Thursday, November 17, 2011

Reviewing Mormon Literature

A few months ago I became the book review editor for Irreantum, the literary journal published by the Association for Mormon Letters. So far the job has been challenging in a good way. I’ve never worked officially as an editor before, so I’m learning a lot and acquiring skills that will probably benefit me well into the future. I’m also getting random, unsolicited review copies in the mail from publishers and authors who want me to run reviews of their books. (By the way, you should probably subscribe to Irreantum. Here's how: http://irreantum.mormonletters.org/Subscribe.aspx)

So, not a bad gig.

Anyway, this post has two purposes. I’ll get the first one out of the way right now:

I’m currently putting together a list of potential reviewers, a veritable bullpen of insightful readers and writers who are willing to step up whenever a book needs reviewing. As is often the case, Irreantum doesn’t get a lot of book review submissions, so it is my job to a) find existing reviews on blogs that can be turned into journal reviews or b) recruit people to review texts of b.1) my choosing or b.2) their choosing. This is not a terribly difficult job, but it can be time consuming if no one is posting reviews on blogs or slamming my inbox with submissions.

So, if you’d like to be in the bullpen…let me know. In most cases you’ll at least get a free copy of the book under review and a contributor’s copy of the Irreantum issue carrying your work.

Now for the second purpose:

Just as there is no wrong way to eat a Reese’s, there is no right way to write a book review. Still, to encourage review submissions and aid potential reviews along, I am in the process of drafting guidelines for writing Irreantum book reviews. So far, this is what I have:   

Since Irreantum is a journal focused on Mormon literature, it’s primarily interested in publishing reviews of fiction, poetry, and drama by or about Mormons. Reviews of visual narratives, like graphic novels, and texts published in emerging literary forms are also considered.

Reviewed texts do not need to be brand new, although reviews of recent texts are preferred. Irreantum is also interested in publishing, from time to time, new reviews of “lost” Mormon literature—say from the 1960s or 70s or earlier.   

Most book reviews in Irreantum run anywhere from 1000 words to 2000 words, although longer reviews are not uncommon.

Book reviews should address a work’s literary value and possible significance to Mormon literature as a whole. It can likewise touch on what the work has to say about Mormonism culturally.

Reviews should draw attention to such things as the work’s target audience, major theme or themes, style and tone, characters, character development, plot, and genre. Reviewers should also incorporate direct quotes or passages from the text to supplement the review’s main points.   

Theological matters can be brought up in a review, but they should not overwhelm it.

Reviews can provide some biographical information about the work’s author. Special attention should be paid to the author’s previous works and how the new work fits in or takes the author’s career in new directions.

The style and tone of a review does not need to be formal and scholarly, although it can be. Also, reviewers can include autobiographical anecdotes in the review as long as they are relevant and do not distract from the primary work of the review.

Reviewers should keep in mind that the Mormon literary community is small. Likely, if you review a book, the author of that book will read your review. Be fair. Be helpful. Be honest.

A review should point out flaws when necessary and always have something good to say about a text. They should also be free of ad hominem attacks and any comparison of a text to Milton or Shakespeare.

The long and short of it is this: write about the book—what you love or hate about it, why others should or should not read it, etc.  Write something that will do justice to the book and be helpful for future readers. Have fun with it. Let the readers get a sense of your connection with the text. 

Reviews can be submitted to reviewsubmissions at mormonletters dot org.

Again, this is only a rough draft of review guidelines and does not represent any official review policies of Irreantum or the Association for Mormon Letters. As many of you know, AML has its own policies for reviews published on its websites. Reviewers for Irreantum would do well to look at those guidelines as well.

Also: is there anything I’ve missed? What more should a review of Mormon literature include?   

2 comments:

  1. Looks good. My own biggest soapbox about reviews is that they should position the work within Mormon literature as a whole. You've got that covered.

    For less experienced reviewers, I would also consider pointing out that the purpose of a review isn't to tell readers whether or not to buy/read a book. However, a review should include enough information to let readers know whether they are part of the audience that probably would like the book -- and who else might be part of that audience (whether they are or aren't).

    You also have me itching to find a way to squeeze a comparison to Milton or Shakespeare into my next review...

    ReplyDelete
  2. So...does having an itch to reference Milton and Shakespeare imply that you want to be on my list of go-to reviewers?

    Thanks for the feedback, as usual.

    ReplyDelete