A Complete Guide on How to Write a Book Review
Most of us read books; a few write books. Reviewers eat, chew, and digest books! We all have been reading books since our school days. First, they are thrust upon us, then books become our companions of knowledge and entertainment, and finally, we become critics. In this article, I will tell you A to Z about how to write a book review.
This article includes
- The Seven Stages Of A Reader
- Why A Book Review?
- Questions You Must Answer Before You Write A Review.
- Reading A Book To Review.
- Seven Elements Of A Book Review.
- Book Review Format.
- Polish Your Review One Last Time.
- Exercise For Book Review.
The Seven Stages of A Reader
There are seven stages of life, and there are seven stages of a reader. In these stages of life, books are predominant.
- First stage – Books and the age of nursery rhymes
- Second stage – Books and the age of fairy tales
- Third stage –Books and the age of adventure stories
- Fourth stage – Books and the age of romance
- Fifth stage – Books are the source of inspiration and self-help
- Sixth stage – Books and the path to religion and philosophy
- Seventh stage – Books and the art of review
If you are in the seventh stage, you would have gone through all six stages by now. I’m sure your reading choices will be ranging from literature, drama, poetry, and of course, non-fiction. At this stage, you are a polished critique.
Some of us may develop from one stage to another, but most of us resist the natural development and get into reviewing a book with abstract ideas and wrath of vengeance.
In case you are still in the passing phases of a reader and want to learn the art of book review, we will tell you how to write a book review.
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Why A Book Review?
A book review assesses and describes a piece of work of fiction or non-fiction. In a novel, the emphasis is given to plot, character, and language, whereas in non-fiction, primary attention is on the argument, source of information, and narration style. Remember that a book review acts as a guide for others to choose a book; refrain from ugly criticism; it reflects you than the author.
A well-written book review describes a book’s purpose, structure, and style and compares a similar theme.
A book review is a guide for other readers. In an ocean of printed books and e-books, it isn’t easy to choose the right book. A book review summarises the work and provides an opinion about the book.
In short, a book review is essential for three reasons:
- A book review describes the book as a summary
- It analyzes the book for the readers
- It gives a recommendation and reviewers rating based on the similar books available.
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Questions You Must Answer Before You Write A Review
This topic reminds me of a bit of an incident that happened when my first book was released in 2009. One of my dear friends reviewed my novel and rated it outstanding with a five-star. I read the review full of praises, but there was a lot of disconnect between the plot and his judgment.
I called him and asked him if he has read the book? He said that he was dutybound to review it as a friend. I knew that devil; he had never read a single book. I delivered a free copy to his address with a thank you note as my token of appreciation. I know he will never read it!
The primary question is, have you read the book? The second question is, have you understood the theme? Never review a book if you haven’t read it and understood it. Writing a book review becomes simple if you get into these details before you start a review.
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In which classification or genre does the book fit?
Writing is characterized by theme – the central idea, content – the subject and its form – how the content is expressed. Elaborating on different forms of literature, we can assort them as:
- Prose Fiction
What are the other literary works of the author? Were they similar or different?
Every author has a subject specialization, and there are a series of books written by the same author. There are only a few genius authors who can write with great conviction about different themes. Roald Dahl and Stephen King are amongst a few authors who can write in a diverse genre.
What is the plot of the book?
A plot is different from a theme. The theme is the central idea, whereas the plot in a book is the story’s foundation. The story develops around the setting and the characters, which becomes the plot of the book. In simple terms, it is what happens in the story.
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Are the facts given authenticated in a non-fiction work?
Non-fiction is embellished with facts and references. These links and bibliography need to be threadbare to authenticate the facts in non-fiction.
What is the language?
Here language is not the linguistic term but the tone or the style. Often the author disregards the rules of grammar to give an authentic look to its character. The writing catches on to the different dialects of different people from various parts of the world. An American way of speaking will be distinct from an Australian or an Indian.
Does the book has a voice and a soul?
Voice is the collective thought of many people brought together by the author. This voice becomes the soul of the book if it has a powerful message or a view.
Reading a Book to Review
The foremost thing is choosing the right book. Take your time to select a book to read before you review. Have you ever noticed people spending hours in a book shop or a library to pick the right book? Your selection must be based on your interest, genre, skills, and competence.
In case you are assigned a book to review, please take it in the right spirit and be deliberate in reading it.
Here are a few essentials that must be taken care of when you read a book to review.
Focus points while you read.
- Inspect the cover and the title/subtitle of the book.
- Note down essential facts and sources of inspiration while you read.
- Study the table of content to analyze the structure of the book.
- Try and predict the target audiences.
- Make chapter-wise notes as you read.
Focus points once you have read.
Once you have read the complete book and noted down the critical points as explained, make a complete layout of the following topics.
- Write a summary of not more than 250-300 words of the book.
- Briefly write about the characters and setting. In the case of a non-fiction book, write about the references and ideology.
- Compare the book with similar subjects, which are bestsellers.
- Find out what is fresh, pathbreaking, and out of the league in the book. The most important is to answer if the book is unique or just another run-of-the-mill story.
- Write your final 100 words conclusion about the book.
- Please write your recommendation and rating comparing it with similar classics, which would be on a scale of 5 or 10.
Seven Elements of A Book Review
The pious Vedas say that our body is an amalgamation of five elements – earth, water, fire, air, and sky. Similarly, a book review is a merger of seven vital elements.
We have seen the seven stages of a reader, and now we will see seven elements of a book review.
If I review a book written by Paulo Coelho or R K Narayan, they may not need an introduction. The enormous literary geniuses have a name, but many like me are trying to make a name in the writing field. These authors require an introduction. Start a book review by introducing the author, his background, education, and other works.
The character of an author reflects in his work. Read any novel of Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, or any other accomplished author; their background, struggles, and character will be visible in their work. More than that, it creates a deeper connection with the author making his work and concepts amply clear. When we review Stephen’s Hawkins book – A Brief History of Time, we know the individual is a rare genius.
Practically speaking, a book review is meant to guide readers, and knowledge about the author is the first step. The author of the book is the first step to learning about how to write a book review.
Sometimes the target audience is vast; at times, it is limited. If a story is about abstract art or inclined towards pornography, it will have a limited scope. The publishing idea could be a quick marketing strategy by the publisher or the author.
In such cases, it becomes difficult to establish a concrete relationship between the author and the readers. Don’t misjudge me; I am not giving a morality sermon; it is the idea and target audience. In my list of top five books, I always recommend Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.
The book is perfect prose and highlights the dark shades of resident evil in the author’s mind. However, I will not recommend the same book to school children. I would encourage them to read Malgudi Days by RK Narayan or Room on the Roof by Ruskin Bond.
Characters and Plot
In a fiction novel, the characters and plot are the main ingredients. The simplest way is to close your eyes and feel the setting and characters in your mind. Analyze if the characters feel genuine? If not, look for the reason.
In non-fiction, it is primarily the content and the flow. The idea or thought which shapes and influences the theme is the soul of the book. This aspect must be highlighted when you are learning how to write a book review.
Issues that are highlighted
Different authors have different approaches, and they highlight various social, religious, and political issues. You don’t need to agree with all the highlights. However, if you learn how to write a book review, you must learn to address it in a neutral tone.
To further amplify the point, let me give you an example. You may be an atheist, but if you review a religious philosophy, don’t disregard the thought by terming it as a myth or a book advocating baseless traditions. It may be baseless for you, and that is fine from your point of view. However, there might be millions who take it as a matter of faith.
As a reviewer, highlight the issue first, and we will come to your point of view.
Point of view and perspective
As an author, the most important lesson I ever learned about a book review is about Point of View. When my first novel was released, the first review made me nervous about my future endeavors and disheartened me. The reviewer had ripped apart my work which I thought was a great one.
For many years I didn’t appreciate what point of view meant until my second book was released. An author’s karma is to write a book irrespective of the opinion and perspective of any reader. A reviewer must keep this aspect in his mind constantly.
In most book reviews, I have noticed a point of view is just the narrative. You can do without a description in a book review, even without quotations, but a reviewer’s perspective is the most critical aspect.
Writing an apt point of view from a corrective perspective without creating an antagonism element is essential for writing a book review.
Voice and language
Voice is not the tone; it is the collective consciousness of a group of people. When Prime Minister Nehru spoke at the stroke of midnight, it was a collective voice of millions of Indians together. When Martin Luther King Jr said about the American dream in his pathbreaking speech – “I have a dream,” it was a collective voice of all the black Americans. Your book review must identify the voice that speaks; it is the book’s heart and should not be missed in a book review.
Language is the narrative tone. It is a great way to pass on information in depth without forcing exposition. A great example of language is predominant in J D Salinger’s novel “A Catcher in the Rye.” Language gives you an insight into a place, time, and people.
The final but essential aspect of writing a book review is extracting life lessons from the book. Paying attention to more nuanced aspects of the book will teach you more than being just another reader.
As a reviewer, bring out the lessons you have learned. It is always better to mark important paras and quotes in the book while reading it. I always sit with a diary and a pen while reading a book, noting all I have learned.
When you are learning how to write a book review, please get in the habit of highlighting essential lessons in the book; they are the strong points worth mentioning to other readers.
Book Review Format
A classic book review template will consist of four vital elements.
How you deliver these four elements will make all the difference. Here is a detailed template on how to write a book review.
An Introduction is the beginning step of a book review. It is akin to a person holding the book in his hand, looking at the cover, inspecting the title, and reading the back cover blurb. The Introduction will have two parts:
- Introduction of the Book
- The Title
- Cover design
- of pages
- Name of the publishing house.
- Introduction of the Author
- Name of the Author/ Pen-name
- Educational background
- Professional background
- Other literary works
The thesis in a book review is the spine of your writing credibility; if it doesn’t intrigue and seduce the readers, your purpose is defeated. The apt idea behind the book and exciting points will bind your book review together. Undoubtedly it is the art you must master in how to write a book review.
- Start with the pitch. It is an analysis of the questions and probable answers before a reader hooks on to the book. To kill a mockingbird pitch to complex characters and a story of national extent; this made the book an all-time classic.
- Write the summary without giving away the key of the story.
- Briefly write about the characters, setting, idea, and references (for Non-fiction)
- Write about the target audiences.
The body is the book’s meat or the main content; this will give out all that a person wants to know about a book before deciding to read it.
- Use important quotations that are the highlights of the book. Try and describe it in your own words.
- Write about the issues that have been highlighted. Bring out if the author has succeeded in achieving his aim or not.
- Give your point of view and perspective about the book. Bring out reasons for your viewpoint to entrench your thoughts.
- Analyze critically the language, flow of the story, ideas generated by the author, social issues, and any impact that the book is likely to create.
- Bring out the important lessons that you derive from the book.
- If necessary, bring out the weaknesses and scope of improvement. Don’t be antagonistic or hateful. The aim is to suggest edits from a reader’s perspective and not to pull down any individual.
- Remember, it takes a lot of effort to produce a book. After writing four books, I know it takes more than a year’s hard work and perseverance to edit and complete a book. Never act with a vengeance.
Polish Your Review One Last Time
Once you are done with your book review, please leave it to rest overnight or for 24 hours. This method is a versatile trick in how to write a book review. Come back to your book review with a fresh mind and an eye for detail. At times you will notice a few points that need amendment. It could be your emotional angle or a critical point of view. Time is the best tonic for maturity.
Do a detailed scan to ensure no grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, or anything out of context. It is advisable to use Grammarly or Hemingway editor to polish your writing.
Exercise for Book Review
The following exercise will help you in implementing how to write a book review. I have selected five books from different genres. All these books are pathbreaking, and reading these books will give you insight into the various writing styles, but it will also teach you the art of writing.
- The Room on the Roof by eminent author Ruskin Bond.
- Light on Life by BKS Iyengar.
- Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer
- Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
- Call of the Wild by Jack London
After doing this exercise, compare and check your answer at any review site. This will help you to master the art of writing a book review.
A book review needs to be Clear, Concise, and Comprehensive. These three C’s are essential for fiction as well as non-fiction books. Before you write a book review, pay attention to all the points explained in the article. You can keep this as a guide and follow the elementary topics next time you write a review.
Learning how to write a book review takes time, effort, and knowledge about the subject. Reading reviews written by others will help if they stick to the format and give a detailed perspective. The common trends are only a promotional three or four-line review on Amazon or Flipkart. I hope this detailed guide will help you polish your review and enhance your writing and formatting skills.