Friday, November 23, 2012

Principles for Reviewing Books

      Lately, I've been reviewing a lot of books because doing so helps me form opinions that would otherwise remain cloudy. It promotes critical thinking...and it's fun!
     But it's also an art. Do you like reviewing books? Do you want to give people the truth about books? Honestly, your reviews and opinions of books DO matter. They ARE important and worth the time they take to compose. I've discovered four important things to remember when reviewing a book:

1.      Be honest. It helps no one if reviewers are lying through their teeth. Lying helps no one: not the author, who wants the truth; not the reader, who also wants the truth; and not you, reviewer, who, I assume, want the truth. Readers won’t trust you if you mislead them in a review unintentionally or intentionally. If you liked Twilight, don’t lie and write a hater-review to impress your friends. It’s not tasteful—and it’s not even original because everyone is doing that. Why waste your valuable time being a Snark when you could be telling the truth? If you aren't telling the truth, you don't deserve free speech...okay, maybe that's a bit harsh! But the point is, Be Honest.
2.      Consider the author's intended audience and purpose. Sometimes an author writes a certain way because they are writing to fit in certain stereotypes called “genres.” (Ever heard of them? ;) If you read a genre novel, be aware of what stereotypes are acceptable. Genre novelists are writing to a certain crowd who expects certain things. If you start bashing these stereotypes, then you look silly, not the author. If the hero kills the dragon and saves the princess in a Fantasy novel, don't immediately dash off, "Seen it before. Booooring!" If you can see the outcome of a romance novel a mile off, think for a sec. In most Romance, you're supposed to know who to root for. On the other hand, if you are reading a book labeled as "Literary Fiction" and it's totally predictable, and the style is awful, you may have a beef worth voicing!
3.   Have an Objective Part. There should be at least some objectivity to your review. A lot of the content of book reviews is opinion—but not all. For example, if you are reviewing The Grapes of Wrath, remember that it is already an established classic. You can’t just say “It was awful, I hated it, 0 stars.” You have to admit: it is invaluable historically and the writing is magnificent, in terms of style. Certain books have undeniable quality. Those elements should be praised. Other books are...less worthy. They shouldn't be allowed to stick themselves in with the quality books without alarms being raised. If books have typos or terrible writing or are ridiculously repetitive and unoriginal in prose, please do mention it.
4.   And a Subjective Part. The Subjective section is where you get to say, “I don’t care how great (or terrible) this book was stylistically—I hated the story. And here’s why.” Please don’t forget this important “why” part of the subjective review. This is what readers are curious to read. Put in some of the good and the bad. Was the plot twisty and intelligent, or did it have holes the size of Texas? Did the characters become your friends? Did they at least succeed in impressing you? Or were they as plastic as your Barbie dolls? Also, did you agree with the moral or intellectual implications? Or disagree? These subjects are great to talk about. They’re interesting. Good authors write books that can be discussed for a long time, books that will make people think. Even The Hunger Games, popular fiction at its greatest, has study and discussion questions. So think, and write those reviews.
     Reviewers matter, and their words DO make a difference. Use both discretion and honesty in your reviews. But remember, also, that reviewing books is a learning experience, and it’s fun! Enjoy putting your opinions out there. The world wants to hear them.
     I adhere to these guidelines for my own reviews. I hope they help you, too!

Photo Credit: Julo. Edited from "Magnifying Glass." Wikimedia Commons. 10 Aug. 2007. 23 Nov. 2012.


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