10 Book Review Clichs and What They Mean

Ever feel like book reviewers are trying to outwrite the author they’re reviewing? Ever feel like despite their highfalutin language, they’re helpless to spew the same clichés, over and over again? If so, this list is for you! 

“Arrestingly beautiful”: 

Whoever said this first oughtta be arrested for convincing reviewers everywhere that this phrase applies to any book with a description of a sunrise. 

“Unflinching portrait”:

What exactly does this mean? Is the Mona Lisa an unflinching portrait? I’ve never seen her move…Generally this one is meant to describe a book that deals with controversial material, which is in all likelihood pretty tame. 

“Staggeringly good”

Well for one, this is redundant. Something is either staggering, or it’s good. This a bit like saying the weather is ‘extremely mild’. Also, it tells me nothing about the book. You may as well say it’s made out of paper, too. 

“Stunning debut”

Shouldn’t reviewers be used to good debut books by now? Every writer has to start somewhere. I hardly imagine they’re stunned. This one is usually used to hype someone as a potential voice o’ the generation. 

“Of Monumental Importance”

Used as a means of preemptively canonizing a book that came out a week ago, that has clearly had no ostensible impact on the culture. 

“Heartbreakingly honest”

Here’s another one with a chronically misused cliché. Heartbreak pertains to longing, and grief. Some people have been said to have died of a broken heart. Should this book be labelled a health hazard? 

“Highly Readable”

Well, I should hope so. 

“Instant Classic”

More than redundant. This is a complete oxymoron that we’ve welcomed into the English language with open arms. I say get it out. Would it make sense to call a book a “prolonged flop?” Doesn’t sound right to me. What’s more, this is preemptive canonization at its most egregious. How about you let people read the book before you decide its historical significance. 


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