Confessions of a Part-time Reviewer

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What is a Book Review? April 19, 2010

     According to Webster’s online dictionary, a book review is “a brief summary and criticism of a book. It is written shortly after a book is published and appears in periodicals. While it does not provide in-depth criticism, a book review does provide insights into the merits of newly published works” (Webster).

     In its basest form, this definition provides an adequate working definition of a book review.  The thing about book reviews is, just as every book is different so is a review.  Book reviewing is an unassuming type of writing, one that many take for granted as just being there.  Little consideration is given to the book reviewer or the review process. 

     A book review is meant to bridge summary and analysis; it isn’t simply a book review the likes of which is assigned by a fifth grade English teacher.  Book reviewers must walk a fine line between simple plot synopsis and jargon-heavy literary analysis. 

     While every review is different and every reviewer should have their own unique developed style, there are some quick guidelines anyone in quest of becoming a book reviewer can follow:

  • Length: On average reviews tend to be in the 250-400 word range.  If you are looking to publish your piece at a specific publication, they will likely dictate exactly how long your review can be.
  • Type: Scholarly book reviews are generally found in academic journals and websites.  These reviews rely more on discipline knowledge and a comprehensive analysis on the author’s overall argument and findings.  What I term “professional” reviews is the type of reviews most people are probably familiar with.  These pieces reflect upon, typically, new released books and are found in popular magazines, newspapers, and websites.  Professional reviews provide the words to sway potential readers to read or not to read a book.
  • Objective: Book reviews should provide readers with an accurate, critical insight into a text.  They offer the reviewer’s literary opinion, while addressing both positive and negative aspects of the book.
  • Function: To inform readers and help educate them about possible reading selections. 
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