“The first function of a book review should be, I believe, to give some idea of the contents and character of the book.”
-Walter Kaufmann

Some people read dictionaries for the fun of it; I read book catalogs.  I’d spend hours absorbing the brief peeks into the stories, my vivid imagination fed by those few lines under each book cover.  Even the black and white catalogs devoid of pictures kept me drooling over the titles!

Writing book reviews for school was such a boring, technical process — guided by rules, not to mention an outline.  But then I began publishing a newsletter, and couldn’t contain my enthusiasm for reading to just a column or two: I decided to put together my own favorite book list.  The tri-fold brochure had rave reviews that read like the pages out of book catalogs.  (But of course, I really was that enthusiastic about everything in life back then — especially books!)

When I started to receive copies of books specifically for review purposes (BookSneeze and Blogging for Books both have great reviewer programs), it seemed only fair to put the book in its best light.  I mean, I always try to get the good out of a book, and not being a professional literary critic I didn’t think it my job to tear a book apart page by page.

My goal became to pass on a piece of the book’s message in each review.  I rarely heard an author interviewed without hearing a nugget to grasp; I wanted to do the same in each book review I wrote.

Sometimes, that was harder than others.  Sometimes, I couldn’t write a very glowing review.  And I began to realize that I’d rather read a book review that was honest, not one that sounded like the book’s own press agent wrote it.

I know a book review will always contain the reviewer’s own personal perspective on the book and subject matter, based on their own life experience and beliefs.  But I want to read — and to write — reviews that are entirely candid, at least from the reviewer’s perspective.

I still try to share more than just my own opinion of the book: I want to give a fair representation, via quotation or accurate summary, of the author’s work.  I want to capture enough of the message to give someone an idea if they’d like to read the book for themselves.  But if I don’t like a book — or even just its cover — I’ll probably say so.  (Or, more likely, I just won’t review it!)

How about you?  What are the points you like to keep in mind as you write book reviews?  What are the questions you wonder about when you read other peoples’ book reviews?

“If modesty and candor are necessary to an author in his judgment of his own works, no less are they in his reader.”
-Sarah Fielding