On Book Reviews

From a course assignment cum letter from Kurt Vonnegut to students in his “Form of Fiction” course at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Proceed next to the hallucination that you are a minor but useful editor on a good literary magazine not connected with a university. Take three stories that please you most and three that please you least, six in all, and pretend that they have been offered for publication. Write a report on each to be submitted to a wise, respected, witty and world-weary superior.

Do not do so as an academic critic, nor as a person drunk on art, nor as a barbarian in the literary market place. Do so as a sensitive person who has a few practical hunches about how stories can succeed or fail. Praise or damn as you please, but do so rather flatly, pragmatically, with cunning attention to annoying or gratifying details. Be yourself. Be unique. Be a good editor. The Universe needs more good editors, God knows.

Good advice for writing book and story review blog posts, no?

You can read the entire letter at Slate, here.

2 thoughts on “On Book Reviews

  1. Hi Nina,

    I’m fortunate to live in Vonnegut’s home town and participate regularly in meetings of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library’s book club. We’re meeting on 12/20 to discuss this new book of his letters and Dan Wakefield will be joining us. Vonnegut’s famous “rules” on writing fiction are also great.

    A while back, Wakefield was a guest at another meeting, where we learned and talked about a letter of Kurt’s in the museum that – at the author’s request – has remained unopened. I wrote about it in a post here: http://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/the-value-of-the-indefinite/


    1. I’ve seen the buzz about Vonnegut’s letters going around; I hope to pick it up. I’m also looking forward to your post about the 12/20 meeting. 🙂

      Thanks for the link; I will check it out later tonight!

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