Thursday, January 7, 2010

Noted Review: Attention Bloggers and Desktop Publishers!

Calvani, Mayra and Anne K. Edwards. The Slipperly Art of Book Reviewing. Kingsport, TN: Twilight Times Books, 2008. 182 Pages. Paper. (N)

Brooks, Brian, James L. Pinson, Jean Gaddy Wilson. Working With Words: A Handbook for Media Writers and Editors (Seventh Edition). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2010. 392 Pages. Spiral. $46.95, estimated price.  (N)

The new media has made us lazy. Not all of us, perhaps, but many in the West and around the globe. Informality and creative spelling are "in" and so are relaxed lines between fact and opinion. These developments are most unfortunate.

From the perspective of my service as Headmaster (Principal) of a Classical Lutheran school, one rooted in the grammar, logic, and rhetoric of the Trivium, I offer the following two resources for Christian bloggers, pastors, and others who provide fact and opinion content on the worldwide web.

Yes, the first book for your consideration is a book on book reviewing. (There is something a little intimidating about offering a book review on a book about book reviewing.) :) Authors Mayra Calvani and Anne K. Edwards have provided a uniquely helpful resource for professional and amateur book reviewers.

Consider The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing as an appropriate guide for one just getting started. I would also call it "finishing school" for one who has been learning the science and art of writing book reviews. I've been doing this for four years now. Calvani and Edwards have condensed advice, counsel, warnings, and pitfalls to avoid from their experiences as reviewers. Sure, you could continue reading and writing book reviews without this book, but why reinvent the wheel? Some people have to learn from their own mistakes. I prefer saving the trouble of stumbling myself and heed hard-won wisdom from others.

A basic book review is much like an essay or speech: "Tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them." I prefer a conversational style ratheran a formal academic review. Our audience is made up of active parish pastors and church musicians (many of the latter are drafted piano players serving as organists). And, while I've used the term "this reviewer," over the years, I've found it more personal to occasionally use "I."

Reviews since our transition to a blog (then pdf) format have usually been shorter, to the point, and designed to be more visually easy to read than in our first three years of "print/pdf first" layouts.

Avoid obvious, amateurish, unprofessional mistakes (41ff, 78ff, 97ff, 104ff). Humble yourself enough to learn from true experts.

Learn the difference between a book review, book report, a critique, and a press release? See pages 74 and following. For me, this was the core of the book.

The best advice? "Whether short or long, the favorite 'formula' seems to be an interesting lead/hook, a brief summary, and an evaluation" (31).

Our LHP QBR "motto," for lack of a better term is: "Critical reviews (by Lutheran pastors and church musicians) of books and other resources for Christian worship, preaching, and church music from a perspective rooted in Holy Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions and good common sense. LHP Quarterly Book Review asks, 'Is it worth the money to buy, the time to read, the shelf space to store, and the effort to teach?'" The challenge of any bibliophile is both a challenge and a curse: "There will always be another book..." We want to save our readers time, money, space, and effort.

Overall, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing, published by Twilight Times Books, will remain a valuable reference for me and will become a standard recommended reference the Lutheran pastors, musicians, and laypeople who contribute to Liturgy, Hymnody, and Pulpit Quarterly Book Review.

Most appropriate for "media writers and editors," I would recommend the new 2010 edition of Working with Words for anyone, especially pastors, church secretaries, educators, bloggers, desktop publishers and others who work with words for a living.

Consider this a book in five parts:
  • Grammar and Usage (to make up for going to an "Elementary School" as opposed to an ancient/modern "Grammar School"
  • Mechanics (including punctuation and spelling)
  • Style (clarity, objectivity, conciseness and the danger of "isms")
  • Writing Methods for Different Media (print, broadcast, and new media)
  • Appendices (abbreviations, capitalization, numbers)
A helpful introduction encourages students (and pros) to "Learn the joys of rewriting" (5). Your blog may be sacred to you, but it is not Holy Writ! Learn to edit yourself.

This latest update is conscious of current events and the danger of the loss of objectivity in today's journalism (health care, 240). Chapter 13 covers "Sexism, Racism and Other 'isms'" in a respectful way, but with just a hint of "political correctness." Consider Islamic-related terminology on 287-288.

Note the difference between how news is written for newspapers and magazines, tv and radio, and the blogosphere. Aim for clarity and conciseness. Keep your readers in mind. Keep the facts straight.

Chapter 16 was the most helpful to me as QBR blog editor. Upgrades in our style and format will be implemented as we continue learning.

Consider Working with Words to upgrade how you use language in writing and speaking in this new year and new decade. It will serve you well.

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.