Geeks.

Trish: I was most curious about the PW article because it completely failed to mention the Internet side of the book review. It’s no secret that during the past decade most media published in print form has taken some degree of a hit. But I do think more Publishers, particularly small houses, are getting acquainted with bloggers.

Matthew: Completely true. Unless it’s a quote from an author I like, I don’t bother with the blurbs. They’re meaningless and little else than Mad Libs for books.

Teresa: Thrilled to hear I’m not the only one who reads reviews of books I’ve already read. It’s perhaps one of my favorite things to do. I’m definitely a skimmer when it comes to reviews unless it’s a reviewer that also happens to be an excellent writer.

Jeanne: I try to persuade myself at times to pick up print reviews, if only because I haven’t given them a great enough chance, but I stick with the net.

Becky: Skimming a book pre-purchase is great advice.

Avid Book Reader: I concur. While some reviews may seem needlessly long, the blurb just doesn’t cut it. I’m fine with skimming, but I don’t want to lose my chance of being able to read more deeply if I want to.

Comment by bookchronicle

I get all those really wonderful book recommendations from other book blogs and not from the newspaper. Yeah bloggers!

Comment by Stephanie

[…] face it, even the most straight-forward of us gets a little wordy at times. After reading Adventures in Reading’s post on book reviews vs. blurbs, I decided to see if I could hone my conciseness to a point by […]

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I haven’t ever read a full book review on paper either. In fact, I pretty much get all my book recommendations and review info online now.

I’m actually not good about doing a recommendation section in my reviews. I guess I take for granted that someone may read the whole thing, although I’ve been trying to get better about that and including some kind of recommendation either up front or at the end.

Comment by Crystal

Stephanie: Definitely “Yeah bloggers!” Most of my recommendations are definitely a result of the blogging community.

Crystal: I usually assume that the last paragraph or few lines have a bit more “opinion.” While I’m definitely a scanner, I suppose my greatest attraction to reading a review is one with more opinion and less summary. I love to hear people’s thoughts and (unless the book is very different than the book jacket) that’s what I want to hear

Comment by bookchronicle

[…] let’s face it, even the most straight-forward of us gets a little wordy at times. After reading Adventures in Reading’s post on book reviews vs. blurbs, I decided to see if I could hone my conciseness to a point by […]

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