By George Ballenger, 1317 Member

Maureen Corrigan and Louis Bayard set out to help a room full of hopeful reviewers attending The Last Word: The Art of the Book Review at the Tucson Festival of Books. Corrigan and Bayard answer fundamental questions like, “Why do we need critics?” and, “How do you become a good critic?”

2016 TFOB Recap: The Art of the Book Review

“No one desperately asks for critics,” begins the session. Even so, book reviews place books in a larger historical perspective. Reviews aren’t absolute. Because they are subjective, not everyone will agree with a reviewer’s opinion. Even when a reader doesn’t share the stated opinion, the book review must still hold the reader’s attention.

Bayard says that one important thing is to “feel the person behind the words.” This means that reviewers should find a voice when writing. That voice should sound like a trustworthy opinion. Corrigan emphasizes the importance of “taking a book as it is.” She suggests that reviewers should not judge a book on how they would write the story but on how the author wrote it, keeping in mind the author’s style and genre. Reviewers should be honest. A sincere review is more valuable than a canned one.

Reviewers who write a simple plot summary likely feel awkward giving a bad review. Reviews should include a recommendation one way or another so the reader can know if the book is worth the read. Corrigan and Bayard agree that the hardest review to write is the mixed review, which is often confused with a bad review. Finally, the session leaders suggest that the best critical writing happens when book reviewers approach a book anew and change their opinions.

This was an educational and helpful seminar, however I would most likely not suggest it to friends. This seminar would be most helpful to aspiring critics of entertainment media including books, music, video games or movies. I would also suggest it for an older audience as it was not hands-on like the festival workshops intended for young adults and teens.

Maureen Corrigan: Corrigan is the book critic on the Peabody Award-winning NPR program, Fresh Air. She is also a Mystery Columnist for The Washington Post. She is a professor of English at Georgetown University. Corrigan received the 1999 Edgar Award in Criticism. She served as a juror for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, as a juror and panel head for the LA Times Book Prize for two consecutive years and as advisor to the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read Project. Suggested Reading: Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading (2005).

Louis Bayard: A New York Times Notable author, Bayard was nominated for both the Edgar and Dagger Awards and named one of People magazine’s top authors of the year. Louis is also a nationally recognized essayist and critic whose articles have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Salon and Ms.. He also teaches creative writing at George Washington University and is the author of the popular Downton Abbey recaps for the New York Times. Suggested Reading: The Pale Blue Eye (2007).