Book Reviews for Writers
How to get the most from what you read
By Mary K. Wilson
Mary K. Wilson
aspiring writers receive the same piece of advice: read books in your chosen
genre. Read good books. Read bad books. Then, go out and find some more
books to read. Reading in the genre in which a writer wants to write has a
three-fold effect. First, it teaches aspiring writers what works.
Secondly, it teaches what doesnít work. Third, it helps cultivate the
fields of inspiration to start creating a personal writing style.
with so many good books on the market it can be too easy to lose oneself in
reading and not reap the full benefits. Writing a book review helps. After
reading a book, writing a review allows the reader to compose thoughts as to
what worked and what didnít. Book reviews help the reader write a short one
or two paragraph synopsis of the plot, a useful tool when it comes to
writing synopsis for his or her own books.
writer, I found I learned more when I started writing reviews of books I
read. I post these reviews on my website, but such reviews can be personal
and never shown to anyone. Itís up to the individual reader. In fact,
reviews donít even need to be written down. Taking time after reading a
book to think about what worked and what didnít can be as effective as
writing down a book review. But, since the memory is fallible, writing down
reviews will keep them from becoming forgotten.
Reading a book to review requires active reading. While half of the
readerís mind can be engaged by the exciting story and the riveting prose,
the other half has to be constantly thinking about the mechanics of the
well was it put together?
the plot logical?
you identify with the characters and are they acting true to their
analytical part of the readerís mind focuses on the three benefits of
did the book work?
didnít it work?
What stylistic elements does the writer wish to incorporate into his or
Letís take a look at these individually. The primary reason for writing a
review is to find out what works within the story. Forget literary
reviewers whose sole existence seems to be to denigrate every work of
fiction placed on their desks. Forget also reviewers who sugarcoat their
thoughts about a book. A bad book is a bad book; however, there are ways to
relay what wasnít liked about the book without downgrading (denigrating?)
the author. The point of these reviews is to give honest analysis and
feedback about the book as part of a learning experience.
doing a review on what works, take the book component by component.
look at the plot.
the story arc as a whole believable?
the plot seem too contrived?
take a look at the characters.
they act in believable ways?
Could you identify with them?
they annoy you?
move onto the setting and world building.
it seem like a fully realized world?
Were the descriptions vivid enough?
probably wouldnít worry about grammar or spelling when thinking about what
worked. Any book published should be free of such errors, and if it isnít,
then that would fall under what the reader didnít like about the book.
looking at what the reader didnít like about the book, take the same
questions and ask them again. Maybe something about the characterization
bothered the reader, or perhaps the setting wasnít as fully realized as it
should have been. By pinpointing the faults of the book it helps the writer
to know what not to do, which sometimes is as important as learning what
works. Lastly, the reader should make any notes of any grammatical or
spelling errors, or if the book appeared to be poorly edited.
putting together what the reader liked, or didnít like, about a book into a
review, writers can discover what should be incorporated into their own
writing. This is the third gift of a book review and probably the most
important. Perhaps an author handled a plot twist a certain way, or maybe a
passage contained particularly vivid description. These are things writers
should tuck into their toolbox for study and later use.
one thing to read a book for enjoyment. Reading as a writer takes
particular skills which are honed the more they are used. The first time it
might take two or three times reading a book through to be able to write a
book review. But, as more books are read and more reviews are written, it
will become easier. And, by looking at whatís come before, the writer will
be able to better craft publishable prose.