Most of us probably remember writing a book report at least once during our time in school. We dutifully described the plot, the setting, the characters, and any other crucial data that would let our teachers know that we’d actually read and understood the book. As we advanced into high school and university, book reports shifted to book reviews, and whether we realize it or not, there is a subtle difference which we should be remembering when we review a book. Unlike a book report, whose purpose is to offer the reader a summary of content, a review’s purpose is to critically assess the value of the book, and to recommend or not recommend it to other readers.
In my position as a buyer, I often rely on reviews to help me evaluate books for age appropriateness, quality, and potential interest to my customers. I particularly love reading reviews from bloggers whom I trust, because I can count on a them for a thoughtful, honest analysis of the book they’re reviewing, and from that I can make an informed decision. What I don’t like to see, (and I’ve seen professional newspaper reviews do this) is a detailed, point-by-point rehashing of the plot, and then just a line or two of analysis.
When reading review,nI want just the briefest of summaries so I have an idea of what the book is about, and then I want to get to the heart of what you thought and why. I think it was around second year university where my TA patiently explained to me over coffee how necessary it was to start moving away from talking about the plot, and to start analyzing the novel. This is advice I still take to heart, and recommend to anybody who writes reviews for fun, or professionally.
The guidelines for one of the journals I review for suggest no more than 100 words of a 250-300 word review be devoted to plot, and I find that in most cases (once in a while a novel is just too complicated to summarize in 100 words and I’ll stretch it to 150) this is entirely possible. There is so much you can tell a reader without giving away key portions of the novel. You can talk about whether or not the story entertained you. You can talk about the authenticity of the characters, the emotional impact, etc….
So next time you prepare to write a review of the latest book that you loved or hated, challenge yourself to summarize the story in 10 lines or less, and spend the rest of the review talking about the book- not the plot.
Rachel Seigel is a Sales/Marketing Rep and the Fiction/Picture book Buyer for EduReference Publisher’s Direct Inc. in Ontario. She also maintains a personal blog at http://readingtimbits.blogspot.com and can be found on Twitter as @rachelnseigel.