For someone who writes about what a book critic looks for, Chong’s own writing has very little of what she describes. Rather, it has a lot of flat, affectless sentences and the style of a student writing their senior thesis. She writes, at one point, how one reviewer (James Wood, if you’re interested) was recognized for using quotations to explain how an author did or did not do something well. So…

Plan of the Book

The chapters that follow take the reader through the review process told from the perspectives and experiences of the critics themselves.

I’m pretty sure that I wrote something like that when I had an extra two hundred words to make my quota for a college research paper.

I’m too lazy to copy out the next example, but just a glance will tell you it’s bad writing (ironic for a book about how critics identify and describe good or bad writing).

She even titles her final, concluding chapter… wait for it… wait for it…


The most interesting, to my mind, questions about the role of the critic must be the decline of the power and influence of the critic as cultural gatekeeper. As someone with more than a touch of cultural elitism in their makeup, I mourn that (even as I contribute to it; blogs like this are some of the forces driving its decline). Chong notes this decline, early on, but then proceeds to almost entirely ignore it. It’s as if someone was writing a book about the music business and noted that iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, etc. had created a seismic shift in distribution, but then went to spend the better part of one hundred and fifty pages discussing the manufacturing process for compact discs.