The daunting task of writing a book review

I am preparing for my first book review post.

I have written book reviews of children’s books in the past for the library association I am a part of. Therefore, I am no newbie at this. However, I think there is always room for improvement. I believe it is important that we continually strive to better ourselves, whether it be by learning new skills or improving on ones we already have. So, in the quest to bettering my book review writing skills, I have started by researching the components of a good book review.

Google is a great start.

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Of all the posts, I particularly liked the one by The Writing Center at UNC-Chapel Hill, although most of these are equally as great. Not only does the Writing Center’s guide to writing book reviews describe the essential components of a book review, but it also offers great advice and voices a lot of the internal turmoil you might be feeling while preparing for your review. I especially like this little tidbit:

Reviewing can be a daunting task. Someone has asked for your opinion about something that you may feel unqualified to evaluate. Who are you to criticize Toni Morrison’s new book if you’ve never written a novel yourself, much less won a Nobel Prize?

(The Writing Center, 2014).

Oh Writing Center, you do understand me!

It’s also long enough to give great details, without being so long that you get bored reading it halfway through the guide.

What’s great about guides such as these is that they all offer some unique perspective on what book reviews should include. I may have been aware of what is generally needed in a book review, but I still found guides such as this one helpful. Nevertheless, there is a general consensus in all of these guides on the essential components of a good book review.

The magic 4 of an excellent book review

  1. Introduction
    • Introduce the book, the author, the genre, give anecdotes, etc. – present it in a way that’s interesting so that people will want to continue to read your review
  2. Summary
    • Give a summary of the book without giving away spoilers
  3. Analysis
    • Talk about the characters, the themes the setting. Make comparisons. Give your personal opinions – what did you like? What didn’t you like?
  4. Conclusion
    • Give a summary of your review and your final judgement on the book (this could be rating). Why should people read it? Why shouldn’t they? Are you happy you read it? Will you read the sequel (if any)? Etc.
(Adapted from personal knowledge and The Writing Center, 2014)

I am not going to go into much more detail on each of these points. There are many posts on the Internet that go into greater detail and can give you much more information than I ever could.

Nonetheless, I will impart some knowledge, young grasshoppers.

My advice to first-time book reviewers

Give posts such as the one by The Writing Center a look before you start reading the book you want to review. I personally recommend guides created by universities (they are experts on such subjects after all). This will give you an idea of what you need to think about as you are reading the book.

Do your homework. I find the reviews that go just the little extra mile, the ones that research the author or the genre a bit, tend to be the better ones. It gives you a little more to talk about in your review. It also adds a little je ne sais quoi.

You might also want to take notes as you are reading. This is in case you forget some ideas you might have had by the time you reach the end of the book. This is especially important for very long books – think A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin.

Use post-its (best option) or highlighters/pencils/pens (only if you are into the practice of defacing books – utter blasphemy) to mark important or interesting passages you want to revisit. This will save you time, freeing you from flipping back and trying to find that special quote you wanted to share with everyone.

Don’t take it personally. The whole point of a blog is to share your thoughts with the world. Inevitably, people will have a response. They might agree wholeheartedly, or they might disagree. Try not to take the disagreements to heart. Some people care so much about their own opinions that they want to share them with you too. And if they go a little too far (i.e. the trolls)? Well, CMS such as WordPress are great for that; you can usually filter the comments people leave, and decide whether you want to approve the comment or not.

Finally, have fun with it. This review is also about you. You want to display your critical thinking skills, your writing skills. At the end of the day, no one actually really cares what you think (sorry for the harsh reality). However, a good book review can give someone that extra little push to either read a book or forget about it. I personally tend to search for book reviews when I’m not sure I really want to read a novel and need some convincing (or  in some cases, need warding off).

In any event, I hope some of you out there in the universe have found this post helpful (or at least somewhat interesting). If not, I’m so very sorry for the bore. The upside is that I finally feel ready to post my first book review on The Struggling Librarian; stay tuned tomorrow! 🙂

Sincerely,
The Struggling Librarian

 

References
The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2014). Book reviews. Retrieved from https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/ .

 

 

 

 

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