Ye Olde Gentleperson’s Guide to Writing Online Reviews

To remain a Gentleperson and an Online Book Reviewer is a challenge indeed.

1) Every Gentleperson knows that it is considered bad form to review a book before such time as she has finished reading it. The status update can be the enemy of noble reviewing. Proceed carefully, Gentle Reviewer. Sit with a book a few days before you attempt to proffer an opinion. 

2) A Gentleperson does not refer to an author by first name alone. Last name, or first and last name. It can be a dicey matter to add a Ms., Mrs., or Miss in front of a female writer’s name. Unless the gentleperson has met the writer personally, you cannot know how the writer chooses to refer to herself.

3) If a Gentleperson dislikes a book, it is considered bad manners to refer to everyone who likes said book as “tasteless” or “stupid.”

4) It is worth considering the author’s intent, but you must acknowledge that this is unknowable to you.

5) Someday, Gentle Reviewer, you will encounter a book you don’t like! I feel for you. It should be acknowledged that this is a difficult situation, and you must proceed delicately. Remember when you are reviewing the very bad book that a team of people loved the book and thought it was a good book. The author’s intention was not to write a bad book. 

6) Do not fall in love with the wit of your dislike, the clever spectacle of your hate.

7) Remember you cannot prove “good” or “bad.” You might discuss how a book made you feel. You might discuss literary technique (or lack of it.)  

8) A Gentleperson is always trying to improve his craft. Read professional reviews and collections of literary criticism. Read broadly in the field where you review but also fields beyond that. A Gentleperson reviewer must have a sense of greater context and where a given work exists in the spectrum of other works. 

9) Gentleperson, read deeply, not just quickly. You are not in a contest to read the most books in a year. (Unless you are — in this case, please don’t review books online and best of luck with your contest.)

10) Gentleperson, remember that the author did not likely have a say in a) the jacket, b) the copy and c) much of anything except the words on the pages. Unless you have something really remarkable to say about the matter, resist reviewing the jacket or the copy or the blurbs. Focus on the text.  

11) A healthy skepticism of other people’s opinions is useful. Know what YOU think. Historically, the crowd is mistaken all the time.

12) Authors make choices. You may not always agree with them. This does not make the author a “bad writer.” Like and even love are not synonymous with skill.  

13) That you found a typo does not make a book “badly edited.” Typos happen even in the most fastidiously edited books. Move on. 

14) Remember that authors have goals besides making you like their characters or even their books. You can be improved and fortified by reading books beyond what you like.

15) An author may be delightfully charming online. His books may still be terrible or mediocre. The reverse is also true. Wonderful, beautiful books sometimes come from prickly, unpleasant people.

16) Gentleperson, if you find yourself writing a review that more or less echoes what everyone else has already said about a book, here’s a tip: there is no need for you to write aforementioned review! Provide a link; move on. 

17) One of the hallmarks of an ungentlepersonly review is poor copyediting. A judicious use of Google can spare the Gentleperson the acute embarrassment of having the author’s name and the title of the book spelled incorrectly. If at all possible, try to get the details of the book itself right, too — the character names, places, ages, etc. 

18) The internet is a gift, Gentleperson. The ability to blog is a gift. Above all, the Gentleperson’s goal should be to fill her online space with that which is beautiful, useful, constructive, clever and true. 

(friday nonsense no. 12)

Dear Gabrielle, I am the one who made the videos about Margarettetown and I was wondering if you had any advice on where to apply for internships and things for the summer since I am nearing the end of my college career.

Thanks again for being a Margarettown enthusiast! Seriously… Do you recall when Margaret Towne says she is cursed? Well, the book that bears her name was a little bit cursed, too. At least the publication of it. So I  appreciate my Margarettown readers very, very, very much. Have you read Nicole Kraus’s The History of Love? That novel came out the same month as Margarettown but this is not why I mention it. In The History of Love, there is a story of a book that no one (except for maybe two people in the entire world) remembers called The History of LoveMargarettown is a bit like that for me. (You might like The History of Loveif you haven’t yet read it, by the way.)

Re: internships

I had an internship at the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) one summer, working in their media department. We made (or at least tried to make) a video that was to teach DOT workers how to repair potholes.

The internship was paid… It was very important to me to be paid. In retrospect, I think I was silly about that. It wasn’t like it was a ton of money anyway ($7/hour as I recall) — I might have taken a much better unpaid internship. I had turned down a perfectly good unpaid internship at the Food Network, which would have been a lot more interesting, relevant and probably fun.

I DID however learn a lot from that internship at the DOT. Mainly what I learned is that it is difficult to get anything done. Our little pothole repair video had to go through endless committees before it could be made. This process turns out to be remarkably similar to what working in film or publishing is actually like.

In terms of where to get internships? I would encourage you to ASK EVERYONE YOU KNOW. The internship at the DOT I got through a friend. The internship at the Food Network I found about through my college’s Office of Career Services.

My last word of advice. I know that internships are competitive. If you don’t end up getting one, a sneaky way to snag a backdoor internship is to take a job volunteering in a related field. I’m not sure what your field is, but if it were, say, writing or publishing, I might try offering up my services to Valencia 826 or Girls Write Now.



UPDATE 6/2013

I was reading this over and I’m not sure I gave such a great answer. In the months since, I’ve read several articles talking about the way that unpaid internships (and particularly ones in the arts) amount to slave labor (and particularly for women). In any case, I think this question requires a more complex discussion than the answer I gave here.

Hey Gabrielle! I’m a huge fan of your book All These Things I’ve Done, and I saw that you’d be answering questions in le ask box this week, so here’s three: 1) How was your college experience? 2) Favorite brand of clothing? 3) Greek tragedy or detective novel?

Thanks very much!

Re: My College Experience — I have nothing terribly original to say about this matter, I suspect. I knew I wanted to be a writer before I went to college, but the truth is, college made me a writer. It exposed me to books beyond what I would have read on my own and ideas beyond what I would have thought on my own. I did not care for college much while I was in it, but that is because I was young and silly.

By the way, I was fortunate to be able to attend a fancy college though what I really believe is that a great education can be procured at many places and in many ways.

Re: Favorite brand of clothing.

I have no brand loyalty. I like what I like. I like vintage, too. That said, I am very into this season’s Valentino collection. (Sadly, I am priced out.)

Re: Greek tragedy or detective novel?

Have I been hoping someone would ask me this my entire life?

Greek tragedy because it’s the source of all story. The detective novel is a relatively young genre. (Semi-related aside: A couple of years ago, I read all of Sherlock Holmes — it’s interesting to see the ways in which Arthur Conan Doyle is the root of ALL modern police television procedurals. There would be no Law and Order or CSI without Conan Doyle.)

What is Gabrielles Zevins favorite color

Gabrielle Zevin’s favorite color is white for decorating and sheets. Her favorite color for clothes is black. Her dog is an appealing beige/yellow color, which she loves. For ink, she prefers black though occasionally buys gold or purple pens for the purpose of signing books.

Gabrielle Zevin likes speaking about herself in the third person, too. “I” is so horribly personal.

Gabrielle Zevin is going to answer some of the questions in her TUMBLR ASK BOX this week.

I absolutely love your book All These Things I’ve Done. Like, i’m so obsessed i’m going to be purchasing the hardcover copy so I can keep it forever. And then I did some research to find out if you had written a sequel and by the grace of God you have. I almost cried when I found out. So i’ll be ordering that too. Just, ah. I absolutely love your books, honestly. Please, if writing makes you happy DON’T EVER STOP. You’re amazing and I actually plan to read them until I can memorize them. :) <3 U

Thank you so much! So incredibly happy to hear from you. How can I not I approve of plans to a) buy my books in hardcover and b) commit them to memory?

Writing does make me happy. Smart readers make me happy, too. 

XO, Gabrielle