Blog Roll

Anecdotal Evidence
Biology of the Worst Kind
The Book Depository Editor's Corner
Book World
Buzzwords Blog: 3AM Magazine
Edward Champion's Return of the Reluctant
The Elegant Variation
John Baker's Blog
KR Blog
the Literary Saloon
Long Sunday
MadInkBeard - Updates
The Midnight Bell
pas au-delà
The Reading Experience
splinters: books, authors, literature, travel, politics
Tales from the Reading Room
This Space
University of Nebraska Press
Weblog - A Don's Life - Times Online
Weblog - Peter Stothard - Times Online
Powered by Bloglines


One of the Guardian Unlimited Books' top 10 literary blogs: "A home-grown treasure ... smart, serious analysis"

The Bookaholics' Guide to Book Blogs: "Mark Thwaite ... has a maverick, independent mind"

Friday 15 June 2007

Criticism vs. Reviewing

Eric at Wet Asphalt takes a look at Criticism vs. Reviewing:

... blogs tend toward shorter pieces than magazines or newspapers. Straight up reviews tend to be shorter than longer critical essays. I still expect all of them to deal with the subject of fiction (and poetry!) with the same sort of honesty, earnestness, intelligence, insight and passion. I want all of them to make me think about fiction in new ways, to expose me to authors I've never heard of, and make me reconsider the ones I have. And if you can do that, I'll call the work you do it with whatever name you want me to.

Eric looks at this subject through the prism of the differences between the work of the New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani and James Wood ("who writes chiefly for the New Republic and The Guardian"). Essentially, dismissing Kakutani and lauding Wood, Eric only sees a difference of "of quality rather than of genre" between the two. I'm not so sure. I think at some point the differences in quality (and, often, length) between a review and criticism make the distinction useful. Certainly, at one extreme, the difference is obvious: a 200-word plot summary is not criticism. As a review gets more complex and in-depth, though, it is a distinction one often feels but that isn't particularly easy to define.

One difference between the two forms might be the focus in reviewing on the book in hand, the story it is telling, and how successfully it accomplishes what it sets out to do: synopsis plus brief evaluation. With criticism, the book is additionally placed in its wider context and set against other works (often within a particular -- and sometimes particularly technical -- critical apparatus): synopsis, context, evaluation. With a review, the theoretical perspective is rarely made apparent -- the review is a "common-sense" take. Criticism is aware that any "common-sense" view of literature is naive: it hides an ideological reading it simply isn't aware of. Criticism incorporates the knowledge of the existence of its own perspective into its reading. Kakutani blathers; James Wood -- whether you agree with it or not -- has an explicit theory and measures work against it.

Posted by Mark Thwaite

Reader Comments

Friday 15 June 2007

Kit Maude says...

Morning Mark,
I'd have put it more simply:

A review answers the question:'Should I buy this book?'

Criticism: 'Now that I've bought it, what do I think?'

Friday 15 June 2007

Mark says...

Hi Kit,

Yes. That's good.


Friday 15 June 2007

Pat Williams says...

Personally I am sick of reading reviews that are mere plot summary: a review should be critical, otherwise there's no point to it. I recently sent LRB a letter on this subject; they weren't interested - but I think it's relevant to the discussion so here it is:


"No credit will be given for regurgitaion of the plot" Scottish Quakifications Authority guidelines for Critical Writing.

The SQA's approach to the teaching of literature may have its faults but its comment on the uselessness of mere plot summary in Critical Writing is sound. By its rules - let alone those we might expect to govern LRB contributions - Thomas Jones's piece on "The Pesthouse" by Jim Crace is a clear fail: three of its five and a half columns are devoted to narrative precis and the other two to (mildly interesting) comments on Crace's previous books. Curiously missing from Jones's article is any reference to the recent appearance of Cormac McCarthy's novel "The Road" which has the same dystopia as its starting point. A genuine CRITICAL discussion and comparison of these two novels might have provided the LRB with a stimulating and significant contribution to literary discourse - discourse of the quality I subscribe for.

Add a comment

If you have not posted a comment on RSB before, it will need to be approved by the Managing Editor. Once you have an approved comment, you are safe to post further comments. We have also introduced a captcha code to prevent spam.




Enter the code shown here:  

Note: If you cannot read the numbers in the above image, reload the page to generate a new one.

Submit News to RSB

Please let us know about any literary-related news -- or submit press releases to RSB -- using this form.

-- Mark Thwaite, Managing Editor


Memorial Tablet

Squire nagged and bullied till I went to fight,
(Under Lord Derby’s Scheme). I died in hell—
(They called it Passchendaele). My wound was slight,
And I was hobbling back; and then a shell
Burst slick upon the duck-boards: so I fell
Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light.

At sermon-time, while Squire is in his pew,
He gives my gilded name a thoughtful stare:
For, though low down upon the list, I’m there;
‘In proud and glorious memory’... that’s my due.
Two bleeding years I fought in France, for Squire:
I suffered anguish that he’s never guessed.
Once I came home on leave: and then went west...
What greater glory could a man desire?

-- Siegfried Sassoon
Collected Poems (Faber and Faber)

-- View archive

Word of the Day

The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or two

Pre-order Anu Garg's new book: The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two: The Hidden Lives and Strange Origins of Common and Not-So-Common Words (ISBN 9780452288614), published by Penguin more …

-- Powered by

October's Books of the Month

The New Spirit of Capitalism The New Spirit of Capitalism
Luc Boltanski; Eve Chiapello
Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM
Steve Lake, Paul Griffiths

-- View archive