Every book review, said the anonymous document, must follow three rules:

1. The review must tell what the book is about.

2. The review must tell what the book’s author says about that thing the book is about.

3. The review must tell what the reviewer thinks about what the book’s author says about that thing the book is about.

Robert Pinsky first encountered these rules in the 1970s, when his employer gave him a photocopied style-sheet that also included everything an obedient, paid scribbler needed to know: quality of typewriter ribbon required; size of margins; where to double-space, use italics, all-caps, or quotation marks; and where to put the reviewer’s byline.

“If this template is not actually Aristotelian,” writes Pinsky (of the three rules–not the ribbon, margins, and bylines), “it has that philosopher’s breathtaking plainness and penetration. To sneer at it as obvious would be a mistake. Even the clunky or stammering expression of the three rules (‘what the reviewer thinks about what the author says about that thing the book is about’) works as a hammer, driving home the essential principles and their distinctly separate, yet profoundly interrelated nature.”

(Found at Slate’s Culturebox.)

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