I adore trains. I love rip-snorting tales of high adventure and hijinks.
When I read the first two paragraphs that appear in the In The News section of this newsletter—a screaming rave review about “The Great Train Robbery,” where a band of Union volunteers traveled incognito into the deep South and hijacked a locomotive with the intention of taking it up north—I decided then and there to order the book.
Alas, the reviewer committed one of the Three Deadly Sins of book reviewing, and talked me out of buying the book.
The good news: I saved $29.95 plus tax.
The bad news: Richard deWyngaert—proprietor of Headhouse Books, a splendid new emporium two blocks from my house—was screwed out of the sale, as were the author and the publisher.
How newspapers deal with book reviews is emblematic of why their circulation is off, why advertising is down, and why they’re becoming vestigial.
It’s an object lesson in how business people must communicate or become vestigial themselves.
The Three Deadly Sins of Book Critics:
Sin #1: Give so much information that there’s no point in buying the book. J. Tracy Power, the reviewer for The Wall Street Journal, is a minor southern literary figure, author of “Lee’s Miserables” and a historian at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History. Instead of writing a review of this terrific Civil War adventure, Power simply retold the plot in great detail, creating a kind of Cliffs Notes in 1,510 words. By the end of his “review,” I knew the entire story—beginning, middle and end, including the fate of the perpetrators. (Eight were hanged, eight escaped and made their way back north, and six remained in prison for the duration of the war.) Why would a reader buy this book after knowing the entire story and being robbed of any and all suspense? TMI! (Too Much Information!)