How to Write a Book Review in 10 Easy Steps
Okay, so you have to write a book review. What do you need to do and in what order? Here’s a 10-step process you can use to review any book.
1) Don’t read the book. At least, not yet. Instead, start by looking at it. Look for clues to the nature of the book you’ll be reading. Is it a richly manufactured item aimed at collectors? What does the cover illustration indicate the book will be about? What sort of blurbs are included? How is it categorized by the publisher? All of these will tell you the book’s target audience.
2) Don’t read the book. At least, not quite yet. Instead, open the book and flip through it. Look at how the words are arranged on the pages. Start with the largest distinctions—the number of pages, the number of chapters, and so on. Then move to the size of paragraphs, how much of the book is dialogue, etc. This will tell you about the book’s readability and how the author structured the book.
3) Build a framework for taking notes. You always focus better if you have something specific to look for and markers to pay attention to along the way. Start with the simplest things—the number of chapters, for example—and then move on to more complex tasks, such as questions you’ll want to answer: “What makes this book a classic?” or “What made this book ‘speak for a generation’ like the introduction said it did?”
4) Read the book. And as you do so…
5) Pay attention. That isn’t a disciplinary command like, “Don’t let your mind wander!” Instead, pay attention to your reading experience. This is the first real challenge for most people. What caught your attention, and when were you bored? When was the book suspenseful? Which characters did you like, and why?
6) Review the book and take notes that let you explain its effects. This is the second tough step for most people. Remember that note-taking framework you built earlier? Now’s the time to fill it in. Flip back through the book and write brief, purposeful notes. What happens in the first chapter—and what was its effect on you as a reader? When you passed from one part of the book to the next—chapter, section, or setting—what kept your attention? This is the part most people neglect, but it lays the foundation for the rest of the book review, so keep at it until you can do the following:
Explain how the book as a whole affected you.
Explain how the author achieved the effects he or she did.
Explain the relationship between form and content.
If it is fiction, explain the function of each character in the novel.
Explain the characters’ relationships to one another.
7) Sum up the book. This is the easy part, and half of what most people think a book review is. Put the book in a nutshell. Keep summarizing it until you’ve got everything covered clearly. Use that to start your review.
8) Pass judgment. This is the other half of a book review for most people. Is this book good or bad? This is the time for you to say so. Put that second in your review—but use your notes from earlier to explain why and to make your judgment persuasive. Give specific examples, and move from passing judgment to explaining the book. That comes third.
9) Put the book in context. You might have been able to get this information from looking at the book’s cover and introduction, or you might need to do a little research. What categories does this book fall into? Is it science fiction or fantasy? Is it the first of its kind or an imitation? The author’s first book or fifteenth? Spend some time relating this book to others in its category to further explain the book and your judgment of it.
10) Check your aim. You’ve written your review. Now’s the time to step back and apply this sort of reasoning to your own review. Did you explain every major aspect of the book? What was your target audience? Did you write this for a class with specific criteria—or for a fan magazine whose audience already knows this type of book well? If so, you might have to edit your review to add or remove details. If you don’t…you’re done!
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