“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

11 Comments

  1. Thanks for the tips. I’m just starting out and know that I need to practice more than anything. Any suggestions for building up a following?

  2. This is a great article! I agree with everything that has been said, both in the post and the comments.
    I try to address this on my book-reviewing blog, since I hate it when I see blogs where all of the reviews are unfailingly positive. When writing mine, I like to include both praise and criticism, as it were.
    However, I really dislike it when people write reviews saying that the book was ‘terrible’, just because their particular beliefs/worldview/opinion are different than the authors.
    I also hate it when a glowing review is given to a book that had obvious plot holes or other mechanical shortcomings. That is just my private pet peeve, though 🙂

  3. Although negative reviews do need to be written at times – Mein Kampf comes to mind as an extreme example – there are times when I have to remind myself that giving a false positive review could cause people who value my opinion to buy that book – and if I was not completely honest, I could lose both their confidence and my clear conscience.

    While writing negative reviews, however, it is easy to fall into a sense of pride – I have to remember that, as much as I might disagree or dislike the book, I myself have never even written a book, and I doubt that I ever will.

  4. I am thrilled to know that I’m not the only one who loves reading book catalog descriptions! I’ve done that for years!

  5. I’ve never written book reviews before (other than an odd paragraph in high school book reports), so I’ve been pondering this subject quite a bit lately. I think you are absolutely correct that they are valuable, but must be taken with a grain of salt. I feel much better about being honest in my reviews now. I’m likely a lot “easier” on books than many reviewers, though!

  6. Samantha R says:

    I like to give the “future” reader of a book a general feel for what the book was like. What type of book it was… how I felt about it… would I read it again… and who I’d recommend it to.
    If a book was not to my liking at all then I usually won’t review it! 😉
    I’ll usually list the positives as well as the negatives. Honestly, there are very few books that I’ve read that didn’t have at least one negative to them. Especially in the “modern day” books.
    If they are classics (like the Bible!), then I don’t usually have anything negative to say 🙂
    I love the CBD catalogs too!

  7. Your last remark made me laugh – if I don’t like a book, I likely won’t review it either, unless I have to for some reason!

    My biggest struggle with writing reviews is because I wonder, “How will the author feel if he or she reads this review and sees my critical thoughts about this labour of love?”

    So … usually I won’t write a negative review. Either I won’t review a book. Or, if I HAVE to review a book, I’ll say I liked “this” and “that” and try not to comment on the things I don’t like for whatever reason. But I don’t feel that’s honest. Sometimes a negative review NEEDS to be written. I TRY to be fair and compassionate. But sometimes I think those of us who love to read have a responsibility to share what we find in books – even, or especially, when we have concerns.

    I DO enjoy writing a positive review about a book I love! That’s a lot of fun. I try to share the reason I love the book and the reason I think my readers will enjoy the book. I try to quote from the book too.

    Sometimes even a good book that deserves a positive review comes with a warning. Maybe it feature’s a mature theme or something. I’ll make a note of that in a review – because that’s the sort of thing I like to know BEFORE I buy a book.

    Maybe that’s THE thing I do when I’m writing a book review: I consider, “What would I like to know about this book?” And then I try to tell my readers.

    I think a review is partly about the book and mostly about the readers. We all have our own personalities and experiences and convictions. But we can all ask, “How, as we write reviews, can we serve and help others avoid dodgy books and enjoy excellent books?” And then we can write the best reviews we can!

    Oh … and my family and I used to get those CBD catalogues ALL the time! I’d spend hours reading the descriptions of the books. And, in my imagination, spending a fortune on the ones that sounded good! 🙂

    1. I agree that there are some negative reviews that need to be written. I can think of several I’ve read that have been informative in helping me realize the message buried in the book–that I either might not have seen if I read it, or might not have known about and thus unwittingly recommended it.

      Your perspective as an author yourself is really good, Elisabeth. Thank you for sharing!

      1. “I can think of several I’ve read that have been informative in helping me realize the message buried in the book–that I either might not have seen if I read it, or might not have known about and thus unwittingly recommended it.”

        Yes, yes, yes!

        And I can think of reviews that were so positive and insightful that I decided to read a book I thought I’d dislike – and the book was soooooo good!

        Can you tell I really love reviews?!? 😀

        And you’re welcome!

      2. Oh, I so agree. It can be so easy not to look deeper into the story for the questions we ought to be asking. It can be so easy to let subtle ideas and opinions which differ from God’s word leak into our minds, thoughts, and actions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *