Writing Reviews

Suzie Eisfelder

I’ve picked up a book that at over 900 pages might possibly keep me going for a few weeks. It is dense reading with many short stories and some critical articles about those short stories. The first few pages are about Writing About Fiction. As I was reading those pages last night I found myself distracted. It made me think about how I write about fiction. I don’t do formal reviews. A friend said this to me some years ago and it affronted me, but she was entirely right.

A formal review examines the work in more detail, talking about the themes and other things that I rarely do. I use the piece of writing as a springboard. Sometimes I write about the writing and sometimes I write about other things that have sprung to mind. I do try to come back to the writing at some stage to show what I’m trying to say but I don’t always manage it. I think you’d need far more writing discipline than I have in order to do this properly. I read formal reviews with interest, partly to see what they do and partly to see what they’re seeing in the work that I’ve not seen.

What this means for my blog is that books are rarely tagged as Book Review. I used to do this until Olga suggested I don’t actually write reviews. She’s right, I don’t, so I rarely use this tag any more.

In this book, of which I’ve not bothered to give you the title as yet, and in this first few pages are¬†three pages of questions you can use to enter the piece of fiction you’re reading. You can use any of these questions to write a more formal review than I do. What would be an interesting exercise would be to take a short story and write about it using absolutely all the questions. You’d never want to publish anything using those answers as that would be far too long and potentially confusing. But it would be an interesting exercise and would teach you so much about the writing within that short story.

The book is The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction by Richard Bausch and R. V. Cassill. It’s the shorter seventh edition and is not this one that I’m giving you the affiliate link for. If you click on the link you’ll see this is twice the length with many more short stories. It’s the eighth edition rather than the seventh. If you happen to have the money to spare you’ll notice I’ve linked to the more expensive edition (no good reason, I don’t expect you’ll buy it anyway). It’s aimed at tertiary students, unless you have some tertiary education you might find it a hard slog to get through and I’d suggest you allocate a lot of time for it.

Why do I emphasis the tertiary education? It’s because university gives you a different way of thinking, it gives you discipline and it teaches so many other things. I find I have much more discipline about reading than ever before. But I also have less discipline about books I have issues with. I’ve abandoned a Game of Thrones book (and therefore the entire series) and also a Vikram Seth book. I have issues with both books and no patience with them.

One thing I’ve noticed since getting to third year university is that I’ve got a higher tolerance for writing that is a little more complicated. I don’t head towards the easier reading novels but drift towards those which are a little harder with themes that are more challenging to unpack. I expect I’ll make my way through this book eventually. Until then what you’ll get is articles about the many magazines I’ve been reading these past months. I’ve mostly been writing about the odd book I’ve read but as I expect this current book will take me a few weeks I’ll work my way through writing about some of these magazines.

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