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How and why we review a book

Book Reviewing

I read somewhere that “a good review is not just someone’s opinion. A good reviewer knows about how a story is constructed, how writing works, how language is chosen. Good reviewing is a skill that gets past the personal to the professional. Bad reviewers are those who may or may not know these basic things, and/or self-promote.”

That said, it means that the large percentage of reviewers could then be labelled ‘bad’. As someone who meticulously reviews every book I read, I don’t regard myself as a bad reviewer, but neither do I have the aforementioned skills to be considered a ‘good’ reviewer.

Even as an author, I don’t review a book as a professional and it is always just my personal opinion of the book.

Why we review a book

The answer, once again in my own opinion, is two-fold. Firstly, it could be because we want to help others decide whether they should or want to read a particular book or not. Or it could simply be that old human thing, about sharing experiences and finding commonality with someone.

I got tired of keeping lists on odd pieces of paper and little throw-away note pads of all the books I had read, so when Goodreads appeared on the scene, I found the ideal format to keep track of what I’d read. And while I was at it, the writing of a few review lines followed on. My review journey had begun.

Now, I avidly read a book review whenever the chance arises. Even the sports pages and real-estate sections of the newspapers are set aside so that I can check out what books have been reviewed, many of which end up on my What To Read list.

How to write a good book review

A bad review is one which paraphrases the story.

Every review should include the book title, the name of the author and the theme of the book. We want to sum the book up without giving away the whole story. This is the hardest part, especially at book club meetings or any such discussion groups, where you often find that one person who wants to relate the entire story. Spoiler alert! They have left nothing to look forward to, and you’re left thinking ‘well, now I don’t have to read it’.

Reviewing fiction is different from viewing non-fiction and so the key questions I ask myself are different:

Fiction Book Reviews

Fiction reviews are all about the characters, the plot, the setting, and dialogue.

  • Ask yourself how believable the characters were? Did the author make you care or dislike them as if they were real people? How did they sound to you, especially in dialogue?

  • How interesting was the plot? Was there something missing or confusing about it?

  • “Show, don’t tell” is the maxim of all good authors. Were you able to visualise the settings in the book? Did the author transport you to that place in your mind’s eye?

  • Was I hooked from the beginning?

  • Did I learn anything?

  • Did it make me reflect on parts of my own life?

  • What, if any, was the message?

  • Was I absorbed by the story?

  • Was the writing good or what was it that I found irritating.

  • How good is the editing?

Non-fiction Book Reviews

Non-fiction reviews are all about the material content of the book and how organized the author's writing was.

  • Ask yourself if you found the book informative and was that information accurate. How thorough was the authors research?

  • Was the information in the book supposed to be objective, and if so, how objective?

  • How useful did you find the information presented in the book?

Never judge a book by its cover

A review should never be about the packaging or cover, or about the author, unless if it’s an autobiography, perhaps.

The review is that of your opinion, and we need to remember that each of us is different and that everyone’s opinion counts.

What does the author get out of a review?

No author likes a bad review. Let’s face it, it’s our baby you’re talking about. But as an author we get to know the strengths and weaknesses in our writing. It helps to improve the way an author thinks as well as his or her writing skills. A bad review is also an indication of what pitfalls to avoid in future.

The review, good or bad in the reviewer’s personal opinion, gives books a greater audience and visibility, which obviously, and hopefully, leads to more sales. It also helps to establish who the audience is.

We realise then that a book review is valuable to both the reader and the author. The more we do, the more we get better at it.

A community is generated around book reviews, where we can agree or disagree, but we are always able to share our love of the written word.

Where can we share our book reviews?


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