Three Tips on Writing a Great Book Review
Be Concise, Clear, & Helpful
It's easy to write a book review. To write a great review--well, that's a different question entirely. I spent some time thinking about why some reviews are great, and others are--well, not so good. I believe there are three key elements to a great book review, which I discuss below.
Make Your Review Concise
The idea is, to provide interesting information quickly. While some background information is helpful, do not ramble on; the viewer is not interested in your life story. In fact, the reader isn't really interested in you at all! Sadly, a review is definitely not "all about you."
It is more difficult to write a concise review, compared to one that rambles one. Generally speaking, the shorter the better. It is not wise to imitate the style of the New York Review of Books, or other scholarly journals. They have a unique audience, and their style matches their audience.
Some of the most effective reviews are only about one page long.
Make Your Review Clear
The reader will be impressed by neither your vocabularly or your big words. If you are a poor writer, you will be a poor reviewer. If you cannot marshall your thoughts and put them to paper in a simple manner, your review will suffer.
Keep in mind that a review is not the same thing as a book report. You, as the reviewer are not trying to prove you read the book. Similarly, you are not providing an outline of the book. Instead, you are telling the reader your impressions.
Make Your Review Helpful
This little bit of advice might be the most difficult to follow. The question is, "HOW do we make something helpful?"
First off, it's not terribly helpful to affirm, "I liked this book" (or for that matter, to blast, "I hated this book.") Those type of observations, of themselves, are nearly useless. So what if you liked the book? Who cares? How does that affect me?
Instead of proclaiming how much you liked it, consider what observations could be more helpful to the reader. Which parts did you like, and why did you like them? Was the book difficult to follow? Was the author logical in his arguments? Was his style friendly and engaging?
Sometimes, you will observe a glaring problem. A recent book I reviewed was filled with facts--good facts--and lots and lots of them. This was a good start--but that was the entire thrust of the book. There was no more. Just facts. And lots of them. In my review, I pointed out this shortcoming (as did most of the other reviewers.)
Above all else, put yourself in the position of the reader. How will your review help the reader to make an informed decision about this book? After all, they just might buy it.