Overused Review Words

Roger Sutton has an interesting post up right now about the terms that we use to review children’s books, and which ones are likely overused or perhaps used when they really shouldn’t be.  I found the words he chose to highlight particularly interesting, although the topic itself certainly deserves much discussion and thought.

He mentions the word “humorous” and how it irritated him simply because of its strangeness in speech.  People rarely say “this book was humorous, you should read it”, they say “it was funny, you might like it”.  The idea that our reviews should read like we are speaking to someone isn’t new and is actually rather appealing in many ways.  If you’re reading a review that sounds like your friend talking and recommending (or not recommending, as the case may be) a book to you, are you more likely to listen than if the review sounds like it was written by a college professor giving a lecture?  There are advantages either way, I guess.  It could depend on the book being reviewed and potentially it could make a difference in the audience that will hear or read it.  How much difference does tone make in a review?

I also found his inclusion of the word “feisty” in his post quite interesting.  I always hated the word feisty.  It always seemed like a backwards compliment, and it seems like Deborah Stevenson might feel much the same way.  In children’s book reviews, and likely adult book reviews as well (although I would guess to a lesser degree, but I may be completely wrong), there seem to be all manner of ways to describe heroes (usually female heroes) that seem more like backhanded compliments than actual positive statements.  What other code words do we use in reviews, though?  I know there are others.

Feisty always bugged me because it indicated to me that no matter how interesting and strong the girl might be, she was always A Girl and in the end, she remembered and embraced that role.  I’m sorry, but if your character’s biggest development is to embrace their gender/get married/have a baby I’m just not that interested.  I need more than that, no matter how independent and interesting she may have seemed at the beginning.  If the word “feisty” turns up in more than one review of a book, I’m not likely to want to read it.

I’m certainly going to start paying more attention to the words I use when reviewing and writing about books casually, since I’m interested now to see what patterns I have.  What patterns do you have?

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