A book report differs form a book review in that a report tells only what the book contains probably in the form of a précis or resume-and something about the author and his method of handling the material. It does not comment on the material or method. But a review of a book combines reporting with interpreting and evaluation-usually in about equal proportions. When you review a book, you assume that the reader is interested in your critical opinion of the book in terms of its content, scope style and purpose. From such a review the reader can learn not only what the book is about but also what pleasures or disappointments you believe are in store for him if he reads it. Of course, you do not set yourself up as an authority; but like the professional reviewers, you try to judge the book as
thoughtfully as you can base on a thoughtful reading.
The following suggestions may prove helpful in determining what to include in your review and how to present it. These questions should be specifically answered in a good review:
What was the author trying to do?
How well did he succeed in his attempt?
What value has the attempt?
To answer the first question you must discuss briefly the scope and purpose of the book: what the author covered, what he stressed and what purpose he intended to serve. To answer the second, you need to evaluate those qualities of form and style, which, in you opinion, make the book interesting or dull, worth reading or a waste of time. To answer the third you need to judge (1) whether the book succeeds in being what the author intended—a light romance, an historical biography, a novel of social significance, etc., and (2) whether such a book is worth publishing or justifies the time spent reading it.
As you plan your review, you will want to keep the following in mind:
1. Always assume that the person reading the review has not read the book
2. Select some idea around which to build your central thesis for your review. This idea might be the significance of the book for modern readers, the author’s skill in creating interesting characters, the particular stylistic quality which is a delight or an annoyance, or whatever has impressed you as unusual or important. The major part of your discussion would be devoted to this idea. When you mention other features or qualities, you would relate them to this central idea.
3. Include one or two quotations that will arouse the reader’s interest in reading the book or illustrate the “flavor” of its tone and style.
4. Be as specific as your can, avoiding vague terms and generals statements. For example, if your state that the author’s style is heavy, illustrate what you mean with a short quotation. If you believe that a biographer is biased in his interpretations, give specific examples.
5. Do not hesitate to express your opinions and reaction. You couldn’t be completely objective
if you tried, nor would your reader want you to be. He expects you to present the book as you see it and based on a sound knowledge of what you are criticizing.
6. End you review with a positive “summing up” of your dominant impression of the book and of qualities which represent its excellence and its faults.