In her post at the Book Examiner on March 11, Michelle Kerns identified twenty words or phrases that she believes book reviewers use too often, tiring book review readers with their lazy language. In a subsequent post on March 15, she modified the list slightly to make Bingo cards. Seeing the fun, I decided to play the game. I searched five years of this blog using the Blogger search box to see how often I had used these words and phrases. Taking the first Bingo card, I failed to score five in a row up, down, across, or on the diagonal. I did, however, have to place a few beans on the board. (I remember playing Bingo with dried pintos as a kid.)
Here is my report.
First line across:
- compelling - A whole pile of beans right at the start. I have used "compelling" eleven times just since January 1, 2009. One use was to say a book was "not compelling." Of course, I have read a lot of good books that I felt driven to read in that time. What word would you have used?
- tour de force - I have never used this French phrase. I pretty much stick to English.
- nuanced - I have never used this term in five years of blogging, but as I look at it I think it could be occasionally handy.
- pitch-perfect - Never used.
- gritty - I have used the word once in five years.
Second line across:
- beautifully written - Zero.
- thought-provoking - I used this phrase in my very first post in 2005 and in ten posts since. I am surprised I have not use it more, for many books make me think, but that is the purpose of a book. Maybe it is only news when a book does not make me think. Remind me not to say "thought provoking" again.
- x meets x - Zero again. The idea here is "boy meets girl" or "predator meets prey" or such. I do not know how to search this, but I am sure that I have never used this construction.
- readable - Pile the beans. Fifteen uses in five years. Not a very inspiring adjective.
- powerful - While I have used this term frequently, I defend most of those uses, which are applied to the description of plots or characters. "Powerful storms" and "powerful politicians" seem acceptable to me. Only five times in five years have I used "powerful" to describe the book or movie that I reviewed.
Third line across:
- lyrical - One use in five years.
- at once - Zero.
- cliche-free - Is this the free space in the card? I did search. I have never used the term.
- timely - Six times in five years.
- sweeping - One use.
Fourth line across:
- in the tradition of - One use in five years.
- haunting - Three uses, all of which were in music reviews.
- stunning - Eight times.
- unputdownable - Zero. I guess some reviewers are trying to avoid "compelling."
- unflinching - Never used but maybe I could.
Fifth line across:
- rollicking - Never used the word.
- riveting - Six times in five years. All six are in the last two years. Am I letting my writing slide? I see that I used "stunning" and "riveting" in one of last year's reviews. Shocking.
- epic - Most of the uses of "epic" were actually in the titles of books. The authors, not me, used the word. I did manage to use the word seven times on my own, twice in describing Tolkien books.
- that said - Once.
- fully realized - Never.
As you can see, the beans never made it across the board. If you want, you can plot the beans up and down and diagonally to see no five in a row. I did not score all four corners either. Of course, I am glad not winning this game. I do see a little space here for improvement - "readable" and "thought provoking" in particular. I am going to keep a Bingo card handy as a reminder and tool for better review writing.