Regular readers will know that I am a big fan of reading, and particularly enjoy encouraging others to engage in reading books that will grow and stretch them. I’ve written hundreds of book reviews on this blog, many of which are collected on the aptly-titled ‘Book Reviews’ page of this blog. I’ve also written a handful of reviews for academic journals, which can be found on my academia.edu page.
Reading books is brilliant fun – and reviewing them can be great fun too. Sometimes, however, you have to review a book with a firmly critical, ‘negative’ conclusion. Other times, and these are joyful, you get to review things that make your heart sing and and you can wholeheartedly recommend to others.
Occasionally, both on and offline, I get challenged or asked about my ways of reading and the practice of reviewing books.
With this in mind, I’ve sketched out how I do a book review below, and hope that this shape will become more apparent in forthcoming reviews on this blog and elsewhere. I think these five principles can apply to book reviews whether they are 100 or 1000+ words long!
So, without further faff and ado: 5 steps to writing a book review.
1) Read the Book
This should be self-explanatory, but often is ignored by people in a hurry. Don’t try to tell other people about books you haven’t read. And reading books is great!
2) Think about the Book
First reactions may be pointless. Or they might be valid. Either way, think about the book, and make sure you know what you think, before trying to explain that to your readers/anyone else.
3) Tell me about the Book
Before I know what you think about the book, I need to know some basic things about it. How long is it? Is it from a publisher, or did you discover it by chance on the interwebs? Is it academic, a cartoon compilation, or something else entirely? Who wrote it, and why did they (in their own words!) write it? Context is really, really helpful. Even for texts.
4) Tell me what you think about the Book
I’m reading the review because I care about what you think. I might be thinking about reading it, or have heard about the book, but your opinion matters. Be honest! And be kind – if you think the book was rubbish, show and tell me why. Rhetoric and blathering is no more valuable in a review of a book than its faulty cousins are welcome in the book itself.
5) Tell me whether I should read the Book
Finally, I’ve probably read the review because I’m thinking about the book. And the key question is – should I read it? I trust you to help me shape your opinion – so give your opinion! And, if the opinion is ‘no, don’t bother’, tell me why, and tell me what else to read. Readers like reading – so keep the conversation going, point people further up and further in.
It is literally that simple!
(Oh, and if you’ve been given the book for free in exchange for a review, make that obvious. If the review is for a journal or magazine, then you probably don’t need to state it, as this is the norm).