Thursday, April 23, 2015

Dirty Words from the World of Book Reviews by Linda Root

We are drowning in lists--grocery lists, shopping lists best sellers, worst dressed, sexiest man, cutest dog, most cunning cat...but the lists  I find the most annoying have to do with books--writing, reading, reviewing and promoting.  I have my reasons.  I am a writer, a voracious reader and a serious reviewer and I find the language of book reviews  as creative as fast food for dinner and as exciting as a barium enema as a nighttime ritual.  My fellow writers Mickey Mayhew and Michael Schmicker should teach a class: How to Write an Incredibly entertaining Highly Intelligent and   Masterful Book Review.' At least I'd approach  reviews of my work without wincing, no matter how many or how few stars my novel rates.
Terms which turn me off:
Thriller:  Besides being a Michael Jackson musical masterpiece, a thriller has special meaning for me and others who are  1. long of tooth;  2. advanced in age;3.  Seniors; 4. mature adults; 5. old people.    Each of those terms are on another list I will discuss on a day when I have both 1) ice; 2. Jameson's; and 3) no other commitments.  To most people old enough to vote and still breathing  (unless they grew up in live in Cleveland where Thriller is a roller coaster at  Euclid Park) a thriller is something exciting and fraught with danger.  A book I consider a thriller is Silence of the Lambs. Another is Relic.
 A thriller is a high-octane, very scary piece of work.  It is not a highly plotted Elizabethan mystery involving ladies and monkeys and dwarfs and nuns and spiders.  Nor is an espionage story in which the scariest thing in the book is a Russian woman with a silencer on her H & K.  All action adventures are not thrillers.  Not every good piece of fiction with tension and intrigue is a thriller.

Which leads to the ubiquitous page-turner.  For some reason if a book is not labelled a page-turner, it is doomed unless it is the Bible or something written by Neil Stephenson.  Why must we equate excellence in writing with a product which must be digested in one giant gulp.  We savor good wine;  appreciate beer with the right amount of head, and sip champagne.  Why do we have to guzzle words to make them worthy of ingesting? I recently read a book by author David Blitx which I consciously put aside to let it penetrate the inner reaches of my mind, or to laugh at plot twists I found amusing or ironic or simply delightful.  And I was on a schedule.  Some books by Susan Howatch can be read in sections according to the point of view of the character.  They are not barn-burners, or races. The last line is not a Finish Line.  A good book engages its reader and keeps the interest level high, but it is not a  390-page literary marathon.

There are other terms bandied about in reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, assuming there still is an elsewhere.  For example, a reading experience is not necessarily a 'ride'.  Also in my opinion, there is no such thing as a masterpiece by James Patterson. Mr.Patterson is a fine prolific writer who I read and enjoy, but his books are not masterpieces. Eco sometimes writes masterpieces.  Patterson writes excellent pulp fiction.  I also hate the overuse of the term 'tale'.  There is something about calling a books about a serial child molester a 'tale' which I find obscene.  'Yarn' is another one.  Yarn is not just antiquated and a tad too cute--it implies a complicated, tangled plot with a homespun quality. Hannibal is not a yarn.

The new word which drives me to frenzy is 'steamy'. For some purposes  we find books rated on their steam value.I am not quite sure how steam and sex became equated--perhaps on Grey's Anatomy.  On the other side of the same gripe I find the word 'sweet' applied to every Victorian novel where kissing is a brushing of taunt lips on a gloved hand and no one removed clothing other than a cloak or a hat.  If the entire plot is saccharine, then sweet is as good a label as any but if the story involves a heart-rending romance  full of emotion and tension, it desires a more substantial label than 'sweet'.
I understand the term 'cozy' when applied to a specific class of arm chair mysteries.  It is the title of a sub-genre, like time-slip.  When I've had enough of guts and gonads, I am drawn to a 'cozy.'  I occasionally like books where the principal character (as opposed to protagonist) is a cat, an elderly busy-body or a vicar.  We cannot all be John Ryan or Lucas Davenport.

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