There is a nice piece in the New York Times by two reviewers about book reviewing: Is Book Reviewing a Public Service or an Art?
This week, James Parker and Anna Holmes debate whether book reviewing should be considered a public service or an art.
The full article is worth reading. Here are brief excerpts:
From James Parker:
You need to describe, nimbly and briefly, the contents of the book.
The point of the review, after all, is not him: It’s the book. The book that somebody else wrote.
From Anna Holmes:
In the Internet era, writers often feel pressured to perform rather than inform.
For one thing, book reviews are written to be read: They are work done for others’ enjoyment and edification; unlike some art, they are meant to inform an audience, not perform for one, and they usually follow a predictable pattern: name of book, summary of what book is about, followed by a competent, well-argued opinion as to whether the book’s author achieved his or her aims.
And, thinking of what I do, I wrote this in the comments section:
There is another “task — the book synopsis task.” I do that professionally, helping business people with the most useful takeaways from business books. I don’t “review” — I pull out important and useful content and pass it along. Some folks buy certain of the books; others learn enough from what I emphasize.
So, some thoughts.
Some books are meant to be read and enjoyed.
Some books are meant to challenge.
Some books are meant to teach skills of one kind or another.
But, all books, have something to teach us — fiction and nonfiction alike.
For the better part of two decades, I have presented synopses of books. Business books at least one time a month; books on social justice (poverty; race issues) at least one time a month also. Some people say to me “I enjoy your book reviews.” That is, of course, the shorthand way to describe what I do. But it is not quite accurate. I don’t “review” books. I “present synopses of books.” It’s a different task.
Karl Krayer, my colleague at the First Friday Book Synopsis, describes what we do as “knowledge transfer.” That is a good way to describe it – it is certainly our intent. We try to help people know the most important offerings from the books we present. Many go on to read the books. Others get enough from our presentations to help them think differently, and to know what to work on. But, I am not trying to “review,” or “critique,” but to learn – and to share with others what I have learned. And, then, to let what we all learn together challenge us all to take the next steps forward…
(And, by the way, though there are certainly books better than others, we can all learn something valuable from practically any business book. Sometimes, we learn what not to do…).
So, my task is the “book synopsis task: I don’t ‘review’ — I pull out important and useful content and pass it along.” To borrow from James Parker, “the point is the book. The book that somebody else wrote.”
If you live in the Dallas area (or are in town any first Friday), come learn with us from our synopses of business books at the First Friday Book Synopsis.
And, nearly all of our synopses of business books, with our handouts and audio recordings of our presentations, are available at our companion site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.