Electric Literature: What did you look for in the winning reviews that you picked?
Emily St. John Mandel: In a word, engagement. Too often I read reviews that are concerned with nothing but the book in question, and there’s a hermetically sealed quality to such reviews, a narrowness of scope. I’ve come to believe that good reviewing requires engaging with the world outside of the individual book. At the very least, the book should be placed in the context of other books, but ideally—and I recognize that this is an entirely subjective opinion—I prefer reviews that go beyond talking about literature, so that the book under review is considered in the context of the surrounding world.
I’ve written before about how I typically prefer to read reviews after I’ve read the book, not before—and I think this is part of the reason why (the other is spoilers, of course). A review that is just about the book requires reading the book first to really engage with it. But occasionally I’ll find myself reading a review all the way through without having read the book. In that case, the review has transcended its genre to become just a good piece of writing. About the book, but also about something more than the book.