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How to Write a Book Review

Your opinion is important—don't be afraid to voice it in a book review

Writing a book review is not the same as writing a book report or a summary. A book review is a critical analysis of a published work that assesses the work's strengths and weaknesses. A prominent reviewer can have a major impact on a book's reception. Many authors strive to have their books reviewed by a professional because a published review (even a negative one) can be a great source of publicity.

One need look no further than Oprah Winfrey's famed Book Club to see the effect that this type of publicity can have on a book's sales. There are countless book review examples, but first, let's discuss how to write a book review.

You aren't in high school anymore

A book review is not a book report. Resist the temptation to summarize the character, plot, theme, and setting, which was probably the formula you used in your high school English classes. Your readers are not interested in having the book re-told to them, and are certainly not interested in having the ending spoiled.

To become a legitimate book reviewer, you need to be able to tell your readers whether the book you are reviewing is interesting, thorough, original, and worth spending money on (or at least borrowing from the library).

Preparing to write a review

Before writing a book review, you must, of course, read the book. Reading the first page, last page, and dust jacket won't cut it—you must read the book in its entirety, making quick notes about your impressions as you read.

We also recommend that you ask yourself questions as you read. If the book is non-fiction, ask yourself, "Does the author have a clear argument that he or she is trying to prove? Is it original? Does he or she prove the argument successfully? Are the arguments sound? Is it well-researched and well-written? Does the author omit any information that would have been relevant?"

For a work of fiction, ask yourself, "Is this work original? Are the characters well-rounded and believable? Does the plot twist, turn, and thicken, or does it plod along? Does the book address universal themes? Is the dialogue realistic?"

Make notes about the author's writing style: Is it irreverent or dry? Fast-paced or excruciatingly detailed? These are all things that potential readers will want to know. As a reviewer, you must tell them.

Get to the point

When you begin writing the review, think about what your thesis is. Will your review be favorable, or do you plan to advise your readers to spend their money elsewhere? Just like in a college paper, remember to make your thesis known in the first few lines of your review. This will help your reader focus and will provide you with an argument for your review.

Don't forget the details

Briefly include some biographical information about the author at the beginning of your review. Is this his or her first book? If not, what types of books has he or she written before? How has his or her background qualified him or her to write about this particular subject? Also, be sure to include the book's complete title, the number of pages it has, its publisher, and its price.

Before launching into your nuanced and cerebral analysis, briefly tell the reader what the book is about, its genre, and who its intended audience is. Is the book designed for mass commercial appeal or for a select group of academic specialists? Providing this information at the beginning will let readers know if they're interested in reading the entire review.

Support your argument with direct quotes

Just as you would in academic writing, carefully select passages from the book you are reviewing to support your argument. These passages will help readers understand what you mean when you write that the book is a tender love story, a violent murder mystery, or a dull yawner. Since a book review is generally quite short (less than 1,000 words), we suggest selecting brief passages.

Try to use a natural, informal tone. A book review is not rocket science; you are simply communicating your impressions and opinions of an author's work. What's more, always remember to edit and proofread your review multiple times before publishing it. If you're going to rip a novel apart for being overly verbose and hard to follow, you'd better triple check to make sure your review is grammatically sound and succinct!



Image source: Amador Loureiro/

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