Liesl Schillinger - a book reviewer at the New York Times
I receive a regular email from New York Times containing a brief overview of book reviews. There must have been something in the sentence or two that made be click the link to Liesl Schillinger’s review of the novel, The Nobodies Album. It was so persuasive I immediately ordered it through my local book store. So given this week’s task I thought I’d investigate what it was that made this review work for me.
Schillinger generally starts her reviews with a quick connection to the real world before launching into the fiction of the novel being reviewed. In the case of The Nobodies Album it was to theatre, television and the mystery genre. This instantly taps in to the vast number of people’s interests. It also immediately classifies the type of book being reviewed. The word ‘genre’ invokes a sense that the writer comes from an academic background.
Then through a narrative of the plot, supported by quotes, Schillinger gives a sense of the book and its characters. But suddenly she breaks the flow with “But this isn’t a mystery novel. Or is it?”, and thus establishes intrigue.
Schillinger returns to the plot, but ends these two paragraphs with the questions that arise in the book, reinforcing the mystery component to it. Through her description the novel seems to be a work of metafiction, not that this term is used in the review. The review is written intelligently without being patronising or alienating and reads like a conversation, a friend giving a detailed description of the latest book they’ve read.
The final paragraph of the review gives high praise for the skills of Carolyn Parkhurst in writing The Nobodies Album. When I checked Schillinger’s other recent views there often isn’t much of a final comment at all. The reviews end still focusing on the story within the novel being reviewed rather than the quality of the book. That said, Schillinger is clever at providing a sense or mood of a book through plot summaries. It appears the more Schillinger mentions the author in her plot summaries the more she likes the book.
A few times she has given criticism but I’ve yet to read a review where she completely doesn’t like the book. For instance, in a review of The Summer We Read Gatsby Schillinger calls it, “a plucky homage to Fitzgerald’s masterpiece that has about as much in common with “Gatsby” as Diet Coke has with Perrier-Jouët.” However, she then spends some time justifying the use of Gatsby in the book’s title.
I think what I like most about Liesl Schillinger’s reviews is the intelligent conversational tone. It also helps that for her reviews she has approximately 1200 words with which to play.
Schillinger, L 2010, ‘Vision and Revision’, review of The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst, New York Times, 1 July 2010, retrieved 1 August 2010 <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/11/books/review/Schillinger-t.html?scp=3&sq=&st=nyt>
Schillinger, L 2010, 'Jay, Daisy, Nick and Cassie', review of The Summer We Read Gatsby by Danielle Ganek, New York Times, 27 May 2010, retrieved 1 August 2010 <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/06/books/review/Schillinger-t.html?scp=7&sq=&st=nyt>