Theory in the Writing of Book Reviews by Julie Lorenzen

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An Application of Literary Theory:
Considering Reader Response Theory in the Writing of Book Reviews by Julie Lorenzen| | |



  | | This paper is about how Reader-Response Theory can be applied to writing book reviews. The notion appeals to me because I have written about a dozen book reviews for a small publication called OhioAna Quarterly. In my opinion, a good review reveals the following: what the book is about, the reviewer’s opinion of the book combined with an analysis, and reasons why or why not a reader should pick up a book. Those are the bare essentials of a review. However, I believe that applying Reader-Response Theory can enable a writer to create more depth within a book review.  As a novice in literary criticism, I became fascinated in Reader-Response Theory, because like book reviewing, the reader is thrust into the forefront when regarding the book in question. The difference between book reviewing and Reader-Response criticism is that book reviews are written for the reader while Reader-Response criticisms are written about the reader. Reader-Response is new in comparison to other types of criticisms.  According to chapter 3 on Reader-Response Criticism in The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, “The critics grouped together as reader-response theorists share a topic rather than a set of assumptions. They all have in common the conviction that the audience plays a vitally important role in shaping the literary experience and the desire to help to explain that role” (917). It is important to note that reviewers are a part of the audience studied in Reader-Response Theory. The role of the reviewer should be to shape the literary experience and to explain their role in reading the text under examination. The biggest challenge the theory presents is that Reader-Response Theorists tend to take differing viewpoints based on other theories. According to David H. Richter, who wrote and edited A Critical Condition, “interest in the reader is a late development in critical theory. As a topic for investigation, it has attracted each of the major schools of thought, from Marxism through structuralism and feminism to deconstruction” (931).  Reader-Response Theory attracts critics such as Stanley Fish and Hans Robert Jauss whose approaches to the theory vary. On his website John Lye notes six different viewpoints a response theorist can take. An explanation of how the viewpoints can be applied to reviews will be included in the analysis. Although there are many different theories that can be adopted such as Marxism and Feminism, potential viewpoints that will be discussed include Hermeneutic, Phenomenological, Structuralist, Psychoanalytic, Political/Ideological, and Post-Structuralist. Despite the variety of viewpoints, the main point of Reader-Response Theory remains the same—to emphasize the importance of the relationship between a reader and the respective text.  Choosing amongst the various viewpoints of Reader Response Theory to focus on can help strengthen the book reviewer’s role in shaping the literary experience. However, the task of applying reader response theory to book reviews can be complicated. Positions such as hermeneutics and phenomenology can be difficult for a reviewer to comprehend, let alone apply. However, there are choices such as the political or the psychoanalytical viewpoint that may be easier to adopt. Before choosing, it is important to be familiar with the various positions.  The Hermeneutic Position  What a reader brings to a text in terms of contextual knowledge is primarily what concerns those critics adopting the hermeneutic position. The hermeneutic view might be tricky for a reviewer to apply because it does not address what a reader can get out of a text. According to Terry Eagleton, the word hermeneutic means “the science or art of interpretation” (56) Eagleton credits Martin Heidegger as a pioneer of hermeneutical...
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