Book Review

By Nancy Howard

The most important element of a review is that it is a commentary, not merely a summary. So how we will write a review? Don't read the book. At least, not yet. Instead, start by looking at it. Look for clues to the nature of the book you'll be reading. Is it a richly manufactured item aimed at collectors? What does the cover illustration indicate the book will be about?

Pay attention. That isn't a disciplinary command like, "Don't let your mind wander!" Instead, pay attention to your reading experience. This is the first real challenge for most people. What caught your attention, and when were you bored? When was the book suspenseful? Which characters did you like, and why?

Review the book and take notes that let you explain its effects. This is the second tough step for most people. Remember that note-taking framework you built earlier? Now's the time to fill it in. When you passed from one part of the book to the next-chapter, section, or setting-what kept your attention? This is the part most people neglect, but it lays the foundation for the rest of the book review, so keep at it until you can do the following: Explain how the book as a whole affected you.

Explain how the author achieved the effects him or she did. Explain the relationship between form and content. If it is fiction, explain the function of each character in the novel. Explain the characters' relationships to one another. Sum up the book. This is the easy part, and half of what most people think a book review is. Put the book in a nutshell. Keep summarizing it until you've got everything covered clearly. Use that to start your review. Pass judgment. This is the other half of a book review for most people.

Is this book good or bad? This is the time for you to say so. Put the book in context. You might have been able to get this information from looking at the book's cover and introduction. Check your aim. You've written your review. Now's the time to step back and apply this sort of reasoning to your own review.

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