April 19, 2006

Four subjects of a book review

Geoff Pullum recently announced the forthcoming appearance of the very first book ever published by Language Log (here). This is great news indeed, but the blessed event forebodes an obvious next step, which heralds the equally forthcoming appearance of the dreaded book review. At this very moment some snarling critic is lurking out there, ready to promote his/her own career by writing a scathing and clever criticism that will show the reading public that he/she is intellectually, morally, and ethically superior to the authors of this slug-a-bed collection of strange essays with a funny name. To be perfectly certain that whoever writes this forthcoming review of Far From the Madding Gerund fully understands this important task and in keeping with the recent trend of listing four subjects about everything I offer four things that any good book reviewer really ought to do:

1. After giving only slight mention to the theme or point of the book, move immediately to your own theory, connect it somehow to the book, and show how superior your own points are by comparison. Don't fall into the  trap of thinking that readers want to know what's actually in this book in the hope that it might help them decide whether to buy it. They don't want to know. They don't want to buy it. All they are interested in is  what you, the clever reviewer, have been waiting up to this moment to proclaim.

2. Cite all of your own works that you possibly can in your review. And don't forget to repeat these in your "references"at the end. This shows that your work is quantitatively superior. For example, six citations to yourself outnumber the lone book that you review.

3. Ignore what the authors claim to be the purpose and scope of their book. You know  very well that they should have had a different purpose and scope. And you know what this is. So tell the readers in no uncertain terms. They'll respect you for this.

4. Point out lots of trivial errors in the book. Any typographical errors that you can find will show that you are a vastly superior scholar. If the authors misquoted something or cited a wrong date,  this can be a gift from heaven. Finding these is what book reviewing is all about.

Posted by Roger Shuy at April 19, 2006 11:06 PM