Sunday, August 12, 2012

Discussion Post: Intertextuality in Reviews

This is Georges Seurat's famous painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" which I chose to include here not because it's related to anything I'm talking about but because after reading Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead, it's been in my head.

Today's post is actually about something I am calling intertextuality although the word is so big and encompasses so many meanings that I am only skimming the surface. For the purposes of this post, I am defining intertextuality as using a secondary text to highlight something about a primary text. I was thinking about this in the context of my reviews and specifically my recent review of Seraphina. I know that I often reference other books and media to highlight my feelings and this review is no exception.

I compared main character Seraphina to Tamora Pierce's Alanna, her mentor Orma to Star Trek's Mr. Spock, and dreamy Kiggs to Richard Armitage's portrayal of John Thornton in North and South. If you are familiar with any of those works, you have a great insight in to *my* views of the characters.

And I think that tends to be the way I approach my reviews, the way I find simplest for conveying how I think of them. I read a lot as well as being very immersed in (American) television, movies, music, and general celebrity gossip. I'm very impressed by those bloggers who write these beautiful paragraphs and incisively critique the book. But that's not my style. For me, almost always a character in a book will read me of something else in culture I'm familiar with and I will rely on that when preparing my review. I don't always, of course, but I sometimes think my reviews are the better for it when I can use those points in explaining how they affected my reading experience.

However this can be isolating to the reader. I don't think these references are too obscure because I think most people have heard of Spock and Alanna is a pretty popular character, especially formative to a lot of us bookish ladies, I know. Meanwhile I sourced Richard Armitage so you could do your own search (if you didn't, I highly suggest that you do because he's gorgeous.) But obviously I'm speaking from my own experiences and it may have served as a turn-off to people who found it confusing.

So what do you think? Do you like when bloggers reference other books/movies/TV/etc. to explain their feelings about a character? Has it ever caused you great confusion? Do you ever incorporate such references into your reviews?


  1. I love cross referencing and looking at influences - whether literary or pop culture - in my reviews. Interesting topic!

  2. I do like it when bloggers compare. Even if I haven't read or seen the character, chances are that I've heard of them and know a general concept.
    Great topic.

    Brandi from Blkosiner’s Book Blog

  3. i like it when other bloggers compare but sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't. taking your example, i know alanna and a ding goes in my brain. but i'm not familiar with john thornton and spock so those comparison don't really mean anything to me. but like the commenter above, i can somewhat get the general idea.

    seraphina was AWESOME though. :D

  4. I definitely like to see comparisons and cross-references. If I don't know what it is, I figure it is MY problem, not the posting blogger's! And when I do get it, it makes the review way more meaningful!

  5. I think it definitely helps to illustrate your point especially if is a reference that most people would get and if you haven't read the book yet it can help you make that decision if the characters are compared to characters you like or the book is similar to a movie you love, etc.

  6. Thanks for your feedback! I know I don't always use it in my reviews but it definitely reassures me that if I think the best way to convey my thoughts is by referencing something else, then it won't bug people.

  7. I think it depends on the comparison. For a while there, you couldn't find a vampire book that was being compared to Twilight. So, I'd say that comparisons can DEFINITELY be odious. However, I'd say that everything is relative. Whether or not I like a character depends on how much I liked or didn't like OTHER characters. It's not possible for us to read in a vacuum, but it's also not possible for authors to WRITE in a vacuum, either. Whether consciously or unconsciously, their characters, setting and writing (etc.) are, in part, a result of the stories that they have read. In that way, I think it's only natural for readers to find "intertextuality" in everything they read.

  8. I think comparisons in book reviews are totally fine. They can be overused, sure, but I think most book reviewers look at their life experiences and the things they are familiar with when reading and critiquing something. So it only makes sense to me that those ideas would come into play. I don't use comparisons often, but I will not hesitate to do so if I think it really will make sense in the context of what I am writing. Great discussion topic!

  9. I love comparisons and I use them all the time. I mostly use them because it takes a lot of effort to be eloquent and actually describe the character, whereas a comparison is easy :P I always worry that I'm using a comparison lots of people won't get though. Then again, I figure if I keep referencing the same things and I have a consistent bunch of readers, then odds are they're getting my references well enough.


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