Writing a book review is a common assignment in college and even beyond if you decide to have a career in this profession. Personally, I love writing reviews of any kind mostly because that way I can put all my thoughts about the subject on the paper. Before we go on, I have to mention it is different when you write a review for yourself i.e. your blog or website and for your professor in college. You can’t throw around some expressions you wouldn’t even say in front of your professor, you know what I mean? Since book reviews are common writing task in college but they’re still largely misunderstood, I’m going to help you out with this practical guide to ensure you get a good grade every time.
Why are reviews important in the first place?
To an untrained eye, reviews may seem pointless. What’s the point of writing about something when other people and your professor have already read the book? Isn’t it enough to talk about it in the class?
Just as movie reviews (see the “how to guide” here) develop your critical thinking, the book reviews do the same. It is not enough to read a book and call it a day; you have to establish your opinion, your likes, and dislikes. When a professor gives you this assignment, he/she wants to see your abilities to analyze the book and use vocabulary skills to discuss different segments of the plot. Plus, you have to demonstrate your ability to organize the review so that you mention all aspects of the book in an easy-to-follow manner. Otherwise, a reader would just get confused.
Book review vs. book report
Since we are accustomed to writing book reports at a very young age, it comes as no surprise we don’t think book reviews are different than a book report. Did you also have a book report in your mind when you read the title? If so, you’re not alone.
Contrary to the popular belief, book reviews and book reports are two different types of writing. Knowing how they differ is the first step towards writing a high-quality paper that will guarantee a good grade.
Book reports are usually reserved for elementary, middle, and high schools while book reviews are more of a college-level assignment. That said, it’s not uncommon for professors to ask for book reports either.
Book reports usually revolve around topical details about the author and the plot of the story. Here, you have to explain biographical information about the author starting from the day he/she was born to other info such as marital status, children, education, some other works, and so on. You know the drill! After that, you have to accurately summarize the story you’ve just read.
On the other hand, a book review is a more sophisticated approach to understanding and discussing a book. It doesn’t revolve around a summary of each section, but you have to carry out a thorough analysis. As you grow and develop as a student, so does your ability to think critically. You don’t just sum up what you’ve just read, but analyze every piece of the puzzle in a bid to demonstrate the ability to pay attention to detail, engage critically thinking, and so on. Here, you have to be careful that you aren’t, actually, just retelling the story.
While book reviews may contain some elements of book reports e.g. author, characters, plot, the emphasis is to provide a more detailed insight, go deeper and elaborate strengths and weaknesses of the book, and discuss the elements of the story.
You know the difference between book reports and book reviews, now what? Now you’re ready, to begin the assignment.
Things to do before you read
The entire process starts before you even read the book. Here, you have to do a little bit of research to find out the following:
- Author info: who is he/she? What is the author’s typical style? Has this person won awards? Is the author known for controversial behavior, statements etc.?
- Genre: is this book a fiction, romance, nonfiction, poetry, and so on? What is the purpose of the book?
- Title: is it interesting or uninteresting? What can you find out about the book just by reading its title?
- Preface, intro, and table of contents: what does the author say in the preface and intro? Does he/she provide background information for the book you’re about to read? Is the book arranged in chapters or sections?
In order to write a thorough book review, you have to pay attention to everything about the book, which is why writing down the information about the author, genre etc. is strongly advised. That’s why you’ll need a pen and notebook where you can write everything.
While you’re reading
There is no need to wait until you finish reading the book to start writing your review. As mentioned above, the process begins early. While you’re reading the book you should take notes about different aspects of the story. For example:
- Quotes: are there some memorable quotes that stand out?
- Key ideas: what is the primary idea of this book? What makes the book groundbreaking or different than others?
- Characters: who are the main characters? How do characters affect the story?
- Themes, motifs, and style: what motifs and themes stand out and how do they contribute to the story? Are the motifs in book effective or not? How would you describe the writer’s style?
When you write this down while reading, you won’t leave out some important information later.
I finished reading, now what?
After reading the book, you have to create an outline and write your review. The outline is essential here mostly because it helps you organize your book review in a coherent manner. Since analyzing a book is vast subject, the outline helps you stay on the right track and avoid drowning in the sea of ideas, thoughts, and story details.
An outline for book review should look like this:
Introduction or background
This is self-explanatory; the section should contain the title, publication information, author’s name and short background (one or two sentences), the purpose of the writing, main ideas, presenting characters etc. Naturally, the introduction should also feature your thesis about the book, which is the last sentence of this paragraph.
Always act like you’re writing a review for people who haven’t read the book. Of course, since your professor assigned this particular book, it means he/she read it. That said, if you assume “they know what’s going on”, you’ll leave out important information. The introductory paragraph should be short, concise, and informative.
Short summary of plot and characters
While book report is all about providing a summary of all aspects of the book, in book review it’s important to keep it short. Strive to deal primarily with the pressing issues. Why? The reason is simple; since book reviews require thorough analysis you will not be able to discuss every idea and character in detail. Focus on the principles and characters you agreed or disagreed with, some notable events that are important to the plot, and so on.
This particular segment is the “meat” of your paper and the primary reason behind the review. Here, you analyze and evaluate the book, provide a critical assessment of the book’s central argument, and include evidence to support that argument. The purpose of the book review is to critically evaluate what you’ve just read, not to just inform readers about it. There’s a fine line between the analysis or assessment and summary, which is why this section will take a bit longer to write since you have to pay more attention not to cross that line.
Sometimes your professor will assign and book and name a central idea to focus on throughout the review. In other instances, you’ll have to review the book and distinguish some important ideas that spread through the story. In this section, you uncover symbolism (if present), motifs and other details that are crucial to the overall meaning of the book.
Make sure you leave a paragraph to discuss what worked for you or what didn’t. How does the book compare to other works of the author or other books in this niche? Did the book appeal to you in an emotional, logical, or some other way? While this is the part where you write about the personal experience while reading this book, make sure you stay away from using “I think, I like, I dislike, I this or I that”. Also, make sure you support everything you mention with strong evidence i.e. examples from the book.
Conclusions are important too. The goal is to finish your review with a bang! Here, you should provide a short summary of ideas and other details discussed in the review and mention whether you would recommend it to someone or not. The paragraph should be short and concise.
Book review writing tips
- Consider how does the book agree or clash with your view of the world
- How were your views and opinions challenged by the text?
- Consider political, economic, social issues that author assessed or try to address throughout the book
- Pay attention to author’s style of writing and look at his/her cohesion, flow of the text, and use of precise words
- Discuss the author’s descriptions and narration
- While using quotes is encouraged, make sure you don’t overdo it
- When mentioning characters, instead of restating what the author wrote about their appearance and general characteristics, go in-depth and discuss whether some important character evolved or how does he or she affect the book and its story
Book reviews are common assignments in colleges and universities throughout the world, but you shouldn’t confuse them with book reports. Also, bear in mind that writing a review for your blog is different than for your professor. While your opinion matters too, and you should include personal evaluation, make sure everything you say is supported by examples from the book. In order to write a high-quality book review, always strive to provide a more detailed insight about the text you read, analyze, evaluate, and think critically. That way, you’ll avoid summarizing the plot.