One Book, A Hundred Ways to Review It

In the last week or so I’ve met (barely) deadlines for book reviews for the Library Journal, Winnipeg Free Press, and AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, each of which has fairly specific editorial needs.

Left to my own devices, I’ll tend to write something in the neighbourhood of 800 words for a book review. I will frequently personalize it, writing in a conversational, informal style. The Free Press’ book reviews style guide is fairly standard for a newspaper, with a firm word limit of 600 and an avoidance of the personal pronoun. This is not a tremendous adjustment, but it does mean I will write a different review than I would for the same book at a different outlet.

By contrast, AE is stylistically more open, and flexible on length. My editor over there will frequently latch onto something in my review and ask me to expand it, turning fairly straightforward book coverage into a more far-reaching critical essay. When you consider the subject matter and audience, this makes sense. A sci-fi magazine talks specifically about sci-fi, and will want to bring to the table more than surface-level insight about its area of expertise.

As a result I’m often very proud of my finished product over at AE, but put more time in on these essays than the general audience reviews I publish elsewhere. Exceeding 1000 words in this pieces is not unusual. I also draw more deeply on my literary knowledge to make connections as a matter of course, and frequently find myself looking up minute details of related works in the process of writing.

Then there’s the Library Journal, which poses an entirely different challenge. Writing a review that gets at the essential point in a mere 175 words is the ultimate exercise in brevity. I’ve learned to quickly identify the audience and the essential details of the book as concern that audience (including the basic review question: whether the book achieves its intent), which is about all you can do in that space.

It’s certainly possible to spend more time at one of these micro-reviews than one in which one is able to meander, perhaps because an extra step is involved: cutting and rephrasing all the extraneous information until the necessary level of conciseness is reached.

These aren’t my only review venues, of course, but they do represent a nice variety in terms of editorial and stylistic expectations. Perhaps you didn’t realize there was so much to writing a book review. I didn’t quite know myself.

Tuesday Links (06/26/12)

R is for Ray Bradbury: Another nice little story about the late author.

Life in the Gray: “There will be many, many times when you shouldn’t put your students first. Go home. Go to sleep. Get a massage. Take a day off. Spend time with your family. Play a video. Ask that teacher next door for a worksheet. Often, what’s good for you is good for them. You should do what’s good for you. Sometimes what’s good for you isn’t good for them. Sometimes you should still do it.”

Book Review: Technicolor Ultra Mall

 I don’t want to call Ryan Oakley’s 2012 Aurora nominee A Clockwork Orange 2.0. There are so many other ways to describe it: it’s raw and bloody; beautiful and horrific; staccato like a machine-gun; and as fresh as it is familiar. His homage to Burgess’ 1962 classic could hardly be more faithful, yet it stands alone, quintessentially a product of now, though with a degree of the timelessness which cemented that earlier novel as a classic.

Read my full review at AESciFi.

LJ Ahoy

My first Library Journal review has now been published, though it was written some time ago. It’s indexed online but viewable only in the print edition or the subscriber database. In case you were wondering, I reviewed the math text, X and the City, from Princeton’s academic press. The verdict? You’ll have to track down my review to find out.

Tuesday Links (06/12/12)

Neal Gaiman remembers Ray Bradbury: “. . .Bradbury. The man who took an idea of the American Midwest and made it magical and tangible, who took his own childhood and all the people and things in it and used it to shape the world. The man who gave us a future to fear, one without stories, without books. The man who invented Hallowe’en, in its modern incarnation.”

Tuesday Links (06/05/12)

Genre in the Mainstream: The New Yorker’s Science Fiction Issue: “In the end, when Eustace Tilley holds up his monocle to a rocketship, the analysis is awesome, readable, and makes you feel smarter. But Eustace Tilley can sadly, not build a convincing rocketship.”

A tale of openness and secrecy: The Philadelphia Story: “Attempting to control the spread of nuclear weapons by controlling scientific information would be fruitless. . . . Because they had not been part of the Manhattan Project in any way, they were under no legal obligation to maintain secrecy; they were simply informed private citizens. In the fall of 1945, they tried to figure out the technical details behind the bomb.”


Book Review: The Moon Moth

Of course, [Jack] Vance’s brand of science fiction is atypical, to say the least. This story is among those possessing the least overtly fantastical elements of any of his work, and yet it still feels awfully fantastical. The alien culture he describes is stylish, exotic, perhaps vaguely politically anachronistic. In other words, it stands up against McCaffrey, Le Guin, or Lieber at their world-building best, possessing the same sort of fantasy sensibility one finds in his own cross-genre Dying Earth stories, though The Moon Moth is strictly free of supernatural elements.

Read my full review at Revolution Science Fiction.

Five Junes

Not counting year zero, my graduation year from the faculty of education, wherein I was able to sub during May and June on a temporary teaching license (which assumed my final grades would all be satisfactory and my teacher status made official in a month or so), this is my fifth June as a teacher.

June the first: Came back early from a stint in China that was supposed to last the whole year. Ended my school year back in Canada as a substitute teacher the last few months of the term.

June the second: Split between two schools, but made it to the bitter end for one of them. Attended grad, mandatory for all staf, though I taught no graduating classes.

June the third: My first full year at a single school. Not a terribly good one, though. My second graduation, this one included a single student of mine actually managing to get enough credits to graduate on time, instead of two or three years later.

June the fourth: My first year where I was unemployed (or rather, subbing) more often than not. Had two terms, though, the last of which saw me at another graduation ceremony.

June the fifth: The year I went to Costa Rica and didn’t plan to teach at all. But somehow after returning I’ve found myself in an elementary school setting, where my students look forward to “graduating” and moving on to middle school. I just can’t get June off.

Am I looking forward to June 30 this year, as always? Evey moreso, in fact, as its a Saturday, which means I’ll be done June 29. Even after taking most of the year off, I’m sufficiently exhausted by this job that a two-month nap sounds appealing.

And my return to certain writing projects has already been too much delayed.