The other day I learned that an author I like has a new book coming out. Of course I was interested and planned to pre-order the book. I also wanted to read any pre-publication reviews to see what the pros think about it, whether they feel it lives up to the author's previous high bar. I also wanted to learn a bit more about the story - but not too much.
There were the reviews on Amazon from their so-called "Top 50 Reviewers," and some on a handful of other websites. I would get to those later, but first I wanted to read the review in the The New York Times. I usually enjoy their reviews because they tend to do in-depth critiques of the author's technique, style, skill and so on. The New York Times is the newspaper that can make - or break - a book; it's the review that authors and publishers boast about and the one sure to get top billing on subsequent editions of the book.
From the tone of the first paragraph I could tell that the reviewer didn't really like the novel. That's okay. I knew I was going to read the book anyway, for no other reason than it's by one of my favorite authors. Besides I have always found something to enjoy in her writing even if I didn't really think the book as a whole was great. So I kept reading the lengthy review. By the time I got to the end the critic had revealed so much about the plot that I knew the whole story. I was furious.
Perhaps my biggest pet peeve (no, it is my biggest peeve) in a book review is when it tells the whole story, plodding roughshod through the plot, exposing spoilers left and right. The practice virtually screams, "DILETTANTE!" Having to rely on retelling the story speaks directly to a reviewer's inability to critically analyze a book based upon the quality of the work. Only a rank amateur who knows nothing about the purpose of a book review writes a spoiler-loaded review. This person relies solely on whether or not she or he likes the book. Liking the book plays only the tiniest role in a serious critique. The professional book critic judges whether the author's goal has been accomplished with skill and creativity, using or successfully challenging traditional storytelling techniques, etc. Liking the actual book is irrelevant; the professional critic must judge whether the book's intended audience will find it worthwhile.
At BookBrowse our reviews are intended to showcase what is great about a book, with the merest hint at plot. Our reviews will never include plot spoilers but they will reveal plot teasers so as to entice readers, focusing on what is interesting, riveting, entertaining or enlightening about the book.
Have I mentioned how much I dislike spoilers? They can completely ruin a book for me. Arguably the best part of reading most books is discovering the plot twists and turns on my own. I like to be surprised, the game of trying to outguess the author. And since mystery/suspense genre is my favorite, spoilers can literarily kill a book.
So please, book critics, never, never, never, never put plot spoilers in your reviews.
- Donna Chavez
Donna, a member of the National Book Critics Circle, reviews for BookBrowse, Publishers Weekly and the American Library Association's Booklist. She is also a freelance writer with numerous publishing credits, including the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times, and is a writing coach. Visit her at www.thewritecoach.com