The Art of Writing a Good Book Review

Worth listening to – ABC podcast (about the last quarter of the ‘cast), but a few highlights below:

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The Art of Writing a Good Book Review

by author and book reviewer Philip Hensher

http://www.abc.net.au/rn/bookshow/stories/2009/2681942.htm

* It’s a convention not to give away the end of a novel, although the ending is frequently not the most interesting part of the book. You must give some outline of the plot though.

* Quote from books when reviewing – the author’s style should speak for itself to an extent.

* Be honest if you don’t finish the book you’re reviewing, and why, but it’s a professional courtesy to always attempt to finish review books.

* Be honest about negative reviews – why didn’t you like it?

* Try not to review in genres that don’t speak to you.

* Good reviewers bring their knowledge of professional “tricks” to writing a review.

* Not necessarily a great idea to read what everyone else is saying about the book before you review it…

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “The Art of Writing a Good Book Review

  1. Anonymous

    My rule-of-thumb (and it just seems to be something I’ve fallen into, not something that’s necessarily ‘best practice’) is that anything within the first third of the book is fair game, in terms of plot disclosure, but that beyond that point the reviewer should tread very carefully so as not to be providing too many spoilers.
    [This does provide scope to write a review without actually reading more than half the book, but agreed, it’s rude not to finish the book before doing the review.]

    • Anonymous

      One of the harder things I reckon is reviewing the later books of a series without spoilering early books! V. difficult! 🙂

      • Anonymous

        It’s not that difficult, surely? Just say at the outset of the review that you’ve changed the names of all the characters, and twisted any plot points you might find it necessary to mention, to protect the innocent…
        Of course, that will leave everybody befuddled as to why Gandalf is taking on Darth Vader at the climax of The Half-Blood Prince…

    • Anonymous

      I usually stop summarising the plot about half-way through or after 200 pages, whichever comes first – though I will often say whether or not the ending is satisfying (as distinct from a cliffhanger for the next in the series). And I must confess to sometimes skimming the rest of a book, particularly if it’s a doorstop fantasy novel and I have a deadline.
      Sometimes, the review copy is an unedited proof which we’re not supposed to quote, but I usually try to give some idea of the writing style as well as the content… though sadly, this is easier with badly written books than with good ones.

  2. Anonymous

    Thanks for this! I’m still a review noob (at least I never give the ending away!). I’ve only rarely quoted the books before, but I have 15 more reviews I need to catch up on that I can do it with them 🙂
    Do you/anyone you know review books you don’t finish? I don’t finish quite a few books, but I haven’t reviewed them to say why I didn’t finish them.

  3. Anonymous

    I like the “try not to review in genres that don’t speak to you” bit. So frustrating to read a review of a fantasy or sci fi book by someone who obviously doesn’t read or like the genre and belittles the author’s efforts because they don’t understand where it’s coming from.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t think you have to like the genre to be able to review a book competently, but I think you do need to be reasonably well-read in that genre. (How the reviewer gets to be well-read in it, if they don’t enjoy the genre, is their problem, not mine.) An out-of-genre reviewer can sometimes pick up different things about a book, and sometimes such findings can be useful. Plus, this has the potential to introduce a book to a wider audience, and that usually isn’t a bad thing…
      But belittling is hardly ever productive. A review isn’t a contest of egos.

      • Anonymous

        It’s unfortunate for those of us who read and love fantasy that it’s a genre that is often misunderstood. In the words of my beloved (engineer) husband, “why do you read that crap, it’s all about unicorns and fairies”. He doesn’t like Buffy, either *shakes head*.

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