I’m going to start this post with a little disclaimer.
I’m never satisfied with the book reviews I write. I always think they should be more intellectual, or insightful, or interesting. I feel as though I’m writing an English Literature essay and the pressure is on for me to produce something original, to show that I’ve understood a novel in a deep and meaningful way.
And the hardest part is coming up with an engaging but meaningful title. As bloggers we’re conditioned to think about SEO and search terms, but we also want to be creative.
Yep, good book reviews are hard to write. I’m certainly not an expert.
But there are things that you can do to improve the quality of your reviews.
Make notes while you read
If we get into the debate about writing in books, this could become a whole other post. But leaving that aside, I think my best book reviews have come after I’ve made notes whilst reading a novel. Note taking is a habit I got into at university; I never wanted to write in my books, so instead I jot down notes in a notebook. Sometimes I’ll copy out a quote if it moves me in some way.
You might argue that taking notes detracts from the reading experience, pulling you out of the story. Perhaps, but it can also fix otherwise fleeting thoughts and feelings in your mind, allowing you to express them more eloquently in a review.
I’m guilty of finishing a book and then trying to write a review days, or sometimes even weeks later, when the initial sense of the story has faded. That only makes it harder to pick out the nuances of the novel, or remember the details that I loved, before they were eclipsed by something else.
Think like an English student
You don’t have to have an English degree to write a good book review, but studying literature does help you dig deeper into a text and make connections.
- What recurring themes and motifs appear in the book? Why are they there? What effect do they have on the reader? What do they symbolise?
- What about the plot: are there holes? Did you see the big twist coming way too early, or did the author surprise you? Does everything make sense? Is it believable, or are things too contrived?
- Quality of language: is the author an amazing writer? Do they excel at description, but struggle with action, or vice versa?
Are the characters realistic? Does the book have a unique or engaging voice? Why is it so good (or bad)? Does the dialogue sound natural?
- What message is the writer trying to convey? Does it come across or is it lost somewhere within the text?
- How did the book make you feel? Did you straight up love it? Did you hate it? Consider why: maybe the characters frustrated you, or they weren’t likeable, perhaps something awful happened, or the story made you uncomfortable. Before you dismiss the book for these reasons, consider this – maybe that was the writer’s intention. And if so, doesn’t that make it a success?
- Would you read anything else by this author? Have you read their previous books, but found this one to be disappointing? What are the differences?
- What books is this one similar to, that readers might also enjoy?
I could go on, but you get the idea.
Don’t be afraid to take an angle
When writing a book review, you don’t have to simply summarise the plot, say whether or not you liked it and give it a star rating.
You could approach the review in a different way entirely. Maybe the plot covers a topic that would allow you to tell a story of your own, explaining why the book has had such an effect on you. Perhaps you want to discuss the protagonist in more detail, thinking about them in the context of characters in other novels.
Maybe you just want to write a list post or a really short statement on why you liked the book. Don’t feel you have to stick to the same old format.
Some books aren’t worth a review
And by that, I don’t mean that you should only write positive reviews. Everyone has their own view and preferences on this subject; it’s really up to the individual.
But still, there are some books that really aren’t worth your time. I’m talking about the mediocre books, the ones you slogged your way through for hours on end. The ones that you were reluctant to pick up, the ones that inspired you to clean the bathroom rather than read. Those books that are instantly forgettable, where you suddenly realise you’ve been reading the same page for 15 minutes and you have no idea what’s happened. Then you look back and have no clue what half the book is about.
If you don’t have anything interesting to say – good or bad – maybe it’s better not to say anything. You gave the book hours of your life; don’t feel you have to write about it too.
And if you only write about books that inspire your passion in some way, your reviews will automatically be better, because your feelings will shine through your words and capture your reader.
After all, that’s what the best reviews do: they highlight the best parts of our favourite literature, introducing us to new novels and authors, and inspire us to read.