Writing a Book Review

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Introduction[edit]

Writing a review can help you and others appreciate a book better

Writing a book review can help increase your understanding of, and appreciation for books you read. Reviews you write can help others decide whether or not to read the book. If this is an assignment, or if you have decided to share your opinions of a book you have recently read, this course can guide you in writing a helpful review.

The objectives of this course are to:

  1. Clarify the difference between a book report and a book review,
  2. Describe the purpose and elements of a book review,
  3. Explore examples of good book reviews,
  4. Help you form opinions about a book as you read it,
  5. Identify questions to consider as you read, assess, and report on a book,
  6. Suggest topics to include in a book review,
  7. Help you organize and write a book review

While this course specifically refers to book reviews, the same approach can be followed to review articles or similar publications.

The course contains many hyperlinks to further information. Use your judgment and these link following guidelines to decide when to follow a link, and when to skip over it.

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If you would like to contact the instructor, please click here to send me an email or leave a comment or question on the discussion page.

Let’s get started.

Before you Begin[edit]

Begin by deciding if you are writing a book report or a book review.

A book report is an essay discussing the contents of a book, written as part of a class assignment issued to students in schools, particularly in the United States at the elementary school level.

In contrast, a book review is a form of literary criticism in which a book is analyzed based on content, style, and merit. This course focuses on writing a book review.

Book reviews typically evaluate recently-written works. They offer a brief description of the text’s key points and often provide a short appraisal of the strengths and weaknesses of the work.[1]

In general, a review is a critical evaluation of a text, event, object, or phenomenon.[2] A book review describes, analyzes, and evaluates. The review conveys an opinion, supporting it with evidence from the book.[3] Above all, a review makes an argument consisting of commentary, not merely a summary.[4]

A book review addresses the question: “Does the book deliver on its promise?” The two resulting questions: “What does it promise?” and “What does it deliver?” are then answered by citing evidence.

A gallery of excellent book reviews[edit]

Explore these examples of excellent book reviews to get an idea of what a well-written review is like, to gain inspiration, and learn from good examples.

Getting Started[edit]

Start reading the book. As you are reading take notes to record passages that will form your opinion and support your conclusions.

  1. Begin reading the book carefully.
  2. Pay attention to your own experience as you read the book. Notice the opinions you are beginning to form spontaneously. Are you enjoying reading the book or is it a struggle? Are you naturally following the narrative or is it a struggle to understand what is being said? Do you become lost in the book or are you counting pages? Is the author’s vocabulary choice and the book’s reading level right for you? Is the book credible, or do you doubt what you are reading? Is the topic important or trivial? Are you learning anything interesting, useful, or important?
  3. Take notes as you read to record your opinions as they form, and collect evidence to support those opinions.
  4. As you finish reading the book, review your notes and reflect on the opinions you have formed. Organize them into a coherent assessment of the book.

Organizing and Writing the review[edit]

When writing the review, use the notes gathered above to address the following topics in approximately this order.

  1. Introduction— Identify the title, author, publisher, date, length, ISBN, genre (i.e. Fiction, non-fiction?), audience (i.e. age, reading level, interests, specialties…)
  2. Content Summary— Briefly summarize the book. If you can convey both the tone and the message of the book in a single sentence, your review will be off to a good start. For nonfiction books identify or formulate the book’s thesis statement. Describe the general argument and evidence provided to support that thesis. For fiction books, include a plot summary, themes, character descriptions, background context and how the story corresponds to reality or similar books. Avoid plot spoilers.
  3. Analysis and Evaluation—Focus on your subjective evaluation of the book. Consider the list of analysis topics to cover and address those topics that are most relevant and important to this review. Consider the list of questions to answer and address those questions that are most relevant and important to this review. Much of this section will consist of paragraphs of the form: Conclusion, evidence, evidence, and evidence, or Evidence, evidence, evidence, and conclusion.
  4. Conclusion—Briefly state your opinion of the book based on the preceding analysis. Answer the question, "Does the book deliver on its promise?" Make a clear recommendation to any prospective readers.

Reread, reflect, refine, and revise—Read over your first draft and revise it to improve its flow, coherency, clarity, and overall impact. Ensure the review makes clear what you want to say.

Request Comments from a colleague— Ask someone who's opinion you trust to read over your draft and suggest how it can be improved. Use their feedback to improve the review. If you are a student ensure this form of collaboration is permitted by the academic polices of your school.

External Links[edit]

The links included here provide a variety of advice on writing a book review.

Additional Reading[edit]

Students wanting to learn more about writing a book review may be interested in reading the following books:

  • Adler, Mortimer J. (August 15, 1972). How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. Touchstone. p. 426. ISBN 978-0671212094.

References[edit]

  1. Purdue OWL, Writing a Book Review. See: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/704/01/
  2. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Writing Center / Book Reviews See: http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/book-reviews/
  3. How to Write a Book Review by Bill Asenjo See: http://www.writing-world.com/freelance/asenjo.shtml
  4. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Writing Center / Book Reviews See: http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/book-reviews/
  5. The New York Times Sunday Book Review, See: http://www.nytimes.com/pages/books/review/index.html
  6. NPR Book Reviews, See: http://www.npr.org/sections/book-reviews/
  7. The New York Review of Books, See: http://www.nybooks.com/