This is great, a quotation from Mary Hawthorne's tribute to Updike in "Remembering Updike" in the New Yorker. If I had read this before, my book reviews could have meant something. From now on, any book review I do will follow these rules, and I may revise earlier reviews. Here is what Updike says:
My rules, shaped intaglio-fashion by youthful traumas at the receiving end of critical opinion, were and are:
1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt. [or her, I might add].
2. Give enough direct quotation—at least one extended passage—of the book's prose so the review's reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste [or hers.] 3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy précis. [Why I have I neglected to do this. Dumb, dumb, dumb.]
4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending.…
5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author's oeuvre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it’s his and not yours? [or hers]
To these concrete five might be added a vaguer sixth, having to do with maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in any ideological battle, a corrections officer of any kind. Never, never...try to put the author “in his place,” making of him a pawn in a contest with other reviewers. Review the book, not the reputation. [Ouch! That hits home!] Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys of reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end.
Updike is calling for a heroic standard and professional approach to critical reviews that is probably beyond me, but I will try. Perhaps a review of one of his books I haven't yet read would be a good place to start. Never too old to learn, I hope.