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One Book Reviewer's 95 Theses; Or, Things to Nail on the Door of Random House (or wherever)

Ye olde-school version of A Book Reviewer's 95 Theses
Ye olde-school version of A Book Reviewer's 95 Theses

Out of love and concern for the Publishing Industry, and with the object of eliciting it (particularly since, by my optimistic calculations, the current manifestation of publishing has a half-life of approximately 12 months less than the popularity of the current health care reforms), the following nasty little snarks will be the subject of public discussion and mirth.

I exhort you, my fellow Book Reviewers--particularly those not living within the poisonous influence of the Alabaster City--to take this opportunity to rise up against the oppressive power of the Publishing Dictators of the East. It isn't outrageous to liken our struggle to those faced by the honorable Martin Luther and his 1517 rail against the Catholic bees in his bonnet.

Consider: on the one hand, you have dictatorial, long unchallenged powers detailing absurd restrictions regardless of the needs, tastes, or desires of the common man. On the other hand, you have the Medieval Catholic church. The comparison is uncanny.

Martin Luther received excommunication and forcible induction into the order of the Outlaw for his 95 bits of constructive criticism. I, however, can scarcely conceive of a way in which I could achieve less communion with the Publishing Industry than I already experience. Why bother, then, airing my 95 complaints?

So that, dear Publisher, when the revolution comes you will know precisely why I have you slated as first up against the wall.

One Book Reviewer’s 95 Theses; Or, Things to Nail on the Door of Random House (or wherever)

1. You have made me feel like a provincial, irretrievably repressed, pathetic wonk for not living in New York City.
2. Every other one of your books is set in New York City.
3. Every third one of your authors lives in New York City.
4. Every Best Of or Must Read or Pick of the Month list contains at least one compilation of New York-themed short stories or poems or essays on the joys and trials of life in the Alabaster City and, in particular, on the subway.
5. I’ve never been on or even seen a subway, yet you’ve convinced me that that my life is but a wispy shadow of Authentic Living without this as a regular experience.
6. I can’t find or lose the meaning of my life on a subway or have a life-changing conversation on a subway or ponder in stunningly apt and riveting prose my unfulfilling life on a subway when there aren’t any around here for me to have such epiphanies on.
7. Is this the real cause of all my problems?
8. I’ve ridden buses aplenty, but, in the world you inhabit, buses are reserved for third-world citizens and former mental asylum residents and the fourth or fifth or sixth string side characters in literary novels that feature main characters who only get around by subway.
9. Or car.
10. Or taxi.
11. Walking is considered green and acceptable in a hoity intellectual way but, in actual practice, it’s still definitively low-brow by your standard. But it’s still above buses.
12. I used to be perfectly happy—no, ecstatically happy!—living in a miniscule town with no subway, no bookstore, and lots of cows. Now, I can only look at the Holsteins and wonder what fantastic literary delights I’d be indulging in if I were in the Alabaster City and what profound insights I’d be privy to while riding subways everywhere.
13. And yet, I still spend profound amounts of time publicly flogging you and the stranglehold you hold over the entire publishing industry.
14. Flogging the people I wish I were. Was. Would be. Could be.
15. I despise you and worship you and wish you were in my pocket and I in yours, all at the same time.
16. “Hello? 911? I need the Irony Police.”
17. You ignore my desperate pleas for ARCs of review-embargoed books because, you know, it’s just so difficult to put a book in an envelope and put it in the cart for the underpaid intern to take to the mail room.
18. You behave as if the on-time delivery of these books is the eighth labor of Hercules, as if the only way for the books to trek their way out here to the Wild West is by way of a blind Pony Express rider with rheumatoid arthritis and a horse missing a shoe.
19. Yet you persist in sending me prettily worded emails—with deceptively friendly subject lines: “Hey, Michelle! How are you?”—that attempt to convince me how essential my reviews of these books are to you and to your author and to the entire future of publishing in general.
20. You even wait until I publicly pronounce my irritation with review copies—like I did with Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom—only to send me a review copy, two days later, that I hadn’t even asked for. I was so thrilled to receive it, I flagrantly betrayed my devout belief that I shouldn’t ever take for free a book that I would gladly have hacked off a toe—or, at the very least, my little finger—to own anyway.
21. Should I have sent the book back? Yes, very probably. Did I? No.
22. You have turned me into a hypocrite.
23. And now, I feel so guilty about it, I can’t even read it. It squats on my shelf, unopened, with that weird bluebird on the cover eyeing me maliciously. If I turned the Led Zeppelin down right now, I am certain I would be able to hear it whispering to me: “Hypocrite, hypocrite.”
24. You have forced me to question my sanity and good taste by wildly praising books I find to be awful.
25. When I finish a peculiarly horrendous paperback, then see you gushing like a broken oil pipe in the Gulf of Mexico over the book’s stirring prose and thrilling roller coaster of a ride plot, I wonder if this is how Alice felt after falling down the rabbit hole.
26. I drink the contents of the nearest bottle to see if it will help.
27. It never does.
28. I keep trying, just in case.
29. You have made me into a borderline alcoholic.
30. You have convinced me that I could never, ever become an author myself, not because I can’t write—you’ve convinced me that writing ability isn’t a necessary prerequisite to success as a writer--but because I’m not pretty or thin enough.
31. Judging by the author photos you feature on the backs of books and on that inner flap thing of book jackets and on publicity sheets, most successful authors could double as models. Their hair is perfect and their offices and desks are painfully hip.
32. Even when they’re pictured with a few papers or whatever lying around near them, the mess looks sort of arty, like something I would stare at in the MOMA and not understand.
33. All the authors gaze meaningfully into nothing in the middle distance with the sort of gravity you would normally expect from someone who just uncovered the cure for cancer, not someone who merely succeeded in producing a mediocre mystery novel with a quirky but lovable amateur sleuth.
34. You have branded that phrase, “quirky but lovable,” into the fibers of my neural networks.
35. Compelling, as well.
36. Thought-provoking, too.
37. And provocative.
38. Coming of age.
39. Tour de force.
40. Stunning debut.
41. Beautifully written.
42. Epic.
43. Powerful.
44. Unflinching.
45. Haunting.
46. Nuanced.
47. Sweeping.
48. Fully Realized.
49. A rollicking debut.
50. Pitch-perfect.
51. Gritty.
52. Timely.
53. The Axis of Evil: luminous, lyrical, lucid
54. Unputdownable.
55. (Author suppresses involuntary retching here.)
56. How can every serious, politically-flavored, smart-ish satirical novel be described as Philip Roth meets Kurt Vonnegut?
57. Every mildly suspenseful British-accented novel that incorporates an impressive dead body count and shades of the supernatural qualify as Agatha Christie meets Stephen King?
58. Every book that contains the word “magic” coupled with teenagers be instantly assumed to be “a perfect read for Harry Potter lovers”?
59. I am at once attracted to and repulsed by these, your highly readable clichés.
60. Clichés I use now as if I leapt from the womb with them indelibly embedded into my DNA.
61. I behave like a dog returning to my vomit, unable to think of anything that hasn’t been said/written/thought/deleted one hundred million times ere I ever laid my right hand ring finger upon the “l” for Loser.
62. For every 10 minutes I spend writing now, I have to spend 20 more minutes going back through everything to delete out all the clichés.
63. The few parts of my brain that you haven’t filled up with clichés, you have filled with information that I don’t need to know and never cared to know.
64. Like the location of practically everything in Brooklyn.
65. I’ve read so much about Brooklyn (see # 1) I am certain that an MRI of my brain would reveal a landscaped map of the area, complete with drinking establishments highlighted by green stars.
66. I regularly get lost in my own state, county, town, yet I am certain I could navigate Brooklyn blindfolded.
67. You’ve taught me in depth—with no regard to whether or not I was even remotely interested—about the unbridled wildness of Los Angeles, which the books you tout tend to describe as a kind of unholy hybrid between a Las Vegas casino and the Sunni Triangle.
68. And New Orleans. What is this weird fascination you have with any type of book having anything to do with New Orleans?
69. If an outer space being was asked to draw a map of the United States as interpreted through your books, New York City would range roughly from the Atlantic Ocean to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, New Orleans would occupy the space currently taken up by Northern California, and Los Angeles would be a large tropical island off the coast, inhabited by ungovernable savages living free of the restrictions and inhibitions of normal civilization.
70. You have convinced me that I am no good at sex.
71. Admittedly, it wasn’t that difficult.
72. But still, you destroyed the gossamer-thin thread of confidence I did have with the love scenes in all of your books.
73. I’m not even talking about romance books here. Your literary novels are the most egregious offenders.
74. And, of course, it’s always people in New York City who have the best sex.
75. If anyone is even mildly dysfunctional sexually, they will either be from, or living in, a small town.
76. Or alternatively, they will be in a dysfunctional relationship with someone from a small town.
77. This, children, is what we call a Tired Old Literary Trope.
78. Change the record, why don’t you.
79. You have altered me from a sunnily happy mystery, science fiction, and fantasy enthusiast into a perpetually mopey and depressed literary fiction reader.
80. This literary fiction that you unendingly champion is so realistic, it is practically indistinguishable from real life, particularly the worst, most gloomy manifestations of life. Meaning it is brutish, unpleasant, and an excellent reason to get that prescription for Prozac refilled.
81. I have as much interest in reading things that make me unhappy as I do in poking my eyeball out with a shish kebab stick; but you have made me embarrassed to admit that I don’t want to read your next Great American Novel (you know, the other one, the one that was published a few months after that other book that you also said was the Great American Novel).
82. Frankly, I would rather read the stuff you say is low-brow.
83. So, you force me into these impossible Scylla and Charybdis-style choices between reading what you tell me I should read and being smart or reading what I want to read and being dumb.
84. And not only that, you deliberately make the covers of those books as embarrassment-making as possible.
85. I’m ashamed to be seen with them in public and have to skulk about in the shadows with them or take the dust jacket off and read them only when they’re in their anonymous grey undergarments.
86. You have exploited and profited from my innate impatience by producing expensive hardcover books and hyping up my literary desire to such a pitch that I cannot wait for it to come out in paperback or for Amazon to deliver it or for the library hold list to fall into the single digits.
87. And, because guilt constrains me from angling for a free copy (See #20-23), I end up buying it, in hardcover, full-price—which is exactly what you wanted me to do.
88. You have convinced me that any book that doesn’t come out first as an outrageously overpriced hardcover book can’t possibly be any good.
89. You clog my filing cabinets and bulletin board and life up with publicity sheets that I can blackout a Book Review Bingo Card on; yet I feel like I can’t throw them away even though I don’t really need or use them.
90. You have convinced me that you must be the masters of some strange and exotic form of torture involving Superglue or neck-stretching or the boring out of certain physiological organs; how else can I explain your ability to get authors I normally like and admire to vomit out excruciatingly glowing blurbs for the glossy back covers of books that are, actually, quite bad?
91. You have hijacked every stray sound wave of book coverage on NPR with books that always feature the same quasi-sophisticated topics of political expose, international intrigue, dysfunctional families, hip pop science themes, heart-wrenching biographies or memoirs, quirky amateur mystery novels (always featuring children and/or animals), and cookbooks or gardening or foodie books with a heavy bias towards eating local and going green.
92. Also, anything having to do with New York, New Orleans, or, inexplicably, baseball.
93. I actually used to play a game informally known as Guess Which Completely P.C. and Appropriately Zeitgeist-y Books Will Be Featured on NPR Next.
94. I’d peruse the New Release lists of Certain Publishing Houses That Shall Remain Nameless and, using the topics of each book as the sole criteria, try to guess which books would end up featured on NPR in the coming weeks.
95. I quit playing after a few months. It’s boring playing a game that you win every single time.


Rants, related to A Book Reviewer's 95 Theses, or otherwise? Direct calls for my excommunication here or nail them into the Comment section, below.

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  • Dawn N 4 years ago

    #79 and 80 -- WILD APPLAUSE

    I've given up on literary fiction. It's terrible. THAT'S RIGHT I SAID IT. It. Is. Terrible. With very few exceptions, it always tells the same story, it's always miserable, and there is no hope of redemption for anyone, including the author. I used to think the stories were always sad, but now I don't care enough to even summon that emotion. In fact, I'm kinda glad those protags are so unhappy. Given their inner monologues, they deserve it.

  • Karma Bennett 3 years ago

    You had me smiling until #88. Since few indie publishers can afford to release books in hardback, these is basically an admission that you don't think any indie fiction is ever worth reading. Surely you don't believe that!

  • Anonymous 3 years ago

    some one is using my name in forks wa. something about sex tapes, shame on you.

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