It apparently started with Caitlin Kiernan, who rightly suggested that using the term ‘self-indulgent’ was not a very useful one for book reviewers or critics to be using. It then showed up at The Mumpsimus, and I’ve just read Niall Harrison’s interesting comments on the subject.
It’s all good stuff, and I was particularly interested to see Niall refer to conversations on bad habits that reviewers pick up, phrases they use, things they do. I completely agree about not simply writing blurbs, however nice it is to see what you’ve written printed on the cover of a book. I have countless things I hate seeing in book reviews, and a number of flags that fly when I’m trying to write one. For example, if you ever find yourself snickering at your own wit while writing a book review, junk what made you laugh. Trust me. The one thing, though, that I’d cut out of all book reviewing isn’t ‘self-indulgent’, it’s ‘what it means to be human’. As in, Charles Stross’s Accelerando redefines what it means to be human, or Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn addresses what it means to be human. It’s lazy. It’s dumb. It’s shorthand for attempting to describe what a book is about it, or what the author is attempting. Every time I read it in someone else’s reviews, I switch off, and when I read it in one of my own, I wince. Erg.