AWW notes: This post was originally published on the AWW Blogger site in 2012.
Book reviews are personal; they reflect the reviewer as well as the book being reviewed, and for that reason there is no right way to write them. However, bearing in mind that their purpose is to guide other readers in their choices, there are a few guidelines to follow if you want your reviews to be useful to others, as well as interesting to read.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that a book review is an evaluation, not a summary. Essentially, it should examine whether the author has successfully achieved what they set out to achieve. The analysis may consider the quality and significance of the book in terms of its literary merits and/or its ideas. For example:
- Does the novel fit its genre or does it play with the conventions of its genre in fresh and stimulating ways?
- Does it convincingly depict a certain time and place?
- Were you persuaded by the narrative point of view?
- Do the characters feel real and relatable?
- Does it stimulate you emotionally or intellectually?
- Is the plot compelling?
- How does it compare to other books in its genre, or other books which tackle the same themes/issues?
- Would you recommend this book to others?
Your readers will be interested in your personal response to the book. For example:
- How did it make you feel?
- Did you relate to the characters? Why/why not?
- Were the themes or issues relevant to your own life? In what ways?
- Did any of your views change as a result of the ideas explored?
Whether your review is positive or negative, your opinion should be supported by evidence and a balanced review will consider both the strengths and weaknesses of a book. In a thought-provoking article entitled ‘The Ethics of the Negative Review,’ Jan Zwicky asks us to:
Look at the word itself: re-view…To look again. But to what purpose? … to further “appreciation.” The reviewer who understands their task in these terms, then, would be one who has taken the trouble to listen again, to listen with care, curiosity, and respect, in an attempt to give genuine attention to what is being said. And who can help the rest of us begin to listen attentively, too. (Read more here.)
What do you think makes a great review?
Annabel Smith’s latest novel, Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, was published by Fremantle Press in 2012. Her first novel, A New Map of the Universe, was shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Prize for Fiction. She has had short fiction and reviews published in the literary journals Westerly and Southerly, been a writer-in-residence at Katherine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre and holds a PhD in writing from Edith Cowan University. Readers can connect with her on Twitter @annabelsmithAUS and ‘Like’ her page on Facebook.