How to review, and why

ding Like a Writer , says reviewers must be emphatic when they write a favourable review: “‘You’ve got to read this’ should be the first line of every positive book review.” What to Read and Why is made up in great part with Prose’s introductions to reissued classics but also includes her “positive” review of Mohsin Hamid’s most recent novel, Exit West . Her purpose, she says, is to convey “the reasons why we continue to read great books, and why we continue to care.” Prose’s is an eclectic collection, and you’d hardly expect to be surprised with a negative take in an introduction to a classic. But some years ago, in 2012, the American critic, Laura Miller, made, to quote the title of her essay in Salon , “the case case for positive book reviews”. Among others she referenced Hardwick for the criticism that reviews were too soft, but she argued that book reviewing could no longer assume that there still exists a critical mass of readers who would have read, or will read, enough of the books in question — there was “no slice of culture in common” among readers as there was among, say, TV viewers. “Even the novelists you may think of as ‘hyped’ are in fact relatively obscure,” she wrote. “As for those people who have heard of today’s best-known literary novelists, the vast majority haven’t read their books. This won’t, by the way, stop them from expressing an opinion on those books because they have, after all, read the reviews (and the author profiles and interviews).” What use, Miller suggested in a powerful comment on the Internet age of multimedia, would it be to readers to be swamped by harsh critiques of books they were not likely to have considered reading in any case? It’d be better to bring to their attention, in an informed and honest way, books that are praiseworthy and thus recommended reading.

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