The points I mentioned in Part 1 are
1. Be Discerning in Your Reading
2. Highlight Your Favourite Passages
3. Believe in Your Voice
Today we’re moving onto part 2 ‘How To Write A Book Review And Why Anyone Can Do It’ continuing from where we left off yesterday.
4. Keep a Small Notebook
I write in a small notebook no taller than my pen and it is always with me. I often write the first draft of my reviews in the notebook because my work is mobile and not in front of a computer. I find the freedom of the outdoors and the distance from the familiar environment a better repository for my thoughts. I don’t write a review immediately after reading, I let it incubate a while. The notebook is essential for two reasons:
I write when I feel inspired, when my thoughts about a book are about to bubble over, I need to get them down before I forget them. There is no structure, I just write the things that have been occurring to me. Structure comes later, looking back from a distance, a first draft is creative, editing is more logical and less inspired.
Pour your thoughts into a notebook sitting on a train or bus, a parked car, those in-between moments; my clearest thoughts arrive away from home and the computer, arriving in those free moments in-between, when nothing is demanded of us.
5. No Spoilers
Never give away anything that identifies a plot turning point, anything that enlightens the reader, details that you really enjoyed, leave pleasures for the reader to discover by alluding to them.
I recently read Robin Oliveira’s new historical novel about the life of impressionist painters Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas and to increase the intrigue I did not look at any of their paintings until I’d finished the book. In order to preserve that option for readers, I also didn’t show any images of their paintings in my review, too much of a pleasure for me, I wanted reader’s to have the opportunity for the same experience.
6. Constructive Criticism
Don’t be negative. But don’t lie either. Challenge yourself to write about a book you didn’t like (if you do decide to write the review) without being negative, while still being true. We all have personal taste and the purpose is not to convert readers to our taste, or claim superiority, it is to present a book that some will no doubt be attracted to and to point out why it didn’t work for you.
For me, a review has succeeded when someone decides they would like to read a book I have reviewed but didn’t enjoy, despite my personal opinion, because I haven’t put them off, I’ve been honest in a constructive way. They understand I didn’t like it, they understand the reason why, but they think they might like it. When we read a book we don’t like, remember No. 1 Be Discerning in Your Reading – and ask yourself, did I take enough care in choosing this book, could I have known beforehand that it wasn’t for me?
Some say it’s better not to review a book we didn’t like, but I think it is important to have balanced reviews at both ends of the spectrum and I personally do read the 1 and 2 star reviews, to understand the criticisms. If you want an example of a review I wrote about a book I didn’t like, check out Never Let Me Go on my blog and the interesting comments it attracted. For many, this book was one of their all-time favourite reads. Not for me at all.
For the final part of this series go here.