Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday Salon - Book Review Formats

I've been reading book reviews in some form or another as long as I can remember.  I always skim the ones in our local and state newspapers and my monthly magazines, and the "end all be all" of periodical reviews, the Sunday NYTimes Book Review.  With pen in hand I also pick up BookPage each month, either at the library or BooksAMillion, and treat it like the old Sears Christmas toy catalog.
When I worked in a bookstore during my jr. high and high school years, I took home the Publisher's Weekly that came to the store after the owner finished with it; I don't have access to Publisher's Weekly now because the subscriptions are quite expensive, but I curl up with Bookmarks magazine every other month like most people do novels. 

Once I started blogging and reading book blogs, I was introduced to another form of review...and among book blogger book reviews there is quite a bit of variety.  Some bloggers have short and sweet reviews without much detail while others have long drawn out reviews in which every aspect of the story is analyzed from every possible perspective.  In some blog book reviews the story elements are analyzed without any attention to the reader, and in some blog book reviews only the reader's personal opinion is taken into consideration. Some book bloggers rate the books they read with cups of coffee or shots of tequila (tee hee)  and others keep track of where they got the book, why they decided to read it, whether or not they would recommend it, etc.   And, then there are all the others out there that fall somewhere in between...

I think I'm somewhere in between...

The more book blogger book reviews I read, the more I knew I needed some structure for my own book reviews, but I was not sure where to even start.  I'm an English teacher, so I'm paranoid about the possibility of accidently copying someone else's ideas...and more importantly, I don't think there is one right way to review books...I think each blogger should stay true to himself/herself no matter what he/she is writing.
I'm a I am never going to be able to write a short review. Period.  I also have lots of trouble controlling SPOILERS...this is why I like ReadAlong posts so much; I don't have to have so much self-control ;)  I write with very long sentences, and my summaries are really short retellings :/  I think this is my way of rebelling against my students whose sentence structure or lack of frequently disappoints me and whose summaries are sometimes just one or two sentences...Oy :(

I have also read a book or two that I have not liked and have struggled with how to best review them. I want my reviews to be honest and I'd like to have a more critical stance...every book I read shouldn't end up being the best book I've ever read.  However, I'm a firm believer that just because I didn't like a book doesn't mean there's something wrong with the book...different readers like different stuff...I get that.  I'm also just Southern enough that hurting someone's feelings (like any of the authors would ever see my comments), is just not my idea of fun...I'd rather bless their hearts :)

I've been working on a structure over the last couple of days that includes a "Short and Sweet Summary," "My Initial Response," "What I Liked," "What I Didn't Like" and the "Overall" recommendation.  I wanted a structure that would work for books I loved, books I liked, books that were ok, and even books that I did not like or heaven forbid, did not finish.  The "Short and Sweet Summary" should keep me from telling the entire story and has proven to be the most difficult part of the new structure to write.  The other difficult portion to write is "What I Didn't Like" - even in books that I like, there are parts, characters or other elements that I might not like, that disturbed me, etc.  I don't intend for elements listed in this section to be necessarily strikes against the book...I wouldn't be surprised if I change this label as soon as I can figure out exactly what it is I'm trying to say :)  The last section, the "Overall" recommendation covers who I think will like the book and/or why anyone might want to give it a try.  I've completed my reviews on The Good Earth and The Hunger Games using this structure and will be posting those this week.

While I'm not adding a 1-5 point system yet, if I stumble upon an original little widget related to the theme of my blog, I might jump on that bandwagon as well. 

We'll see how it goes :)

Have a great week, everybody!!


  1. I have a hard time trying to figure out what to write in my reviews. I try not to make them very long as I don't want the reader to become bored with it or say "enough of that" and not finish it. I do use a rating of 1-5 with 1 being the worst... but I am very cautious of giving a 5 to a book unless it just blows me away.

    Great post!

  2. I think I would have the most difficult time with 4's and 5's...if I ever find a widget I like, I'll have to really spell out the criteria between the number ratings so that I don't muddle it all :)

  3. I had the fun tonight of having dinner with Alyce of At Home With Books and we were discussing that very thing - how hard it is to write negative things, especially if you have gotten to "know" the author in some way, or the author sent you the book, or even just knowing how much a book would mean to an author. And yet you want to be honest. I'm such a chicken. If I don't like a book often I'll just summarize it and just happen to omit a final evaluation! I sometimes will come out hard against a book, but only if the author is a gazillion dollar seller who couldn't care less what I said and who I wouldn't hurt by saying anything. But I think what Alyce and I concluded was something along the lines of "this blogging stuff is getting too hard!"

  4. I have grand ideas for a more structured review plan but then I can never decide what exactly I want it to be. I'm still in flux with hopes of settling down someday.

    I don't have an easy time with books I don't enjoy. When I know someone has put their heart and soul into writing (a job I certainly couldn't do) and I know there are people who will love this book, I have a very hard time writing my negative feeling. Unless, like Rhapsody, I know they're one of these "uber-authors" who don't even try anymore.

    Great post, you've given my something to think about.

  5. I have a "short of it" and a "rest of it" and the short of it is the hardest part for me to write, because I am a talker too. It's so hard for me to sum up how I felt about a book in just one or two sentences.

    The one thing I have not tried yet is a ratings system. I don't think I could use one, myself.

  6. "I don't think there is one right way to review books...I think each blogger should stay true to himself/herself no matter what he/she is writing."

    Well said :) The sheer variety of styles and approaches is actually one of my very favourite things about book blogs. We all do what works for us personally, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Personally I'm with Ti... I just can't do ratings at all.

  7. Jill, thankfully the negatives are few and far between bc most of us are choosing books to read that we have some interest in reading in the first place. But, there are just too many books out there that I want to read instead of wasting my time on something that turns out to be different than I thought it would be. I read a review not too long ago about a book I might have picked up...the reviewer mentioned in the review that the entire book was one sentence. That would have driven me absolutely bonkers so I'm glad I read that honest review.

    Martha, I always have grand ideas for structure...that doesn't mean it will happen the way I plan it...actually it's probably a sure bet that the plan won't pan out ;)

    Ti, I don't know if the rating system will work for me or not either...bc I'm very seldom a hard and fast kinda person...I'm always in the middle should see me score rubrics ;/

    Nymeth, I enjoy the variety as well...I think it really lets the reader get to know the blogger...I love it when I start expecting certain things from certain bloggers bc I am becoming familiar with their style :)