Suggestions For Writing A Book Review Essay

by Jim Robinson, Mentor

The organization of a book review is straightforward. It consists of three basic portions which are the following: 1) a summary of the book read, 2) an interpretation by the reviewer of the author's argument, 3) a conclusion by the reviewer concerning the significance or meaning of this argument for a wider audience. You should think of your review as divided into these three basic portions, and even consider arbitrarily dividing your paper into three equal portions to include them. For a 6-page review, this would mean two pages for each portion.

The summary of your paper ought to capture the main features of the book, stated as neutrally and clearly as possible. At this point in your review, you do not take sides. You are simply presenting to the reader of your essay the facts, events, ideas and outcome of the book being discussed. You may choose to focus more on one aspect of the book as more important than the others to describe. For example, the plot or main characters may be more interesting than the setting. But stick to conveying the main issues and point of the book. This is all the background your reader will have to use in following your arguments about the book.

The interpretive portion of your paper ought to begin to analyze how and why the author has put his/her book together in the way he/she has. What are the relationships between the facts, ideas, characters, and events in the book? How did you react to this combination, and why? Did something the author say anger or please you? How was this effect achieved? Once you begin to figure these things out and present them to your reader, you will find you have a "slant" or an "angle" on the book which is yours alone. It is this interpretation that you are after in this section.

Finally, you will write a conclusion that in a sense brings together the first two portions of your essay. In your conclusion you are trying to compare carefully what the author had to say (your summary) with your own reaction (interpretation). You are doing this in order to be able to generalize about the meaning of this book for people other than yourself. You have had your own reaction, and now you want to step back and say, "Yes, but is that really all there is to it?" You are reflecting on the meaning of your own reaction at this point. This is what you could call the "So what?" section of your essay, for it asks you to tell your reader what the relevance or validity of the book is for them. Relevance means the meaning it will have for persons concerned with other or similar problems; validity means its objectivity or accuracy.

This set of directions is a recipe. Like any other recipe, it will produce the best results when followed carefully. Once you have the format in hand, however, like any good cook you will begin to experiment. The best cooks also rely on their own imaginations.

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