The book market provides you with an embarrassment of riches; there are abundant books to choose from. But it is not easy to choose a book unless it comes along with a book review. A book review is the vital part of the promotion that not only highlights the quality of the content and the relatability of the characters but also shores up the effort of the author. In the recent times, when every college student is trying to earn money by any means, the passion seems to fade away. I want to speak to such reviewers who ignore the quality of content they write on their blogs because I have a bone to pick with them. Either they brag about how grateful they are for the ‘free’ copy or they focus on subjecting the author to public humiliation. Their review lacks facts and insights. The basics of grammar are like Chinese arithmetic to them. For them, ‘the free review copy’ is the pivot around which their writing rotates!
Therefore, in this post (rant) I take the pleasure of offering tricks of the trade on a silver platter.
A book review can be done in two ways:
1. Descriptive Review that spills the important information about the book. This is achieved by marking the striking passages or dialogues in the book and using them as a scaffold to write a review. The reviewer lists the purpose and intention of the author and supports that with an exposition and relatable quotes from the book.
2. Critical Reviews that not only describe but also evaluate the book in terms of content, quality, author’s background, understanding the form of art and how it functions, purpose and merit.
I started with Descriptive reviews, as they are the right choice for beginners. After two years when I was approached by top-notch publication houses, I expanded my skill set and began doing critical reviews. Before I go into the details of Critical Reviewing, here are some pointers to keep in mind before opting for this job:
1. A Review is different from ‘Rant’. When an author or the publisher sends you a free copy in exchange for an honest review, he expects you write about the shortcomings of the plot, judge the language and present your opinion on whether the book will be liked by people of your age group or not. While some reviewers are very blunt in stating that they did not like the book, they lack any argument for their point. A review is like a feedback for the author. Here the trick is to convince the author to swallow the bitter pill in a polite and polished way. After all, the effort of the author cannot go unnoticed.
2. Read the book with care
3. Keep a pencil with you at all times; highlight the quotable passages
4. It is natural for you to form opinions or impressions; note it all down
5. Give yourself time to assimilate what you read. Your perspective might not match with everyone else’s but then it is brave and bold to put forward your views
6. Use simple language. Thesaurus and idiomatic phrases act like rescue boats provided you understand the correct usage
7. Lastly, begin your review by acknowledging the efforts of the author
How to write a critical book review (step-wise)
1. Introduce the subject, type and scope of the book. Mention the author, title, and publishing information (not always)
2. Elicit the genre (fiction, non-fiction, biography, memoir, autobiography, poetry). Your aim should be to help your readers get a perspective
3. At times, some books need prior knowledge to be able to relate better. Include the background details in your review. For example, for a self-help book that helps cope with depression, you might want to tell your readers about the percentage of people who are suffering from it and how the society looks down upon people with mental illness. Spread Awareness, write about the general problem the book addresses
4. Summarize the content. Don’t give out the spoilers but instead write something that the blurb doesn’t have. Please, do not copy the blurb.
5. Begin the review by appreciating the work of author (especially if it is the first book)
6. Include the supporting points or the one-liners that stand out and have the potential to draw attention.
7. Critically analyse the book using the following pointers:
a) Review the storyline– is it interesting, memorable, didactic or entertaining.
b) Provide your reactions to the book (honest ones)
c) Respond to the solutions/ suggestions given by the author- whether you agree or disagree (with a proper reason)
d) Write about what is missing in the book
e) Relate your points with other books of the same genre (if any)
f) Analyse the language, comment of the cover and the blurb, observe the narrative and the description (whether it is superfluous or kosher)
g) Summarize your ideas and end with a direct comment
h) Wish the best to the author
With this post, I hope that I have equipped the reviewers with a whole bag of tricks. These are not the only guidelines; you can modify and update your style as and when needed. But the language matters. I believe in doing nothing by halves because when it is the question of pursuing your passion, even the blood, sweat and tears might fall short. So, those who really want to achieve their goal of becoming a better writer, get it down to a fine art. Be open to learning because that is one thing that never comes to a halt.