How I Review a Book

I admit that my book reviews have not been very even. I intend to review a whole lot of great literature over the years, but my progress has been uneven and my writing of the reviews has also been uneven. I spend more time keeping up with my kids, for example, so review more Middle Grades and homeschool books than I do current chart-toppers. Sometimes I am in the groove and write very consciously about a book I just read. Sometimes it’s been months since I finished and my brain is fried from everyday life, anyways. Sometimes I lean more toward the history of the book, or the author, or the critical acclaim, or my visceral experience. See? Uneven. Sometimes I’m happy with my review. Oftentimes I’m not. (Partly, this is because I would love every review to be favorable, but they can’t all be if they are to be honest.)

After reading a New York Book Review review on a book last night (sometimes I do a little field research before I express my own opinion), I got to thinking about my own review writing. While this particular review was very—ahem—specialized to the cerebral, high-falootin’ world of literary criticism, I felt like asking myself, What perspective am I reviewing from?

Certainly, these high-falooters would not be impressed with my reviews. Given. But I am a writer and I am, believe it or not, educated and highly intelligent. But I am a bit different from many artists: I have very strong logical and practical sides. I’m both an idealist and a realist. So when I review, I’m not really all that interested in the official opinion. This is what I am expressing:

  • My own experience with it. Did I enjoy it? Did I want to keep reading it? Did I learn something from it? Would I read it again?
  • The technical correctness of it. According to people like White and Strunk, was it closer to flawless than messed up? Where there typos and grammatical errors? Was it cliché? Was it clean? Did the writing flow enough that I forgot I was even reading? As a bonus, was the writing so good that it took my breath away?
  • Its novelty. Did it contribute to the cannon? Did it say something new, even in a traditional way? Was it interesting?
  • Its conventionality. Did the characters engage me? Did they grow? Was I held in suspense? Did I go to another place and time? Could I identify? Might I have even changed, myself? Did I want to turn the page?
  • Its utility. Did it do what it was supposed to do?

And then, I suppose, I explore where the book came from, who the book came from, and what others have thought about it. I do wish that every review could be more thorough, but I simply don’t have enough time or energy to give every blog my all. In the end, at least I’ll be able to look back and discover what I thought about a book so that I can converse intelligently about it and move on. For my audience, I would hope that my honesty will pay off for you and that if we have like minds I can lead you to your next favorite book and steer you around a waste of your time.

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