Book reviews, like movie reviews, may be the most enjoyable writing assignments you will complete in your college classes. Whether you are assigned a book or allowed to select one yourself, delving into the realms of characters, devices, and plot twists is often more entertaining than writing a research paper. And while a book review exists as an academic assignment, it can be one of the most enjoyable ones. This type of assignment won’t just be limited to your English classes; you’re just as likely to write a book review for an English professor as you are for a History, Science, or Social Studies professor!
Book reviews, like any other form of writing, should adhere to some universal guidelines. The Writing Center at UNC-Chapel Hill offers this universal guide for its students. Need some review help? We’ve got you covered! Here are 5 strategies to help perfect your book review.
Select an Appropriate Book
Half the battle in writing a good book review is selecting an appropriate book. Fear not! There are many good books to read out there. First, make sure the selected book meets any guidelines set forth by your professor. Second, ensure that you can read it in the time allotted (now isn’t the time to read L. Ron Hubbard’s Mission Earth at over 1.2 million words). Peruse a few online book reviews to get a general gist of the book if you aren’t already familiar with it. This great guide lists several elements students should consider before beginning to read. When you’re ready, delve in and begin reading and taking notes. Remember: it’s a good idea once you’ve got your book to outline your time management. Will you read a chapter each day and take notes? Or will you read the book all at once and then go back and take more detailed notes on analysis-worthy passages? How you read the book is up to you, but everyone should have a plan.
Unfold Your Argument Logically
After you’ve completed the book and taken notes on the characters, settings, plot, pacing, and literary devices, it’s time to arrange your argument. Hamilton College in New York offers several guidelines to organizing arguments within a book review. Book reviews should encompass more than a simple assertion regarding whether the book was good or bad. A well-written book review should include a strong argument. Typically, reviews begin by providing an accurate book synopsis. It then goes into discussing key aspects, including character development, symbols, and plot twists. These aspects should be presented and discussed in the same order they appear in the book. And speaking of order, remember to use transitions to clearly outline how elements within the book unfolded; transitions allow the reader to follow the author’s development of an idea more clearly. Finally, the review should end with an analysis of whether or not the author achieved his or her goals in writing the book.
Discuss Key Aspects of the Book
Different books will place emphasis on different aspects. Some books will focus more on character development while others will focus more on thematic development. Take detailed notes while reading, especially when you notice shifts occurring in the story. Notice dialogue trends or repeated symbols as they appear throughout the book. The main difference between the book reports you completed in grade school and the book reviews you’ll write in college is a critical analysis. Book reviews demand that the reviewer really delves into the many complex aspects presented in the book. Remember: authors select everything in a fictional work; therefore, every choice should serve a purpose. While reading, ask yourself why the author has made certain choices as the novel unfolds.
Written a movie review? Book reviews are very similar! Always start with a summary covering the basic who, what, where, when questions and then begin to analyze key aspects of the movie. Remember: a movie (or book) is similar to the internal workings of a watch…the many gears work together to move the hands, enabling one to tell time. When writing about a movie (or book) you’ll need to look at how such aspects work together to allow the story to unfold. Movie reviews are nearly identical in organization and topic analysis to book reviews, with one of the main differences: movie reviews additionally discuss film techniques.
Highlight Strengths and Weaknesses
Part of your organized analysis should include a discussion of the book’s strengths and weaknesses. Really consider the various aspects of the novel including characters, settings, dialogue, plot pacing, literary devices, themes, and so on. Which aspects strengthen the author’s goals in writing the book, and which detract from the author’s goals? Analyze what worked well and what could have been better in the novel for the audience.
Conclude with a Clear Recommendation
The point of a book review is to conclude two things. First, did the writer successfully convey his or her message? Was the thematic message clear? Was it understood by the audience? Second, would you recommend this book? Will the intended audience enjoy it? Learn from it? The end of your review should focus on answering these questions with evidence from the text. Consider a book review as a type of persuasive argument. After reading the book, you must assess it based on a series of components. Your grade will likely depend on the strength of your argument.
These five tips are essential for perfecting an A-level book review. However, it’s important to remember that each professor may require a specific format or discussion for particular assignments. Always follow any rubric provided by your professor. Additionally, it’s important to remember that first (and sometimes second drafts) can be riddled with errors. Save some time at the end to review the draft for errors in content, spelling, and grammar. And remember: when writing book titles, they should be italicized or underlined — both these methods are acceptable, but current trends favor italics.