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Book Reviews: The Mind of the Reader

The goals of a book review

For the typical reader, they’re a useful tool when deciding what to read next, or what to nix from the TBR list. But book reviews can also be a great way for writers to learn more about the book market and readers’ interests. Most readers aren’t afraid to tell people what they loved and hated about a book, what they couldn’t get enough of and what they found frustrating while reading. But sometimes, especially for new readers, this can be scary and discouraging. Reading reviews of other writers’ work is a low-stakes way to find out what readers enjoy.

Where to find book reviews

There are a variety of places on the internet to find book reviews, all with their advantages and disadvantages. Along with considering the book and author being reviewed, you need to consider who is writing the book review itself. Like any piece of media, biases come into play. Age, gender, and background all affect how we read a book, and one person’s opinion may not line up with yours or other’s.

  • Online forums like Goodreads and Amazon Books: A great place to find your typical reader’s thoughts on books. Also more likely to run into very personal opinions, with less constructive criticism.

  • New York Times and Kirkus Reviews: More professionally-written book reviews. Potentially less relatable, more academic opinions than Goodreads or Amazon.

  • Fantasy Book Review: if you want great genre-specific book reviews, this is the site to check out!

  • Social media like Youtube and TikTok (nicknamed BookTube and BookTok): you’ll quickly discover the most popular titles of the moment by clicking around on these apps. Generally most popular with the Young Adult category.

Writers should write book reviews too

Not only is it helpful for writers to read book reviews, writing them is also a great way to learn. All writers are readers first; sometimes we have to remind ourselves of this. Writing book reviews will put you on the other side of books. It’ll allow you to dissect them to see how they work at the reader’s level, and learn about writing craft.

Similar to critical or analytical essays you may have written in high school or college, book reviews can be a way to learn more about a topic or skill through research and creativity. The process of writing one is helpful too: reading actively by taking notes, recognizing literary devices, etc. By close reading and analyzing someone else’s work, you’ll have those skills honed when it comes time for your own revisions.

If you ever feel guilty about reading books when you “should be writing,” writing book reviews is a great way to read and still feel productive. You can even get them published and bolster your portfolio! You’ll also have the increased opportunity to connect with both readers and other writers (and maybe even the writer who wrote the book you’re reviewing!)

Anatomy of a book review

Here’s a quick crash course in writing book reviews to get you started!

  • Summary: think about whether you want to include spoilers or not, or perhaps include a spoiler-free section in the beginning. Decide if your goal is to get people to read (or not read) the book or to get them to think critically after they’ve read it. You’ll want to focus on broad plot and character points as well as a few details that stuck with you.

  • Your analysis: Think about what stood out to you most while reading and focus on that instead of trying to squeeze in every opinion you have. Try to make a few strong, well-developed points rather than including every thought you had in a stream of consciousness style. Also consider what you feel the author’s point was, and decide whether they conveyed it successfully to you as a reader.

Things to remember:

  • Objectivity vs. Subjectivity: this is something we all have to juggle in writing, but especially opinion-based pieces. Generally, your summary will be more objective, while your analysis is more subjective. Instead of saying a book is “objectively bad,” recognize that others might have different opinions, and consider what they might be.

  • Being critical vs. criticizing: like with most things, it’s better to be constructive rather than completely tearing something apart. Even if you absolutely hated a book, there’s a way to say that without making generalized, negative assumptions or personal attacks

We’ll be discussing book reviews all month on The Writer’s Workout, so stay tuned for more!


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