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>Too damned long

>I see that PW has followed up on Betsy Bird’s thoughts on the Amazon Vine program; their speculation that membership in Vine might be a perk for good customers is intriguing if not substantiated. What seems oddest to me is that this program–for which publishers and other producers pay for the privilege of having their products evaluated–is being criticized for eliciting cluelessly negative reviews, which does not seem to serve the purposes of either publishers or Amazon. It’s not like the books don’t otherwise get customer reviews, but perhaps the Vine reviews post early enough so that any early buzz they provide outweighs what they actually say?

Vine reviews, customer reviews, and, sorry, blog reviews–they are all too damned long. That’s the problem I have with ’em. Just because the technology allows one to prattle on forever should by no means encourage one to do so. The one Amazon review I remember appreciating was a negative review of a recording I adore, Adam Guettel’s musical Floyd Collins. It read, in its entirety, “Too much yodeling.”

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. >Alas, I have not acquired the skill of writing with brevity and am one of your lengthy offenders. I promise to continue my reading of The Horn Book as the best form of tutelage possible, though my final grade will probably still be a D.

  2. >Many times the reviews are too long and give too much away! Why do so many reviews become Cliff Note versions of the book itself?

  3. We Are Skrzypeks says:

    >Thank you! If a review is more than 3 paragraphs long, I'm not reading it, I'm skimming.

  4. >I'm with you. Like with Mariah Carey, just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

  5. MotherReader says:

    >Well, now I finally feel like I'm doing something right with my short Booklight reviews.

    I've always felt kind of lightweight in the blogging review world, because I don't like to write long reviews – especially for picture books. If the review takes longer to read than the book, what's the point?

  6. >ABSOLUTELY thank you Roger- I stop reading a review immediately if the first paragraph is about the reviewer and not the book (except Anthony Lane)

  7. >Gosh, my haiku reviews are looking better now. And here I thought I was just lazy.

  8. >Here I am being oppositional again. I say it depends on the reviewer. Some long reviews make me want to stick a fork in my eye. Fortunately most bloggers are pretty consistent and that makes it easy to avoid the blatherers.

    Some bloggers run long and every word they write is worth reading. They are more analysis than review– analysis of the book, or the trend, or the competition, or the environment that calls for such a book.

    But I am the person in the thread on Meta who said she read blogs for themselves. Not as a buying guide. If all I wanted was to know if I was going to buy a book for my library, I might think very differently.

  9. >Oh, dear. Speaking of TL;DR. I only got about halfway through SLJ's article before I quit.

  10. Rosanne Parry says:

    >For masterfully short and agenda free reviews, you need a child reviewer. My favorite to date said in it's entirety,

    "Chapter 7. OMG. I swallowed my gum."


  11. >I don't like really long reviews, period – wherever they appear and they do appear a lot in print as well. (Lit journals, magazines, etc.)

    The Vine thing still creeps me out for a lot of other reasons though not the least of which is that Amazon is paid for work done by others. Doesn't it annoy those Vine people that someone is getting cash for their time? Especially if they end up wasting it on a book they hate.

    The whole thing is weird.

  12. >My favorite children's book review (though I don't agree with it) remains: "Tonstant Weader fwowed up."
    For the uninitiated, that was in Dorothy Parker's "Constant Reader" column.


  13. >Concise, incisive reviews, yes! Attributed to the people who wrote them so we know their background and biases: absolutely.

  14. >Colleen said, "Amazon is paid for work done by others. Doesn't it annoy those Vine people that someone is getting cash for their time?"

    Here's my take on that: I was a reviewer for SLJ for roughly seventeen years and my compensation was getting to keep the book and getting the satisfaction of seeing my thoughts in print (this was pre-Internet, when it was harder to get your opinions out to the world). Sure, the presence of all those volunteer reviews from all of us toiling in the trenches helped the magazine generate a lot of revenue from selling ads, which enabled it to keep afloat. I knew that going in and accepted it as the rules of the game.

    Let me hasten to add that I recognize the difference between selling ads and accepting payment from publishers to review their books. I only want to point out what my motives were at the time for reviewing without personal financial compensation. I felt that I was serving an important and useful function, as well as enjoying myself.

    Lyle Blake Smythers

  15. >Attributed to everyone under the sun, apparently (Twain? Voltaire? Goethe?), but the line is:

    “I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

  16. Roger Sutton says:

    >This is where editors come in handy. The blog is the one place I publish without an editor, and it is the one place I can be fairly certain of being self-indulgent or ill-considered. That's one of the reasons I stay away from reviewing here. Over on one of the listservs, somebody recently posted her reviewing method, which involved multiple re-readings, drafts and reading aloud to a friend before she even sent it to the editor. That's a LOT, too much for efficiency's sake (reviewing is equally journalism as it is criticism, and the ability to do it quickly is important) but it would probably restrain one from going on too long. Here at the Horn Book, each book review is initially edited by one editor, then me, then again by everyone when we are looking at the book review section as a whole (and discover that all the reviewers used the word "famously" this month, or something).

  17. >I'm just so happy that someone else in the world knows (and loves) Adam Guettel's musical FLOYD COLLINS. 🙂 "How Glory Goes"…Glorious.

  18. >Those of you who think kids are naturally great reviewers have never had to endure any of their blow-by-blow plot summaries. They make most bloggers sound positively terse.

  19. >Maybe it's a vocabulary problem. Reviews are those short things that some people write too long. Is there another word for an extended discussion of a book? You know, those things that a used to take up actual column inches (many!) in a . . . God, I think they were called . . . newspapers? Remember? They would give someone famous and well-trained thousands of words to speak in some depth and with some expertise about a book?

  20. >jane yolen neglected to include the information that d. parker wrote those immortal (and so often quoted) words about winnie the pooh

  21. BookHarpie says:

    >Oh my. Have you read any of Betsy's reviews at Amazon. They are by far the longest, running 4 or 5 times longer than most other reviews of the kid books. I think you owe her an apology.

  22. Roger Sutton says:

    >Why, BookHarpie? Betsy likes long reviews and I don't. So?

  23. BookHarpie says:

    >Okay. I like you more and more.

    The BookHarpie personally despises long reviews… particularly ones that contain lengthy plot descriptions and spoilers, or, and this is even worse, bubbling enthusiasm about how scrumptious some character is. I would rather read that this book 'ROCKS!!!'. At least then, the pain is over quickly.

  24. >yet another Esperanto-sounding code word! is there some significance? who composes them? what does PATILIS mean to the initiated?

  25. Roger Sutton says:

    >I feel about the word "scrumptious" the way singer Mel Torme felt about the word "fart."

  26. KATE COOMBS says:

    >I love the Horn Book and other tightly composed reviews for a quick take on a book, but I write long reviews on my own blog. I would say mea culpa, but I do think this is a stylistic issue relating to audience, purpose, and what you as a writer DO with whatever word length you choose, whether it's 50 or 500.

    Then too, sometimes I feel that in a world now characterized by Twittery communications, taking the time to develop a topic in a near-rambling way is a luxury akin to reading the kinds of letters people used to write each other back before the advent of the telephone.

    –Kate Coombs (Book Aunt)

  27. >The well considered brevity of HB reviews can hardly be conflated with "quick takes" and twitters.

    Some long reviews may indeed be entertaining and potentially even enlightening. More often, I find them self-indulgent and not worth reading in their entirety. Even so, there is good to be found, and it's lovely that there is so much discussion of books. That's always a good thing, despite differing preferences about which conversations to tune in. The more the merrier.


  28. Ms. Yingling says:

    >Brief description. What readers will like it. Whether I'll buy it. Needs to fit on one screen. Hope this helps.

  29. Roger Sutton says:

    >I think some books offer–sometimes demand–plenty of opportunity for a lengthy review. But too many book reviews (in print and online, and I'm not excepting my own or the Horn Book's) are only long because someone did not bother to make them shorter.

  30. KATE COOMBS says:

    >As I said, I read and admire the HB reviews, which are excellent distillations written to a traditional length (not a platonic ideal!). But I also want to know more about a book sometimes, and then I look elsewhere, trying to find a more detailed review. This is partly because I don't have time to read books I'm not going to like, so I want more information before spending my time and money on them.

    And of course, Roger is completely right that some reviews are under-edited, just as some books are under-edited. Kind of like undercooked eggs, which are runny.

  31. >Kate, it's when you describe "near-rambling" as a luxury that you lose me. A good review can be long, yes, but rambling, no. Rambling is a luxury for the writer, not the reader.

  32. KATE COOMBS says:

    >Very good point!

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