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My Least-Favorite Book Critic-ish Words and Phrases

Elizabeth Bastos

Staff Writer

Elizabeth Bastos has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe, and writes at her blog 19th-Century Lady Naturalist. Follow her on Twitter: @elizabethbastos

I scour dustjackets for these kinds of critic-ish gems, and find them everywhere, so they must be semi-precious stones. From book critics’ writing on In The Spirit of Happiness by the Monks of New Skete (“compelling!”) to David Ives’ (“incomparable”) All In The Timing. So here they are, in a rock collection, My Least-Favorite Book Critic-ish Words and Phrases, some of which I ::cringe:: have used myself:

“Reads like poetry.”


[Insert author’s name] is a “magician.”

“Side-splittingly funny.”

“A real original.”


“Delicious,” “fresh,” “unblemished” and, most cringe-worthy: “succulent.”

“A classic of reportage.”

“A unique voice.”



Such a “master of language.”

It is “astonishing.”

“You’ll want to put the characters in your pocket.”



[Insert author’s name] “does not flinch” from “large subjects.”

“A modern prophet.”


“A serious book.”

“IF you are [insert noun] facing an [insert life event] THEN…drop everything and read [insert author’s name.]”



“A thrill-ride.”

“The world according to [insert author’s name]” is “[insert adjective.]”

“An uplifting exploration of [insert life event.]”

“A rare glimpse.”

“A stunner.”