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Guide to Writing a Book Review

Knowing how to write a book review is helpful for students and people wanting to write book reviews for a consumer market. A book review is similar to a book report in that the important information in a book is summarized for someone who hasn’t read it. The difference is that a book review also has qualitative judgments about a book that would not be found in a book report. Those who read book reviews want to know the opinions of the writers that read and evaluated the information contained in the book.
This guide to writing a book review will include the purpose of a book review and tips for good writing. A book review is not the same as a book report, and the distinction will be made between the two.

Book Report vs. Book Review

It is important to know the difference between a book report and a book review. If your teacher assigns a book review and you turn in a book report, your grade will probably not be very good. Following is an explanation of the two:

  • A book report is a summary and its structure is simpler than a book review. It gives information about the author and his background to help the reader understand a bit about the author’s perspective. It also gives a brief summary of the story and may include details about the plot, characters, and setting. It is an objective re-telling of the story.
  • A book review, on the other hand, is an in-depth analysis of the text; an examination of its contents. Its purpose is not to rehash the story, but to evaluate the value of it and recommend the book to the reader, or not. A book review gives the opinions of the writer and includes his personal views. A review will include an analysis of the author’s intent, thematic elements, and symbolism.

Writing a Book Review

A good book review will:

  • Point out strengths and weaknesses in the book
  • Looks at what the author intended to do and whether or not he did it
  • Be between 50 and 1,500 words

The following is a guide to writing a book review; but, you need to know that they are just suggestions to think about.

  • Write down a summary of essential information, like title, author, copyright date, kind of book, price, subject matter of the book, and special features.
  • State the reason the author wrote the book.
  • Consider from what point of view the book was written.
  • Decide what the author was trying to accomplish.
  • Determine what kind of book is it, and who is the intended audience.
  • Discuss the author’s style of writing and look at his cohesion, clarity, flow of the text, and use of precise words.
  • Think about how you were affected by the book and if any of your opinions or feelings change because of it.
  • Decide if the book met its goal and whether or not you would recommend it to others and why.
  • State the main topic of the book and the author’s treatment of it. Also explain the development of the thesis, using quotes or references.
  • Discuss the author’s descriptions and narration, pointing out whether he explained facts or tried to persuade the readers of the validity of an issue.
  • Analyze whether or not the book suited its intended audience and if it was interesting and thorough.
  • You may challenge his opinions and explain why you disagree with them. Include any information about the author that would establish his authority or that would be relevant to the review.

Summarize with your overall conclusions by restating the thesis and touching on the main points. You may include quotes or references here, but do not put in any new material.

Tips for Different Genres

Here are a few tips that relate to some of the different genres of books: fiction, biography, and non-fiction.

Fiction

When reviewing fiction, analyze the author’s treatment of the characters, plot, setting, and dialogue. Specifically:

  • How interesting is the plot? Does it have many clichéd parts or does it come across as more original? Are there unresolved issues in the plot? Can the author sustain the plot throughout the book? Is the plot confusing?
  • How believable are the characters? Do you care about them? Can you tell them apart or do they all sound the same, especially in dialogue?
  • How does this book compare to other books in the same genre?
  • How well does the author create mood through setting? Can the action be visualized?
  • If there is humor, does it work?
  • Is the narration consistent throughout?

Explain what style of writing was used and if the setting had a bearing on the story.

Biography

In a biography, look at what aspects of the person were emphasized and how the subject matter was organized. Discuss the point of view of the author and if he showed extensive knowledge of the person.

Non-fiction

When you write a review on a non-fiction book, you need to explore the way the material was organized and if the author’s writing was focused. Specifically:

  • Is the book interesting?
  • Which parts are most interesting or informative?
  • How accurate is the information in the book?
  • How objective is the information in the book? Is it supposed to be objective?
  • How thorough has the author been in his or her research?
  • How useful is the information presented in the book?
  • How does this book compare to other books in the same genre?

Find out if the book is a revision and compare it to earlier books. You may want to look at the sources which were used and the point of view of the author.

Beyond the Classroom

Besides classroom assignments, book reviews are found in newspapers, magazines, on the Internet, so learning how to write a book review can actually net a writer some money.
Book reviews come in a variety of lengths, from 50 – 100 word blurbs to lengthy essays. They are similar to movie reviews in that the reviewer needs to establish credibility and then explain the book’s merits before people will trust the reviewer’s opinion and decide to read or purchase the book.


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