The 20 most annoying book review clichés:

1. Gripping

2. Poignant: if anything at all sad happens in the book, it will be described as poignant

3. Compelling

4. Nuanced: in reviewerspeak, this means, “The writing in the book is really great. I just can’t come up with the specific words to explain why.”

5. Lyrical: see definition of nuanced, above.

6. Tour de force

7. Readable

8. Haunting

9. Deceptively simple: as in, “deceptively simple prose”

10. Rollicking: a favorite for reviewers when writing about comedy/adventure books

11. Fully realized

12. At once: as in, “Michael Connelly’s The Brass Verdict is at once a compelling mystery and a gripping thriller.” See, I just used three of the most annoying clichés without any visible effort. Piece of cake.

13. Timely

14. ” X meets X meets X”: as in, “Stephen King meets Charles Dickens meets Agatha Christie in this haunting yet rollicking mystery.”

15. Page-turner

16. Sweeping: almost exclusively reserved for books with more than 300 pages

17. That said: as in, “Stephenie Meyer couldn’t identify quality writing with a compass and a trained guide; that said, Twilight is a harmless read.”

18. Riveting

19. Unflinching: used to describe books that have any number of unpleasant occurences — rape, war, infidelity, death of a child, etc.

20. Powerful

Okay, I’ll admit to using . . . some of these. Fewer than half. Maybe fewer than a third. But I’ve published more than a hundred book reviews in my day, so, you know, there are only so many words available. . . .

Text Patterns

March 17, 2010


  1. I wonder if there are any cultural tropes or methods or "memes" or what have you that don't eventually lapse into cliche from repeated use.

  2. The best is when the book cover quotes one of these cliche's all by itself to prove that it was reviewed by somebody somewhere.

    "…luminous…" – Cleveland Plain Dealer

  3. This is a helpful list. At some point, I'd love to read your thoughts on how to write a solid book review. How do you "show, don't tell," balancing summary with analysis?

  4. I wish I knew, Sarah. I am not very self-reflective about such things. I just write what comes to mind! (fat lot of help that is, I know)

  5. If Alan were to commit the genius of his originality to print, he'd cede it to lists like this, now, wouldn't he?

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