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Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America Paperback – June 29, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0826217288 ISBN-10: 0826217281 Edition: 0th

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: University of Missouri (June 29, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0826217281
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826217288
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,258,659 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Woe betide the poor reviewer who must review a book on book reviewing, especially one that lashes out mercilessly at practitioners in the field. Pool, a longtime freelance reviewer and former Boston Review editor, asserts that editors too often select the wrong books and assign them to the wrong people. Reviewers in turn heap too much praise on these unworthy volumes; the reviewers are biased, unqualified, inaccurate and incompetent. (She illustrates this point with several examples of sadly laughable prose.) The pileup of criticisms is wearing, and Pool's suggested reforms, such as a reviewing code of ethics and having columnists in a variety of fields to make more knowledgeable selections of books to cover, are useful only to a point (e.g., even with a code of ethics, editors must rely on reviewers to reveal conflicts of interest). Pool is often spot-on, however, as when she opposes the reckless use of comparisons between books or authors rather than stressing what is unique about a work. Everyone in the field will applaud Pool's passionate insistence on the importance to literary culture of the serious, informed critique, which is increasingly endangered and in need of such vigorous support. (July 6)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


Veteran reviewer Gail Pool comes at the problem of the declining and frequently abysmal quality of book reviews in America... from a down-to-earth, nitty-gritty, practical perspective...to yield a most usable and rewarding guide to the book review business.--Anis Shivani, American Book Review, November/December 2008

Pool's analysis is as wide-ranging as it is hard-hitting.  Faint Praise is a brave polemic, written out of a profound love of literature, evident on every page.--Megan Marshall, Radcliffe Quarterly, Winter 2008.

Pool's book is timely.  It is also well-conceived and well-researched.  In fact, it is difficult to imagine a more thoughtful, informative book about the work I've done for nearly 40 years.--Steve Weinberg, Boston Globe, October 27, 2007.

Pool's book is a clarion call for a return to a vigorous kind of criticism, based on sound, logical thinking and the precise use of language.--Steven W. Beattie, That Shakespearean Rag, July 2007.

Some well-deserved pats on the head and slaps upside the head.--Kirkus, June 2007.

More About the Author

I was born in New York City, attended Little Red School House and Hunter College High School, and concentrated in Classics at Harvard. After marrying in college, my husband and I lived in London, New Guinea, and San Francisco before settling in the Boston area with our son. These days we live in Cambridge and spend the colder part of the year in Sanibel, where I've become immersed in the natural world: plants, birds, alligators, and, to my surprise, shells.

For more than thirty years, I've been involved primarily in literary journalism, with a focus on criticism, the culture of magazines, and travel. I was editor of Boston Review, books editor of the Radcliffe Quarterly, and a freelance reviewer for such publications as the Women's Review of Books and the New York Times. My book columns--each focused on a specific field--appeared in the Christian Science Monitor (travel), Wilson Library Bulletin (mysteries), and the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the San Diego Union-Tribune, and the Houston Post (fiction).

Since 2000 I have published two books and I have just completed a third. My first, Other People's Mail: An Anthology of Letter Stories, emerged from my fascination with this seductive mode of storytelling. My second, Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America, was drawn from long experience in the unruly world of criticism. Both were published by the University of Missouri Press.

For my third book, Lost Among the Baining: Adventure, Marriage, and Other Fieldwork--which will be published next spring by the University of Missouri Press--I have returned to the world of travel I wrote about in reviews for the Christian Science Monitor and in travel essays for the New York Times. In fact, Lost Among the Baining was inspired partly by a Times essay that I wrote about a fiasco of a field trip I took to New Guinea with my husband. My memoir looks back with humor on our sixteen months living in the bush with a people whose very different culture seemed to undermine our own, and our redemptive return to the village nearly forty years later.

For those who share my love of travel literature, I have started a blog called TraveLit, which reviews travel classics. These books--mostly little-known, and all worth knowing--cover travel is all its forms, from exploration to tourism. Along with reviews, TraveLit brings together provocative or entertaining quotations, reader recommendations, commentary, and links to points of interest.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Demand more, appreciate better - of writing and of education!
Faint Praise is the only book I have seen that is specifically about book reviewing.
It illuminates the whole field of book reviewing from an insider's point of view.
Iona Main Stewart

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca of Amazon HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 25, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"As any reviewer knows, whatever one critic says is likely to set another's teeth on edge, the war between writers and reviewers is never ending, and critics are likely to be reviled for what they do, however well or badly they do it." ~ pg. 3

"Faint Praise" is an intellectual look at the realities of book reviewing. Since there are so few books on the subject of reviewing this is a welcome read. Gail Pool truly presents an insider's view because she is a reviewer and an editor. Therefore she sees the big picture and accurately presents an assessment of current reviewing predicaments.

While I was very interested in reading what she had to say about professional reviewers, I was even more intrigued by what she thought about Amazon reviewers. Since this book was published in 2007 Amazon has changed quite a few site features. We no longer have to worry about anonymous reviews (authors now frequently just review their books publicly without shame even though it makes them look bad) and both positive and negative reviews are often featured in the most helpful reviews section.

One of the most interesting topics of discussion was the differentiation between various types of reviewers. By reading this book you can find out if you are a literary critic, book critic, classic book reviewer or reader-reviewer.

One of the questions I've had about publishers was answered in this book. Apparently it is quite common for some publishers to send you a catalog of books to review and then to not send you the books you select. Apparently this is one of the "long-standing mysteries in reviewing."

If you are curious as to what goes on in an editor's mind when selecting books for review the answers will be very revealing.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on September 3, 2007
Format: Paperback
Informed and informative, "Faint Praise: The Plight Of Book Reviewing In America" by Gail Pool (a freelance journalist, reviewer, and review editor based in Cambridge, Massachusetts) is an impressively insightful, deftly written, accessibly articulate, expertly knowledgeable, and decidedly analytical survey of the multifaceted and complex world of book reviewing today. Getting a book reviewed can result in prestige for authors and their publishers, improved sales, and a raised public awareness of a particular title struggling for attention against thousands of competing books. They can also bury worthy and literate titles in a sea of inane and flawed books that are published by the tens of thousands every month. "Faint Press" provides a descriptive and comprehensive introduction to the institution of book reviewing, including such issues as why bad reviewing happens despite good intentions, why so many intelligent bibliophiles, knowledgeable readers, and gifted authors can fail at the art, craft, science, and business of writing book reviews. "Faint Praise" takes the reader behind the scenes and shows how books are chosen for review, the context in which book reviewing takes place, including a book review culture that is shows little interest in literature, a surprising antipathy toward criticism, and a vulnerability to the 'seduction of praise'. It's a sad fact of contemporary publishing that reviews so often degenerate into unmerited hype. Very highly recommended for both academic and community library Literary Studies collections, "Faint Praise" should be considered mandatory reading for anyone aspiring to become a book reviewer, and is especially valuable reading for authors, publishers, academicians, and the general reading public.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Dragana Djordjevic-Laky on December 17, 2007
Format: Paperback
Too bad the joke about reviewing a book about reviewing books is already taken, so those professional reviewers (at Publisher's Weekly, see above) really do have an edge over us amateurs. Gail Pool can thus rest assured that the market for her services, which she sees as endangered, will not be diluted to the point of total dilettantism, as I sensed from her slight animosity towards online reviewers who can afford to do it for free (I, in particular, take exception and offense to her statement that reviews spare in numbers are "probably" placed by the author's friends).

Aside from occasional pokes, however, it would be unfair to call Pool's plight a rant, since she does give good reasons for her concerns. It was about time someone who knows what they're doing spoke up about the caprices of the media machine that make and break careers, in this case inflationary, over-the-top, often misinformed book reviews, and, at the heart of it, the schemes that get an author reviewing space in the first place.

Fortunately, she does not leave it at that, but also offers viable guidelines and approaches that might very well serve the overall quality of literature, if not the book industry, which appears to be the underlying problem. Since, presumably, Pool is too experienced to bear any illusions that she is stronger than the system, the most valuable message of "Faint Praise" has universal appeal: be independent-minded if you can, do not take the path of least resistance by becoming just another particle of mass culture, and read, read, read--carefully.
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