Writing texts: a book review
Reviews are critical considerations of a book, an exhibition, a theater performance, a film and so on. You may be required to write a review during your studies or work. Describes the three parts of a book review. What criteria does a reviewer use to rate books? How does he classify his review? How does it attract the reader’s attention? How does he close his review? These are questions that every writer of (book) reviews must be able to answer.
A review of an art performance is a critical consideration of a new book, film, exhibition, music and stage performance. Reviews appear mainly in daily and weekly newspapers and in magazines about literature or art. The reviews have several functions:
- They are news reports. They notify the reader, viewer or listener of the title, creator, price and content of a new book, movie, and so on.
- A review contains a (critical) assessment, which should enable the reader, viewer or listener (better) to make a choice from the generally large selection.
Reviews have a great influence. Works about which reviewers give a negative assessment are generally poorly marketed. Works that are not reviewed also attract fewer readers, viewers or listeners. In addition, reviews play a (not unimportant) role in the awarding of grants or prizes to artists and in the acquisition policy of libraries.
The parts of a book review
In the following I will limit myself to the book review, which usually consists of three parts.
A book review must contain some information about the book to be discussed. What is the title? Who is the writer? Who is the publisher? When did the book come out? Detailed data such as price and number of pages are often also given. All this data is listed in a separate box above the actual review.
In the descriptive part of the review, the reviewer should clarify the content of the book. That does not have to be a comprehensive summary of the book. He can limit himself to certain parts of the content, or to a brief outline of the whole. In addition, the reviewer can provide relevant background information, such as the history of the book’s genesis or the place of the book within the writer’s oeuvre.
Interpretation is the giving of meaning to part of the work or to the work as a whole. By way of illustration, two examples of interpretations:
This life story seems to be inspired by the life story of the Spanish nobleman Fernando Caruso.
Interpretations must be based on sound analysis. Incidentally, not every reviewer has to come to the same interpretation of a particular book. Literary texts are often ambiguous. This makes differences of interpretation possible and acceptable.
Evaluations (judgments) can be quite different. What one reviewer finds a boring book is extensively praised by another reviewer. Sometimes there are fierce discussions between readers and reviewers, or sometimes also among reviewers among themselves, about the judgment given in a review. Some examples of evaluative sentences:
The life story of the Spanish doctor is somewhat disappointing, because it lacks psychological depth.
Reviewers use a number of criteria when making a value judgment. Some of those criteria are:
- Structure. Reviewers judge whether the work is a unit. Is the structure clear? Is the chosen fragmentary structure of the story functional? And so on.
- Aesthetics. Does a work have a ‘beautiful’ structure, choice of words, sentence structure, plot, and so on?
- Realism. Does the work give a good picture of reality? Does it provide new insights?
- Emotion. Does the work enable the reader to identify with what is being told?
- Renewal. Does the work have an innovative value?
An assessment is usually not based on a criterion. A reviewer usually chooses several criteria to judge a text. The judgment must be motivated. Reviewers must therefore indicate which criteria they use when assessing a text.
The format of a book review
A book review, as mentioned earlier, has three parts: description, interpretation and evaluation. The reviewer can maintain this format in his review. However, it is also possible to slide the different parts together or to exchange them.
The opening of a book review
Well-chosen phrases at the beginning of a review can grab readers’ attention. It is important to pay attention to the ‘opening’ of the review. After all, readers decide after reading the first sentences whether they will continue reading.
Some possible introductions to a book review:
- Content opening, the immediate disclosure of some of the content of the work
- Catchy quote from the work to be discussed
- Anecdotal beginning, the description of a funny incident
- Evaluative start, directly giving part of the value judgment
- Leading start, directly situating the book to be discussed within the writer’s oeuvre or within a particular literary movement
Closing of a book review
One reviewer wants his review to leave a certain impression on the reader. He can achieve this by concluding with a concise value judgment. Some examples:
If you want to know more about the life of peat workers in the nineteenth century, you should definitely read this book.