‘The Dictionary of Fiction Critique’ Review

Kate Jonuska’s idea to create a dictionary of critique terms and intermingle them with a bit of discussion seems like a clever technique at first, but the idea quickly loses its luster. First, Jonuska interrupts the flow of the book every time she inserts the definition of a new term and provides an example or two. These interruptions make it very hard to piece together coherent concepts from which a reviewer can build a critique.

Second, dictionaries are not typically the kind of book one reads in order to try to build a broad understanding of a concept. So between the final third of the book, which is devoted to an A to Z listing of terms, their definitions, and examples, and many of the same terms, definitions, and examples spread through the first two-thirds, maybe a third of the book is devoted to discussions of techniques for providing critique. And as with a standard dictionary, if you don’t know or don’t remember the term you’re trying to get a better understanding of, scrolling through the dictionary, hoping to come across the one you’re looking for is hardly an effective way to learn.

At times, the author notes that certain concepts are known by several different names. So far, so good, but in the dictionary section, while she does point the reader to the primary term from the secondary one(s), she misses an opportunity to use internal hyperlinks to make the jump to that primary term far easier than scrolling and scrolling and scrolling forward or backward to get to its definition.

Third, Jonuska spends as much time, if not more, addressing writers as she does reviewers. This is a hard to avoid hazard of any book which means to teach writers how to critique their own or another’s work. Writers have to know the craft in order to be able to meaningfully critique someone’s writing, but a book meant for critiquers needs to address the task of critiquing more clearly and consistently than the author does.

Finally, the book is rife with spelling and coding errors. Star Wars fans will find it hard to forgive Jonuska’s consistent misspelling of Princess Leia’s name (it’s not Leah). There are also far too many instances—dozens—where the HTML coding for the text of examples is revealed (for example, * <span style=“color: #00000A”>). The failure to catch these errors suggests either simple sloppiness or a rush to publish.

The book is not completely without merit. I did encounter a few terms and concepts that were new to me, but not enough to overcome the book’s many weaknesses. For an experienced critiquer, this book might have some value when they want to refresh their memory on a particular concept—at least if they use the same terms Jonuska does. But for the new critiquer, this book is going to be far less helpful than it could have been.

Not recommended.

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