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Coming back to this article
This article is for students who want to learn how to write a book review. We will discuss the process and strategies of writing a book review that is a critical analysis of a piece of writing.
Do not confuse a book review with a book report. If your teacher has assigned you the task of writing a book report, then head on to our blog.
A review can be performed on a piece of writing, an event, object, or a phenomenon. It is a critical evaluation of books, novels, articles, movies, literature, policies, architecture, fashion, art and even restaurants and exhibitions. In this particular article, we will focus on book reviews.
Moving on, a review is where you make an argument; it isn’t merely a summary, but the most significant aspect of a review is that it is like a commentary. You start a dialogue and discussion with the author and the audience.
Unlike a report, you have the liberty to give your opinion and whether or not you agree with the writer; mention the strengths and weaknesses in the writer’s knowledge, judgment and how the text was organized.
Your opinion about the text under analysis is the most important element, so state it clearly. It is similar to any other academic writing such as essays, where you construct an argument and provide strong evidence in the body paragraphs.
Typically, reviews are clear and concise and don’t exceed the word count of 1000. You can find such reviews in newspapers and other academic journals. However, there are lengthy assignments, too, depending on the nature of your topic and your professor’s requirements.
Reviews can differ in subject, style and their tone, but there are a few elements that are constant in every type of review.
The first thing in a review is a brief summary of the overall content. It gives readers the perspective and describe the purpose of the topic and present the argument.
Secondly, another crucial detail that a review offers, is an in-depth analysis of the content at hand. This is where you discuss your reaction and feelings, what you thought was interesting and held significance, whether or not it was effective and had the power to persuade, and how your understanding of the issue increased.
Lastly, in addition to providing an analysis of the work at hand, you also suggest whether or not the audience will like and appreciate the work.
You are the expert
Students find writing a review to be a rather daunting task. They feel inexperienced and unqualified when someone asks them to give their opinion about a particular thing. How can they criticize the work of the great William Shakespeare when they haven’t written a single drama or novel themselves, let alone won an award?
You might feel like you are no expert, but you have to become one for your reader, which in this case is your professor. The truth is that everyone has opinions and has something to say --- when you have finished reading a book or watched a play, it’s impossible not to form your own point of view.
Your professor doesn’t expect you to match the author’s intellectual level, but what is expected of you is a reasonable judgment and analysis after careful observation. Whether you are voicing your agreement or disagreement, praising or criticizing the work of the author, a review requires you to provide supporting evidence.
Let’s take a look at the following short review written by a student on medieval Europe for a history course
“Judith Bennett’s Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England: Women’s Work in a Changing World, 1300-1600, investigates how women used to brew and sell the majority of ale drunk in England. Historically, ale and beer (not milk, wine, or water) were important elements of the English diet. Ale brewing was low-skill and low-status labor that was complementary to women’s domestic responsibilities. In the early fifteenth century, brewers began to make ale with hops, and they called this new drink “beer.” This technique allowed brewers to produce their beverages at a lower cost and to sell it more easily, although women generally stopped brewing once the business became more profitable.”
Problem with this answer is that although it includes the subject and summarizes the book accurately, no new information is being learned. The student didn’t write it from his point of view and didn’t state the argument and whether or not he recommends the book.
A good book review focuses on opinions rather than facts and figures. It is best to keep the summary concise and present more arguments.
Now let’s take a look at the second attempt of writing a review on the same book.
“Judith Bennett’s Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England: Women’s Work in a Changing World, 1300-1600 was a colossal disappointment. I wanted to know about the rituals surrounding drinking in medieval England: the songs, the games, the parties. Bennett provided none of that information. I liked how the book showed ale and beer brewing as an economic activity, but the reader gets lost in the details of prices and wages. I was more interested in the private lives of the women brewsters. The book was divided into eight long chapters, and I can’t imagine why anyone would ever want to read it.”
This answer displays a slightly better understanding and point of view of the student, there are judgments, but it lacks information on what the author was trying to prove.
Now let’s take a look at a final attempt of writing a review on the same piece of writing.
“One of feminism’s paradoxes—one that challenges many of its optimistic histories—is how patriarchy remains persistent over time. While Judith Bennett’s Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England: Women’s Work in a Changing World, 1300-1600 recognizes medieval women as historical actors through their ale brewing, it also shows that female agency had its limits with the advent of beer. I had assumed that those limits were religious and political, but Bennett shows how a “patriarchal equilibrium” shut women out of economic life as well. Her analysis of women’s wages in ale and beer production proves that a change in women’s work does not equate to a change in working women’s status. Contemporary feminists and historians alike should read Bennett’s book and think twice when they crack open their next brewsky.”
This particular answer overcomes the shortcomings of the previous attempts. Here, the student has provided a combination of opinions and facts. You get what the author was trying to prove and what the student’s take on it was. Along with that, he has recommended the book for potential readers.
When it comes to writing a review, there isn’t a definitive way or method. However, critical thinking about the text under analysis is necessary, prior to writing.
It’s safe to say that it is merely a two step process. The first step is developing an argument and the next step is writing a draft, supporting that argument about the work under consideration.
Before diving into the writing process, consider the following questions. It isn’t compulsory to answer all of these in your review, just make use of what's relevant and can help enhance your work. These questions aren’t limited to book reviews; you can convert them accordingly when analyzing a performance or a movie, for instance.
The first question that must be answered is, what is the main argument or the thesis of the book? What idea does the author wants the reader to get from it? Has the book been successful in accomplishing something --- what it is? How does the book compare to the world familiar to you, how do you relate to it?
The main topic and subject. Was it addressed and covered effectively? What approach was used to cover the subject--- was it chronological, descriptive, etc.?
Did the author support his/her argument and how? What supporting evidence was used to prove the argument? Was this evidence convincing, if not, then why? Did the author’s take on the topic conflict with your beliefs or something that you might have read before?
Was the author’s argument capable of persuading you? How was the argument structured?
How did the book increase your understanding on the topic and whether or not would you recommend the particular book to your readers?
Additional information to add in your review
In addition to the contents of the book, relevant information about the writer(s) of the book and how the book was written, should be included.
Start by answering who is the author of the book, his/her nationality, interests, background, personal history, training, etc. Also, tell your readers about the genre and field of the book.
After you are done observing and analyzing the book, it is now time to delve into the writing process. Go back to your notes and form a thesis statement that will describe the review’s purpose.
The nature of your review entirely depends on your reader and what they want to read. If they want more information on the book itself, then write from that perspective. If they are interested in finding out what your take on the subject is, then highlight your point of view and opinions.
Following is the outline used to organize a book review:
There are different ways of starting your book review; some begin by an anecdote or a catchy hook.
Make sure to add the following details:
The body comprises a brief summary of the content and provides your assessment while backing it up with supporting evidence.
Divide your analysis and evaluation in different paragraphs. It doesn’t have to be in chronological order; you can arrange these paragraphs by themes and methods.
Make sure not to quote excessively and when you do, put the quotations in inverted commas.
Don’t introduce new ideas towards the end of your review, instead, restate the thesis and leave the reader with a final judgment. Justify your opinion by mentioning the book’s strengths and weaknesses.
Finally, remember that you are reviewing a book that has been written not the one you wanted the author to write. While it is okay to mention and point out failures, don’t criticize it for not being what you wanted.
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