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Reading a good book is like eating a good meal: it elicits a reaction of happiness and pleasure. As soon as you take that last bite of literature you smile ear to ear. The same thing can be said of an awful book and likewise an awful meal (here’s looking at you Top Ramen). If you’re capable of making it through the entire novel you’re left with a horrible taste in your mouth. You’ve consumed something that did not agree with you. In these situations, good or bad, it is simple human nature to tell others how you feel. If you have read something that warrants discussion, chances are you will discuss it. And it is impossible not to become a critic at this moment.
Now, the thing about bad critics is that they always harp on the same aspects. A literary critic might have a love of dialogue and so eighty percent of their reviews will talk about nothing but the voice of the characters. Another might love the author’s vision and thus only discuss scenery and location description. But a good critic will take into account all of the novel’s various aspects from plot all the way down to punctuation. So let’s talk about what to do when reviewing a book.
It’s easy to get caught up on personal opinion. Don’t do this. Though it is true that a book review is entirely based upon the reviewer’s enjoyment of the book, many people are prone to slamming or praising a book simply due to the content. If you don’t believe in the same ideas as the author, that’s fine. Just don’t let it spread through every sentence of your review. Too often critics will lambast a title simply because they don’t agree with the plot or characters. This can occasionally lead to making blanket statements that are entirely untrue about the worth of the novel. You may be an atheist, but that doesn’t mean the Left Behind series is poorly written.
Always argue both sides when writing a book review. If something does not agree with you, explain how it might agree with others or how it probably agreed with the author. If you don’t like a specific character, explain why their presence is or is not important to the novel. Granted, this suggestion does not work every time because opinion is occasionally derived from fact. Sometimes books have bad endings. Sometimes the story doesn’t make sense. In these cases, tell it like it is.
The most important suggestion for writing a good book review is to cover all the bases. Be detailed about everything in the book. You want to talk about not only personal opinion and enjoyment, but about characters, plot, story, dialogue, description, economy of phrasing, poetic language, enthralling fight sequences, romantic chapters, etc. Don’t leave a stone unturned. The author went to a lot of lengths to write the book in the first place, so the least you can do while reviewing it is to acknowledge all of the technical elements. Whether or not the author succeeded in using those elements is entirely subjective, but make sure to explain why you feel the way you do without simply applying a “love it or hate it” scale.