How I Review a Book

I was asked a while back by some colleagues how I review a book.  I feel I am still on a learning curve about this and so would love to interact with others who both write and read reviews.

1. First of all, I really do read the whole book.  I don’t write a review until I finish the book.  Maybe I’m compulsive, but it somehow feels like cheating to review something I don’t read.

2.  I often “lead” in the review with something that particularly intrigued or interested me in the book that I think might connect with others.

3.  I usually summarize the contents.  This comes in part from my original purpose of writing reviews–providing myself with a reminder of what the book was about.  I find this also seems helpful to others in deciding if they want to read the book.

4.  Often, I will briefly engage the book–what I like (or more rarely dislike or disagree with) about the book.  This could be a matter of plot development in fiction or particular ideas in the book with non-fiction.  I do sometimes highlight good or bad writing.  I must admit to detesting writing that is convoluted and obscures what I think the writer is trying to say.

5.  Sometimes I will include a recommendation for which audiences a book might be useful.

6.  Most of the time, I keep reviews to 3-4 relatively short paragraphs.  I’m writing for online rather than print audiences.

7.  I write my reviews on my GoodReads page, which I now have linked to this blog.

I’d love to know what other reviewers and readers of reviews think about this.  And as you read reviews I post here, I would be glad to get feedback about how to make these more useful.

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I originally wrote this post over a year ago. Since then there are a few things I would add to what I wrote here:

1. Since I’ve shifted to blogging, I’ve tended to write longer reviews but usually in the 800 word range. This format seems to allow me to cover at a greater depth the book’s content and my critique.

2. Reviewing in this context means that my reviews are seen more often by the authors (and sometimes editors) of the books I review. It has made me more conscious of what I think a reviewer’s responsibility is, which is to attempt to understand the book, to be honest in one’s critique while trying to be fair and generous to the author.

3. Reviewing is no longer simply my way of remembering what I’ve read. I’ve come to see it as a dialogue with readers and potential readers (as well as with authors and editors) about the books I’ve read. With rare exceptions, I hope others will borrow or buy at least some of the books I read.

4. Finally, I realize none of us can read everything. What I want to achieve in reviews is to give enough information about a book to help someone decide whether it is worth reading for them, and, even if not, to give them enough to be conversant about the book where that is useful to them. Other reviewers do this for me. Hopefully I can return the favor!

Thanks for reading and, when you like what you see, reposting these reviews and other posts on this blog!

 

11 thoughts on “How I Review a Book

  1. My book reviews are mostly linguistics, and there’s kind of an understood format for these: a brief intro (which can be a bit of a teaser to pique readers’ attention), a summary of the main chapters, and then an evaluation of it. For this kind of thing, I take notes as I go of things I want to say, both summary and evaluation. Then I string them together, see if there look like big missing chunks, and polish the prose so it goes smoothly. I don’t always read the whole book, but if not, I come pretty close! Most of my reviews are 1500-2000 words, about 3-4 pages of 12-point Times New Roman font. Some are for print, some online.

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  5. Glad you found this helpful! I still think of myself as a neophyte at this stuff and simply wanted to put in words what up to now had been unwritten guidelines to my own practice. I am always interested in hearing from others who have been at this longer!

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  7. A couple of year ago I was challenged to remember the time, effort and thought an author puts into a book; one needs to recognize the personal investment in the project. Often reviewers never meet an author they have reviewed – certainly critique, but do so in a manner where you could still enjoy a meal with them….

    Further, the reason I read your blog (Bob on Books) is that I want to hear your “voice.” I want to know what a reviewer thinks, they have insight of their own.

    • First of all, thanks for reading–I will try to continue to bring my voice to these reviews. But you are right. I hope authors will be glad to sit down for dinner and we can have an enjoyable conversation about their books and other things. I’ve interacted online with some of the authors I review and have been friends with several others. Those interactions are one of the things that has made this a rich experience.

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