A Short Treatise on Writing Book Reviews

Over the past few months I have enjoyed writing book reviews on Goodreads, purely for my own pleasure and for the interest of some of my Goodreads friends. I have recently discovered a desire to improve my reviewing skills, and have done a bit of online research to determine the main points that should be addressed in a review.

What is a review?

Definitions of book reviews will be available in many places. Here, I want to distill the information I gleaned from the sources listed at the end of this post into the two main purposes of a review:

  • To describe and evaluate a work.

The Process

  1. Read the preliminary material (title, foreword, preface, table of contents) to help determine the author’s purpose, the intended audience, the success of the work, the organization of the author’s main ideas, and how those ideas are developed.
  2. Read the work, taking note of the qualities, information and details in the list provided under the “Components” sections. Record impressions.
  3. Include the most pertinent and relevant information in the review.

Components of the Description

  1. General field, genre, topic, or subject of the work
  2. Purpose of the work
  3. Thesis
  4. Bias
  5. Point of view of the narration or the work
  6. The author’s style
  7. The intended audience
  8. (If it is a work of fiction) Literary devices; characters; plot; setting; development of each
  9. Format of the book, if relevant
  10. Evidence used to illustrate arguments

Components of the Evaluation

  1. How does the book fit into the general subject area?
  2. Does the author’s style suit the intended audience?
  3. Are concepts clearly defined? What areas are covered or uncovered?
  4. How do the elements such as character, plot, and setting relate to the theme of a work of fiction?
  5. How accurate is the information provided in the work?
  6. What kinds of materials are used to support the arguments/points made by the author (i.e. primary documents, secondary sources, personal observations, quantitative data, biographical or historical accounts)
  7. Is the author aware of alternative arguments that can be made from the same source materials?
  8. Does the author present the information/argument rationally and reasonably, without bias or disorganization?
  9. Does the work engage with the problems and concepts in the discipline?
  10. What has the work accomplished? Is further work needed?
  11. Does the work make a significant contribution to literature, scholarship, or the understanding of contemporary issues?
  12. Does the book have popular appeal?
  13. Compare the work under review to similar works, or to other works by the same author.
  14. What are the reviewer’s own reactions, considered opinions, impressions of the work?
  15. What readers would best be served by the work?

Additional Considerations

  1. What is the purpose of the review? Is it for a class assignment, or library selection? This will determine the approach of the review, and the most relevant information to include.
  2. Use outside sources as necessary to establish the authority of the work and of the author, as well as aid in the determination of the success of the work, its contribution to its field, to literature, or to contemporary issues.
  3. Research the author to get a better idea of reputation, qualifications, influences, etc.
  4. Contextual knowledge of the literary period, genre, and critical theories will be useful.

But, you don’t have to take my word for it…

Sources:

1. Dalhousie University Libraries. Book Reviews: How to write a book review. Retrieved on 7 September 2012 from http://libraries.dal.ca/writing_and_styleguides/style_guides/book_reviews.html

2. Library Journal. Guidelines for Library Journal Reviews. Retrieved on 7 September 2012 from http://reviews.libraryjournal.com/about/guidelines-for-library-journal-reviews/

3. Proctor, M. The Book Review or Article Critique. Retrieved on 7 September 2012 from http://www.writing.utoronto.ca/advice/specific-types-of-writing/book-review

4. Queen’s University (2012). Book Reviews: How to Write Book Reviews. http://library.queensu.ca/research/guide/book-reviews/how-write

5. Writing Tutorial Services, Indiana University at Bloomington (2004). Writing Book Reviews. Retrieved on 7 September 2012 from http://www.indiana.edu/~wts/pamphlets/book_reviews.shtml

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