I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but come on, look at that horse! He’s fit as a fiddle. He can handle a little bit more flogging.
What follows are two examples of book reviewing/criticism. Which review is more interesting? Which is more helpful? Reading them both, do you come away wanting to read the book they review? Which review do you think best represents the book to the sort of readers likely to value this sort of book? (Am I leading the witness here?)
The book is Paul Auster’s Winter Journal.
Here’s review two. You’ll have to click through the read the whole thing, which I’d recommend - but here’s a fairly representative excerpt:
Auster is best known as a novelist, at times a good one. Though he has been criticised, with some justification, for reusing his favourite literary devices from novel to novel, there is genuine appeal in the Austerian oeuvre – he has the ability to imbue the ordinary with an almost supernatural potency. Rooms, secrets, manuscripts, love and loss, the urban landscape – these familiar elements take on deep and unsettling meaning in Auster’s most accomplished work.
Here, though, he can’t seem to gin up the old magic. He presents us with impressions of his life from early childhood to late middle age, and tries to offset their ordinariness with wide-eyed rhetorical patter, evidently confident that if he claps his hands loudly enough, we’ll clap too. In an effort to describe the springtimes of his childhood, he informs us that four-leaf clovers “did indeed exist but were found only rarely and therefore were a cause for much celebration”. A robin, he explains, is “the brown, red-breasted bird who would suddenly and unaccountably show up in your backyard one morning, hopping around on the grass and digging for worms”. Later, he meditates on the subject of walking: “one foot forward, and then the other foot forward”. On public schools: “everyone who lives in the district can go for free.” And on death: “We are all going there.”
Interesting twist: the Jacob Silverman/Dwight Garner camp decries the glad-handing, back-slapping, “all books are wonderful!” tone of the Internet… but the first review is only in the paper edition of People. I can’t speak to whether the Guardian review is in the paper edition or not, but there it is online.