The Art of the Vague Book Review

Once upon a time, I reviewed books for a living. Well, it’s more honest to say I was paid to review them. The living part was a different story. It was a decent job for a while, but as with other hobbies like playing guitar and flying airplanes, getting paid for it sort of took the fun out for me.

In case you’re wondering, I didn’t get paid much for any of those activities.

These days, I don’t review books as often. If I read one I like a lot, I’ll do a write-up to recommend it to others. On the other end of the spectrum, if there’s a book I don’t enjoy, I’ll most often let it slide and try to learn from my mistakes, leaving others to blaze their own literary trails. If it’s stinky bad, of course, I may do a public service and issue a warning.

Working book reviewers have challenging jobs, though. They read books and then they, you know, review them. Okay, that doesn’t paint an accurate picture of the difficulty involved, and it’s not as sexy or easy as it sounds. If you want to write a compelling review, you need to think about things like plot, language use, symbolism, social commentary, or how many times the author uses the word “inasmuch.” (For a typical novel, any number above none is too much.)

The truth is, reviewers often get tired and become not so good at coming up with original words to say. Interesting adjectives are difficult to come by, and unless you’re Donald Trump, using the adverb “very” multiple times in front of adjectives like “huge” and “great” doesn’t do much to enhance your descriptive prowess. Worse yet, you might be reviewing a novel that doesn’t quite make the grade while trying not to sound like an enormous jerk. On the one hand, you want to be accurate. On the other, you don’t want to ruin someone’s literary career.

Have no fear. If you’re ever called upon to write a review–or even just provide a comment on a book–and you don’t have a clue what to say, but you know you have to say something, here are a few ideas. These blurbs are technically honest, sometimes vague and even perplexing, all while saying nothing of any real value.

  • “This novel was like no other book I’ve ever read.”
  • “Reading this book was a viable alternative to being fitted for adult braces.”
  • “This will most likely not be the only book you ever read.”
  • “You will undoubtedly read this novel after having read something else.”
  • “This book was to its genre what Gone with the Wind was to Cold-War era spy novels.”
  • “There’s a good chance people will read this book.”
  • “Of all the books I’ve ever read, this one was the most recent.”
  • “Apparently, this was a book I read.”
  • “My dog enjoyed watching me read this book.”
  • “One day, this book may well be studied by someone.”
  • “Eventually, I finished this book.”
  • “Reading this book occupied time I could have also spent doing other things.”

Sure, these blurbs lack the commitment of enthusiastic, gushing reviews, but on the bright side, they’ll fit just about any book you happen to read, good or bad. They won’t hurt anyone’s feelings, either. Probably not, anyway.

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“The Art of the Vague Book Review”