How to Write a Book Review
by Chris Angelopoulos
Writing a book review is a picnic. This is not to imply via idiom that composing such a document is an easy task. It can take quite a bit of effort, but at the end of the day it still bears a striking resemblance to the humble restaurant review. A consumer of meals or books is uniquely qualified to relay an assessment of the experience to others. The three-fold quest of the reviewer is to experience, summarize, and evaluate.
Reports vs. Reviews
It is important to make the distinction between a book report and book review. There is some overlap depending on the instructor assigning the work, but the usual differences are important to note. Reports offer key details about the book such as the author, title, and length. They also include a descriptive summary and often a reader reaction. Reviews, on the other hand, include a summary followed by critical analysis. A reaction can be a part of this, and a recommendation along with information on how to purchase the book may follow. Reviews tend to be longer and are mostly assigned in higher grades and college.
Using the restaurant analogy, the experience of reading a book should be like savoring an exquisite meal: uninterrupted and free of unwanted distractions. Due to the limits of human memory, it’s usually a good idea to write down important details when reading. Including major characters, storylines, and themes is a good place to start. Memorable quotes can sometimes be the perfect addition to create a catchy introduction or conclusion. The intended audience and writing style of the author may also factor into the analysis. For the digitally inclined, a note-taking app can be the perfect way to accomplish this. Speare, the software used to build this very article, offers a way to quickly enter notes that matches the ease and convenience of texting. It even takes voice input for hands-free operation.
The main ideas of the story must be illuminated for those reading the review to understand the assessment of the book. Summarize the core story, ideas, and characters, along with any information needed to build the evaluation. If the author has a special connection to the story, it might make sense to include that detail in the summary. Order is important to painting the picture necessary for reader understanding. If Speare was used to enter notes, it will be very easy to rearrange and categorize story sections by dragging and dropping them into the most sensible order.
After giving readers the minimal information needed to grasp the content, the final step is to provide a guide for judging the work. This includes opinion, which must exist in the context of reasoned analysis. Evaluate the difference between attempt and execution. If the book was promising and the subject matter interesting, but it contained flat, uninteresting characters, this would be the section to explain that. An author might also stumble by writing a brilliant treatise on astrophysics aimed at the general public but only readable by tenured professors with 35 years of experience in the field. Knowing the intended audience is important for every written work and a book review is no exception. The duty of the book reviewer is to step into a story from the perspective of a reader. Would the reader enjoy the book? Does it compare well to other works in the same genre?
Writing a book review may not be simple, but it doesn’t have to be a pain either. Following an evaluation method such as the one described here may allow a book reviewer to enjoy the process of reading a story and providing analysis. Channeling only a small amount of the inexhaustible energy that powers online reviews should make getting through the process a very achievable task. Read for understanding, summarize concisely, and evaluate with the authority of experience.