You’ll be reading my book reviews in this column week after week… and as I sat pondering on which book to review for you first, I said to myself, ‘Hey, let me begin by defining what a book review is and how best to write one.’ The decision was made in less than a minute after this idea struck me and this article will be having not just some insights into book reviewing but also a series of tips.
Someone might want to ask, ‘Why would I want to learn about the inside story of book reviews?’
If a formal definition is what you are wishing for, the Wikipedia has this to say: “A book review is a form of literary criticism in which a book is analyzed based on content, style, and merit. A book review can be a primary source opinion piece, summary review or scholarly review. Books can be reviewed for printed periodicals, magazines and newspapers, as school work, or for book web sites on the internet. A book review’s length may vary from a single paragraph to a substantial essay. Such a review may evaluate the book on the basis of personal taste. Reviewers may use the occasion of a book review for a display of learning or to promulgate their own ideas on the topic of a fiction or non-fiction work.”
However, book reviews really go much beyond such definitions. I remember whenever I read any book, the first thing I wanted to do was to discuss it with a friend. Well, discuss and dissect, if you insist. The same thing happens when we see a new movie or hear a song or use a new gadget. Or instance, the moment I held the new Samsung Galaxy Note II in my hands, my first impulse was to click some fancy shots of me with this device and write about my feelings on my blog. The same thing happens when you read a book… not necessarily a great book. One wants to share one’s opinion about a book – and it might be great or not so great, have editing howlers or have a pathetic cover design, the story might be awesome or just be one big amorphous lump of confusion. Whatever be the merits or demerits of the book, one has the urge to talk about them.
Yes, most of us were content to talk about our opinions if we go back to the time when PCs and the internet were not there. Today, opinion is no longer limited to talking about a book with just one or two friends. We want to tell the whole world what we have read and what we think about it.
So if you are convinced that writing a book review isn’t a completely daft idea, read on. There are a few tips that I have thought of which will make the entire process of book reviewing clear to you.
- The entire concept of book reviewing obviously begins with a book. You get a book to read. You can buy it or search online for writers, publishers, or even web portals offering you books to read and review. I can tell you that www.blogadda.com is one place where lots of new Indian fiction is offered to those who are interested
- Now, why should blogadda offer you a book to read? They do it because the publishers and writers need reviews to spread the good word about their books. So the only thing asked in return is a review. No, they don’t need you speed-post them a sheaf of papers with a hand-written review. They need a review on the internet. The best way is, of course, by writing and uploading your review on your blog. No, I’m NOT discussing blogs here in this article, but will do so in a separate article.
- The first thing you need to do to write a really insightful review is to actually read the entire book. Skimming the pages doesn’t work. Inattentive reading doesn’t work. A thorough reading is what takes you right into the heart of any book and enable you to write analytically about it.
- As you read the book, it helps to keep making your notes. You may want to mark the lines that are really quotable, or passages that give some rare or interesting insight, sentences that help you talk about the plot or characters and so on. I mark lines with my pencil and jot down page numbers or sometimes use post it markers.
- Once the book is read and the passages marked, you are ready to write your review. You can begin with some interesting quote from the book or just straight away get to a strongly worded opinion or feeling that has lingered even after the book reading is over. You can choose to be subtle or dramatic, strong or mild… just be what you really are. Remember, besides writing the review you are also developing your own unique writing style.
- As you move into the body of your review, feel free to illustrate your opinion with quotes from the book and explain with examples whatever it is that you want to put across. Do keep in mind that every author and every book has a targeted readership or audience and so you shouldn’t really expect a chick lit to have philosophical insights or revelations that are supposed to stun the entire world!
- Every book has its own unique features and this is what you need to discover. Quite obviously a novel by Chetan Bhagat and one by Mohammed Hanif are going to be different. Abhisar Sharma may cater to the thriller seekers whereas Ashok Banker may take you inside mythology! Review them from the perspectives they were written with and remain unbiased.
- Do I tell everything about the book? No, not at all… a review needs to simply stay away from revealing the climax or all that a book wants to tell. It must tell only what is essential to whet the appetite of review readers to go out and buy it. After all, this is precisely what a review is supposed to do.
- I never really ask a reader to go and buy or not to buy a book. My reviews analyse a book, dissect it, thrash all issues related to it… and leave the final decision of buying it entirely to the reader. You need to decide on which path you want to follow.
The points that I have mentioned in this article are surely not everything there is to know about book reviews. However, this article does give you a reasonable idea of what is to be done and how.
Article written on 26 January 2013
Published in ‘The Education Post’ dated 28 January 2013