Writing a Book Review

Book reviews in Mslexia provided me with inspiration

I’ve just published my first book review on Suite 101. I wrote most of it in one day, spent three agonising weeks polishing it up, then over two days I completely rewrote it. It’s been a tremendous struggle for many reasons.

The last time I wrote a book review I was in highschool. I knew that this time round, concluding my article with “I would give this book ten out of ten” wasn’t going to cut it. I spent some time reading book reviews in Mslexia, Private Eye and the London Review of Books, to try to get a feel for how it’s done.

Despite this preparation, before the complete rewrite my article read more like a discursive essay than a review. I found it quite difficult to write about my personal response to the book because in the back of my mind a little voice was asking “are you qualified to do this?” I had to keep reminding myself that my opinion is just as valid as anybody else’s.

The worry remains that a writer would be hurt or angered by my opinion. I have the utmost respect for writers and I would would never want to do anything to damage a writer’s reputation or book sales. Luckily I have it on good authority that reviews don’t make an impact on sales. A good review might make an author’s name a little more memorable, a bad review will do the same. I once read an absolutely scathing review of a Michale Ondaatje book which just made me want to read it more.

While it’s a relief to know that I’m never going to be responsible for making or breaking someone’s career, it does raise the question, why bother to write book reviews at all? How about because reading is fun, talking about books is incredibly stimulating and recommending a book you’ve enjoyed is a very satisfying thing to do.

If you’re going to dish it out, you’ve got to be prepared to take it. I’m very very open to feedback and constructive criticism so if you want to read my review of The Owl Killers and give me some tips for improvement, I would be eternally grateful.

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6 thoughts on “Writing a Book Review

  1. You obviously take your reviewing very seriously. Your review is informative and informed. It is clear that you have spent a lot of time thinking about the book and haven’t just dashed something off, which is what the professionals seem to do. I am very impressed that you did all that research in the London Review of Books.

  2. Hi Helen,
    Cracking review of The Owl Killers – but I find it hard to believe that reviews don’t impact on sales seeing as you’ve just clocked one up for Karen Maitland …
    Assume this is the first book review of many!
    Sally

  3. Hi Joseph, Hi Sally,

    Thanks for reading the review and providing such positive feedback. I feel really encouraged by your comments and am much more confident now about writing future book reviews. It’s great to see two new people leaving comments here and I hope you’ll continue to visit My Writing Life.

    I hope you enjoy The Owl Killers, Sally!

  4. Great review, Helen – very professional, and it’s clear you take your role seriously.

    I write reviews every on in awhile because I just like talking about books. It’s fun!

  5. Helen. I thought the review was wonderful. And it was great that that you mentioned the fantasy element that the blurb failed to. I’m sure it will be the first of many!

  6. Thanks Talli! I like talking about books too although I found it hard to figure out what I wanted to say with this first review. I think the next one will be a bit easier to write now that I’ve had this experience and received such positive feedback.

    Laura, thanks for reading the review. I’m really glad you liked it and it’s good to know that you appreciated me mentioning the fantasy element of the book.

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