October 15, 2015 - Posted to Writing tips
How to Write a Book Review – It’s Not a Report
College students struggle with book reviews because they have never been taught the difference between book reviews and book reports. Book reports are what they produced in high school; book reviews are what is expected in college.
What is the Difference?
The elements of a book report are as follows:
A complete summary of the plot or, in the case of non-fiction, everything that the author stated
A listing of the main characters and what their roles were in the plot
A paragraph about the setting – time and place
A possible statement of the themes without great elaboration
An evaluative statement at the end – did the reader like the book? Why or why not? Would the reader recommend the book to others?
The elements of a book review cannot be easily listed, because they will vary dependent upon the assignment that has been given. The most important thing to know is that a book review will not focus on a plot summary and all of the characters. The student who writes a book review is much more of an essay writer than a reporter. Here are some typical book review assignments that one can expect to receive at the college level:
Choose a single character and provide a full character sketch, identifying at least three character traits and demonstrating how that character revealed those traits in both words and actions.
Choose a character that transformed in some way during the story. How did this transformation occur and how does the writer make it credible?
Choose a theme and discuss its universality. Provide contemporary examples of this theme’s relevance today.
How does the author use setting to enhance the plot and reader experience?
Describe the tone and style of the author, using specific examples from the book?
As you can see, the book review requires you to dig deep into what you have read and to analyze and evaluate.
Steps in Producing a Book Review
First, accept the fact that you may have to read the book more than once. The exception to this may be if you have the assignment in advance and you have selected from the options before you read the book.
If you have your topic in advance, you will obviously need to take notes as you read. This can destroy the overall enjoyment of the work, but if you really just want to focus on the assignment, this is the way to go.
Once you have your notes, you are ready to develop your thesis statement. The thesis is pretty easy, because it will really directly relate to the assignment option you have selected. For example, if you are writing a character sketch and you have identified three traits, then you will identify those three traits in your introduction and each body paragraph will address one trait.
Make sure that you have an outline or some other organizer so that your review flows coherently. If, for example, you are comparing two characters, then a Venn diagram will be a perfect organizer. If you are writing a sketch about one character, an outline is better, obviously.
Your conclusion needs to address whether the author achieved his/her purpose as related to your topic.
Was the character believable?
Were actions and words consistent with the character traits?
If your review relates to a theme, did the author present that theme effectively?
One Final Note
It is not considered plagiarism if you read what others have written about this book you have read. Sometimes doing that gives you great ideas about how you can structure your review and will provide insights that you did not initially get from your reading. Taking that person’s words, however, is plagiarism, and you will most assuredly be caught.