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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Can Your Learning Style Determine How You Read a Story?

Storytelling is an integral part of human culture. Although storytelling has been around for thousands for years, whether it be through the earliest cave paintings, oral tradition, or via digital mediums, storytelling continues to be of great importance to the way we communicate.

In my conversations, I have discovered that there are many people who don’t like reading a book, which is hard for me to fathom as I have always been an avid reader. Some people have never read a book and the only kind of reading they engage in takes place on the internet. How much they are missing out on!

I believe that reading is so important, aside from providing an opportunity to temporarily escape from reality, it allows us to explore a range of human experiences that may vary from our own, and it can help to develop our imagination and our language skills. 

Books are an important part of our human history. From the moment of their first introduction into the world, they have provided opportunities for people to learn to read, to experience the greater world that was inaccessible at that time, and the humble book has even ignited revolutions.

There are many reasons why people avoid reading a book. They may not have cultivated a love for reading from a young age, they may have a learning disability, or they may not have access to a book in their language. But here is an interesting question: can your learning style determine how you experience a story?

There is another significant reason why reading a book is avoided; we all have different ways of learning and absorbing information.

Three Learning Styles

Extensive study and research show that there are three different ways of learning and absorbing information. They are called the Three Learning Styles or Techniques. I had learned about these learning styles some years ago and they have helped me to understand the best way for me to learn, absorb and retain information.

Once you have discovered your learning style it will change the way you perceive information. It will help you to choose the best way of experiencing a story and ultimately enhance your reading experience.

Here are the Three Learning Styles.

Although there are different approaches in explaining these learning styles, I have chosen to use a basic description.

Visual (Spatial)

You learn via the visual sense – seeing and looking.
You like images, pictures, and illustrations.
You like taking notes.
You tend to visualize things (settings, characters) in your mind when you are reading.

Audio

You learn via the auditory sense.
You like to listen to discussions and hear people talk.
You like reading aloud.

Kinesthetic

You learn by doing and by the sense of touch.
You like to engage in activities.
You like to ask questions during an activity.
You like working or talking with others in a team or group.

Why not try this creative exercise to discover your learning style. 

Once you have discovered what your dominate learning style is (there will usually be one main style that defines you), you can find a storytelling medium that best suits you.

Four Different Ways to Experience a Story.

Besides reading a book, there are many different ways to experience a story.

Audio Books

As well as audiobooks, you can also find websites where a book narrator provides stories via a podcast. Here is one website: Kris Keppeler narrates short stories. 

Watch a film with friends

If you are a kinesthetic person and watching a film or the television by yourself is boring, you could have a film night and discuss the film with your friends afterward as a group.

Smart televisions also allow for a community interactive experience. You can engage with other viewers by leaving comments via social media whilst watching a show.

DVD

Most DVD’s these days have an extra feature where you can listen to (and watch) the Director or Actors talk about the film, and a section where you can engage in social media discussions, or even choose alternate endings to a film.

Graphic novels

Books with pictures are a great way to encourage reading for the younger generation: children and adolescents. Developing a child’s reading experience at an early age can lead to an ongoing relationship with books that can extend into their maturing years. It can help them develop language skills, teach them to use their imagination, and promote empathy and intercultural understanding.

Digital Devices

If you are sight challenged or just a Digital Device fan, you can download books via Kobo or iBooks. Digital devices also allow for multiple book downloads and greater portability.

Internet/Social Media Platforms

There is ongoing research that argues that reading via the internet can be detrimental to our reading experience: it can affect our neural pathways by causing an inability to concentrate for long periods. But for those who are visual and/or kinesthetic, it can be a struggle to focus on just words on a page, so the internet provides many different ways of experiencing a story: YouTube, social media platforms like Facebook, and websites where you can share stories and chat with other writers.

Here are some creative writing websites.

Apollo Blessed
Skrawl
Scriggler

Digital Storytelling

Although digital storytelling is still being developed, you can learn how this breakthrough method of storytelling combines the three learning styles: visual, audio and kinesthetic. Have a look at my blog post on Digital Storytelling.

Immersing yourself in a story by reading a text-based book has so many benefits, but it may not suit everyone.  But when you discover your perfect learning style and choose a storytelling medium that suits your style, you will be able to fully discover the magical world of storytelling and enhance your reading experience.

 

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