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Some Thoughts on Book Reviewing

25 October, 2008

Note: I’m not a professional book reviewer so, like most of the things on this blog, these are just a few personal thoughts on the process. It may also be that some of the reviewing problems I’ve pointed out here are things I’ve been guilty of myself. After all, I’m still learning. With that out of the way…

Just a few minutes ago, I listened to a podcasted book review.  The reviewer’s thoughts on the book and indeed the name/author of that book are irrelevant for what I want to say, so I’ll leave both anonymous. However, the review itself brought home a few things to me about the process of reviewing and how best to put across your thoughts on a book, or indeed on a film, album or any other item.

I see reviewing as being about an individual’s opinion, even if that individual is reviewing for a newspaper or magazine or some other external publication. For that reason, even if I disagree with a review, I’m willing to accept that some people will feel the same way about the book, if enough reasons for the review are given. To put it bluntly, if you give a book a bad review, that’s not enough: you’ve got to spell out why it’s bad. Perhaps that’s a fairly obvious point, but too often I read or hear reviews in which opinions are not backed up, leaving me no wiser as to whether I’d feel the same way.

Then there are the reviews that simply list points about the book, instead of giving opinions. Individual facts about characters, locations and plot are often meaningless in the context of a review. It’s all very well knowing that the main character is a plumber with three kids, who lives in London and spends his Sunday mornings walking his dalmatian in the park, but unless that information is pertinent to the immediate plot, I’d prefer to find it out from the book itself. Instead, what the review should be telling me is whether that character’s journey from start to finish is interesting and whether the author has told it well.

As a final point, it occurs to me that book reviews are one of those things that are better in moderation. They need to be short, pithy and put across their point as succinctly as possible. If a review can’t tell me quickly whether a book is worth reading, I might as well just take the chance and read the book itself.

And as a final, final point, book reviews should never give away too much of the plot. It’s bad enough reading a blurb that reveals a plot point from two-thirds of the way through (like the book I’m reading now, unfortunately), but reviews tend to go into more detail and that’s even worse. Save exposition for the novel – I just want your opinion!

  1. 25 October, 2008 3:09 pm

    The problem with reviewers (of all media) in the blogosphere/cyberspace is that too much of it seems to be the province of “fan boys”, who have the “This rocks!” or “This sucks!” mentality, rather than providing informed, in-depth critiques. Critical thinking is sorely lacking…as are basic literacy and language skills.

    Thanks for this post and continued good luck with your literary endeavors…

  2. 25 October, 2008 6:16 pm

    Revision is like the old bluegrass saying:

    Q: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

    A: “Practice, practice, practice.”

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