The formula behind book reviews
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After reading Dwight Garner's book review of Edmund White's City Boy, I thought: Finally! After reading several author profiles and book previews, here is an honest-to-goodness review. Actually, at first I thought it was a combination review and interview, as the critic quotes the book author regularly. Then I realized he was simply excerpting from the book he was reviewing. It's possible, even likely, that the critic and the author never met. Though this might seem like bad journalism, citing a secondary instead of primary source, I disagree. First, the book being quoted is autobiographical, so it is a primary source. And second, it can be difficult to write an unbiased review when one knows the author personally. "Gee," the critic might think, "He was such a nice guy and so open to talking to me, taking time out of his busy schedule to do so. I'd hate to give his book a bad review…" Avoiding such personal interaction and potential conflict can produce a more honest review.
In the third-to-last paragraph, the reviewer writes, "Some of this material feels like filler… This is a book with a low-grade personality disorder." By saving such criticism nearly for last, the reviewer follows a format that journalist Aaron McKenna once prescribed to "video game journalism":
Most reviews follow a simple formula of going through the game, taking apart all the bad points if it is a bad game and sticking a line or two in about its redeeming qualities, if in fact there are any, at the end, or else (if it is a good game) going through all the really good points about the game, and then sticking down the negatives into a paragraph at the end, usually beginning something like "Despite all this, Game X does have one or two minor problems…"
The format of this literary review is quite similar, which makes me wonder if McKenna did not cast his net far enough when describing this pattern.
I suppose that's more a response to the composition, not the publishing, aspects of this article. Still, it's what caught my interest.