Writing a book review – Via Caroline Adderson

This morning I had the pleasure of attending a presentation to West Vancouver Memorial Library staff on writing book reviews presented by author and Globe and Mail book reviewer Caroline Adderson. I thought I would re-cap some of her presentation for this class. Most of the points below start with the text from Caroline’s slides and are followed by my notes and responses to what she said to the group.

The general gist of the presentation was that reviews can be tricky things to write and that finding your personal style can take time. Getting your points across in a succinct manner is also a real challenge given the decrease in word length of many review publications.

The responsibilities of the book reviewer.

1. To the reader of the review: you must be engaging and entertaining.

2. To the publisher of the review: you must follow their rules and their format.

3. To the author of the book: you must be honest but say nothing that you would not say to their face.

The steps to creating a book review.

1. Read the book carefully. Make annotations, notes, take out quotes.

2. Start writing the review while you’re reading the book. Record what you’re thinking about, capture the emotion and your response. This will avoid having to stare at a blank screen when you’re done the book. It also helps to get a flavour of the authors writing style into your review.

3. Use the book. Quotations will give proof to the points you’re making and justify your idea(s) about the book.

4. Review the book as it is. Don’t criticize it for something it doesn’t attempt to do.

5. Write more than a plot summary.

6. Your ideas about the book are more interesting than your opinion. Is there something topical that gives the book context in the real world. This could also be something historical, something about the authors complete works, or a personal anecdote.

7. Don’t nitpick the flaws. The pleasures of the book should outweigh the minor problems. Talking about problems can give them more weight then they are due.

8. Rewrite your review. Many times. Draft – put it aside – read and rewrite. Repeat 4 or 5 times. Also you will likely start long and edit down to right length.

Good resources for short reviews (WVML staff write 75 word reviews for staff picks so the  focus was on brevity)

The New Yorker – Briefly Noted.

Geist – End Notes.

Globe and Mail – Mini Reviews.