How to Write a Dynamic Book Review

 

As of 2015, Book Scan’s total print book sales recorded in at a whopping total of 653 million units. While ‘traditional print books increased almost 3%, and e-books’ share of the total market slipped from 27% in 2014 to 24% last year’, these statistics are still a sure-fire indicator of the public’s ongoing passion for reading books.

With so many readers on the hunt for the latest and greatest ‘good read’ in the literary melting pot, writing a dynamic book review that will grab the attention of a potential reader can make all the difference to a book’s success.

Writing the book review

First things first, you will have had to read the book. Secondly, once you have finished the book, you need to consider what to include in your review? Whether you are reviewing a book or a film, the structure or elements of a review remain the same.  Some book reviews include general information like who wrote the book?, what was the story about?, what is the theme?, and other highlights of the book, character, plot, etc.  But I have chosen to talk about writing a critical book review. 

There are five sections to a critical book review.

1, Identification of the work that is under review

2. Context of the work under review

3. Description of the work under review

4. Assessment of the reviewer

5. Identification of the reviewer

So let us go through each of these sections one by one.

1. Identification of the work under review

The first important thing is that the reader knows the identification details of the book that you are critiquing or reviewing.

When you begin to identify the work, include these details.

  • Who wrote it?
  • What is the title of the book?
  • Who else was involved, co-writers, illustrators?
  • When was it written/published?
  • Where was it published?

The identification panel or publication details are placed before the actual review, like this:

Author
Title of the work
Publisher
ISBN Number
Price
Number of pages
Format of the book (paper-back Pb or hardback Hb)

If the book is to be rated on the internet, like on the Amazon website, you will notice that there are a set of four or five stars that will be included, so that you can click on them to give the book a rating.

2. Context of the work under review

Once you have identified the work that is under review, you can start writing the review. In this part of your review you will place the book into a wider context, so that you are establishing a background and framework for the book. You can use a social-cultural or historical context or a literary context.

Here is a list of contexts that you can use in your review:

Author’s books. Has the author written other books? You need to have read or have a good knowledge of other books by the author.

Genre. Include some brief details about the history of the genre, past and present works in the same genre. Again, you will need to be familiar with genre classification, and other authors who write in the same genre.

Current issues, debates or news. This is the part of the review that will require some research to make sure that the issues or debates/subjects or themes that you will use in your review is relevant and up to date.

Personal reading experience. This part of the context requires you to draw upon your own reading experience or tastes, but remember that the book review is not about what you like or dislike. Keep the reader in mind, your focus should be on the book and its author, and why the reader should (or should not) read the book.

Also, when readers read reviews, they will also be critical of the reviewer as well as the ideas that you are using in the review.

3. Description of the work under review

The third element of the review is the section where you need to describe the book. You will have read the book and be familiar with it. The reader has not read the book and they want to have a good idea of it before they decide to purchase it. So when you start to describe the book, here are some ideas to include.

Overall Description

Describe the genre of the book. Is it a historical romance or a crime thriller?

Theme or topic of the book. Is it a battle for a fantasy world or a hunt for a serial killer?

Writing style of the author. Does the writer use a first person or third person narration? Is is written in a diary style?

Issues that are explored in the book. Does the book cover issues that relate specifically to women, or are there issues that relate to animal rights or ecological concerns?

Literary techniques.  What kind of techniques does the author uses to create the story-world. Does the author use streams of consciousness, flashbacks, etc.

Setting of the book. Is it a beach setting or a futuristic world?

Plot strategies. Does the author start at the end of the story and develop the plot from there? Are there plot twists? Is there a continuous smooth flowing plot or are there multiple plot lines?

Characters. Who is the hero? What is their conscious need or goal? Is their desire for freedom, protection of loved ones, pursuit of a love interest. Who is the villain? How do they provide the conflict in the book?

Specific Description

You can provide quotes or illustrative images from the book, or use a direct quote from the author about the book.

4. Assessment of the reviewer

The assessment of the reviewer is the most important part of the review. You have provided the foundation of the review by building your case for the book with the context and description (the greater social and literary context, genre style, writing style of the author, plot strategies, character profile, and personal reading experiences).

All of these details establish you as a reliable critic who can now make their final judgment, and give the book either a one star or a five star rating.

5. Identification of the reviewer

In this final section of the book review, and also an important one, is where you identify yourself as the critic or reviewer. The identification of the reviewer provides your status as a reviewer and contributes to your credibility as a reliable literary voice, which will also boost the authenticity of the review.

Your identification should be a short bio that is located at the end of the review. Some relevant details to include can be as follows:

  • Professional experience.
  • Reading experience or any books that you have may have written
  • Experience as a critic (if any)
  • Life experience ( university degrees, etc)

A check list for writing the book review.

Before you begin to write your book review, consider this questions:

Who is the readership for the book? You need to consider your readership. Is the review to be shown in a literary magazine, a university journal, or a general women’s magazine. Every publication or website has its own demographic, and an audience with a particular level of expertise and reading experience.

What is the publication’s particular style? Depending on where you will be publishing the review: in a magazine, a newspaper, or on your own website, each medium will have its own style, and require a particular tone or type of ‘voice’ from its writers.

What are the current issues in the world? It is always a good idea to be well read or be media savvy, so that you can use that knowledge to provide a well grounded socio-cultural background for the review.

What is your particular aim, or what kind or angle are you going to take in writing the review? You need to be aware of your intentions or what you want to achieve with this review? Consider these four questions:

1. Do you want to be objective or subjective?
2. Are you representing a particular audience?
3. Are you a fan of the author or book?
4. Do you see the book as a ‘must read’ (is it covering a controversial topic or a social justice issue like human trafficking?)

Finally, if you are going to write a negative review, you need to think about it very carefully. You will need to justify your views by establishing the reasons ‘why’ you are providing a negative review. If you are going to give your opinion, it has to be more than just “I hated the work”; your review has to be presented with a good balance of objective and subjective voice.

Writing a book review is a combination of being well read, being aware of what is going on in the greater world, keeping up with cultural, literary and genre trends, and to be aware of the needs and interests of readers.

Happy writing!

 

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Explore the Creative Possibilities of Rewriting Fairy Tales

I grew up reading fairy tales like the Brothers Grimm stories, Rapunzel and Cinderella, and just like many young women, my romantic ideologies centred on many of the characters and narrative structures contained within these tales.  These magical tales had me believing that my prince would come and rescue me on a white horse and sweep me off my feet and I would live happily ever after. Not for one moment did I question the implausibility of a frog turning into a prince or that a young woman’s hair could be used as a rope so that the prince could climb up a tower to rescue her.  But as I have got older, and maybe a little wiser, and due to my uncovering the hidden meanings behind many of these narratives, I have discovered the creative possibilities of rewriting fairy tales.

Some of the narratives within the Tales for the Sisterhood collection (like Sisters, and The Tale of Ruthie and Grace) are designed to transgress archetypal characterisation, fairy tale gender roles, and challenge traditional storytelling.  So if you feel a little story barren, why not explore the creative possibilities of re-writing a fairy tale.

As a prime method of universal communication, storytelling has taken on many historical forms, stemming from oral folk tales, myths, legends and moral tales to contemporary literary narratives. More than any other narrative fairy tales have been subject to revision, due to cultural and social-political change. In the early nineteenth century, Edgar Taylor’s translation of the Brothers Grimm tales resulted in rigid censorship to overt references of violence, cruelty, supernatural and sexual thematics, as children were to be the prime audience for these stories.

A significant area of revision was the censorship of female roles. In the precursor to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Grimm’s Rose Red and Snow White tale depicted Rose (Snow White’s sister) as wild and unruly. Rose Red was then removed from later renditions as “her free-spirited, untamed ways” could be interpreted as “dangerous in the context of a patriarchal society” that attributed “femininity with docility, gentleness…good temper” (Friedenthal 2012, p. 163 pp. 163-165) and subservience. If you are interested, the studies of Friedenthal and other similar fairy tale narratologists provide a useful exploration into the power of belief systems, which can ultimately influence literature‘s form and style.

Almost in rebuke to these passive literary representations of female characters, post-modern authors like Angela Carter, A. S. Byatt and Margaret Atwood present their own feministic literary critiques through their unique representation of female characters and story-lines. Carter’s Gothic style narratives twists, such as the sexual awakening of the not so innocent Little Red Riding Hood in ‘The Company of Wolves’, and the daughter who is rescued by her mother from a murderous husband in ‘The Bloody Chamber’, see passive females being transformed into active and heroic characters.

A. S. Byatt’s intriguing tale ‘The Story of the Eldest Princess’ is also a prime example of a major break with fairy tale tradition, where Byatt transgress the expectations of fairy tale lore. Byatt’s princess is aware of her fairy tale entrapment and ultimately decides to take control of her own narrative destiny resulting in a ambiguous resolution (Gooderson 2005).

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood offers a complex characterisation and narrative structure. The novel is set in the mid 1930s to 1940s and follows the conflicted lives of two sisters, Iris and Laura, whose relationship is bound by the endless cycle of abuse at the hands of Iris’s husband, Richard. This abuse is tragically intensified by the fact that Iris is unaware of this abuse until after her sister’s death.

Atwood’s literary rationale concerned the socio-cultural “power politics governing the lives of women” and the traditional representations of female roles. Her novels explore “the saintly, selfless, and utterly self-sacrificing” woman, or the female villain” and rejects these stereo-typical roles through her narrative complexity (Brooks 2010, pp. 68- 70). It is Carter, Byatt and Atwood’s overall rationale towards rejecting traditional fairy tale conventions, and their trail-blazing approach to re-writing female roles that have acted as a dominant influence on my writing.

Although the magical world of fairy tales may take its consumerist multi-million dollar form in the Disney films, they can also offer a world of promise for creative writers as traditional fairy tales can encapsulate twenty-first century ideologies. Old narratives can be transformed into new narratives that challenge and inspire. So be brave and discover the creative possibilities of rewriting fairy tales or even create your own.

 

References:

Brooks, B J 2010, Continuum Studies in Contemporary North American Fiction:Margaret Atwood : The Robber Bride, the Blind Assassin, Oryx and Crake. London, GBR: Continuum International Publishing, viewed 19 November, 2014, via ProQuest Ebrary Online Library.

Friedenthal, A J 2012, ‘The Lost Sister, Lesbian Eroticism and Female Empowerment in “Snow White and Rose Red” in K Turner & P Greenhill (eds), Series in Fairy-Tale Studies:Transgressive Tales: Queering the Grimm, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, MI, USA, viewed 18 September, 2014, via Proquest Ebrary Online Library, pp. 161-178.

Gooderson S, ‘Writing a tale’, The Guardian, Thursday 22 September 2005. 

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2005/sep/22/fiction.asbyatt

 

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