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How To Write a Literary Book Review

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If you plan to study literature, there is a good chance that you will be asked to write a literary book review in one of your classes. A book review is not simply a plot summary or an unsupported opinion of how well the reader did or did not like the book. A book review includes information about the key elements of the book (plot, character, setting, theme, etc.) and the reviewer's opinion of how well the author has succeeded in using those elements to write an effective story. Read on.
Difficulty: Average
Time Required: Varies

Here's How:

  1. In general, a book review provides enough information to help the reader decide whether he/she wants to read the book.
  2. To write a good book review, the writer must first know the book thoroughly, which requires a careful, attentive reading. The reviewer must know the genre of the book (whether it is a historical novel, a romance, science fiction, mystery, etc), but he/she must also know the characteristics that make up good literature of this type.
  3. As you read, determine the author's purpose; consider what the title and subtitle might mean; take notes; jot down favorite quotes or parts you think are weak; and summarize each chapter.
  4. Do some background research. Read about the author; read related material; consider what main themes for the book may be; and think about a plan of action (how you think the book could best be critiqued).
  5. After you have done much of the legwork, you can think about jotting out the first draft of your review.
  6. Try one (or a combination) of these beginnings: summarize the book briefly in the first paragraph; use a passage from the book and follow it with a comment that explains why this quotation is typical (or not typical); mention what you think the author's purpose is in writing the book and how well he achieves this purpose; discuss the theme or major problem in the book; and/or present information about the author, along with background material, qualifications, or philosophy.
  7. Depending on how you start the review, the rest of the piece will be affected by your choice. But the general direction and focus of the piece follows from there.
  8. State each of your ideas about your opening statement with generalizations.
  9. Explain how each of your examples prove your point.
  10. Be careful to provide transitions between paragraphs.
  11. Tie your review together with ideas related to your theme.
  12. End your review with a paragraph (or two) that brings your theme into final focus for your reader. You might come to a conclusion about the theme, the author's purpose, or about the overall effectiveness of the book.
  13. After letting the review sit for a few days, read it out loud, listening for awkward phrases.
  14. Check your quotations for accuracy and appropriateness. Also, make sure you haven't overloaded your review with quotations.

Tips:

  1. Do not attempt to write the review unless you have read the book carefully and completely.
  2. Do not make general statements about the book without supporting them with specific examples or quotations.
  3. Ask a friend to read the review. A fresh eye can often catch problems with the review that you might have missed.

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