Book Reviews

It seems to me that in an ideal world there would be two types. The first would be for readers who have yet to read the book and the second for those who had already read it.

A review for those who have yet to read the book

The most serious problem here is that the reviewer gives away too much detail concerning the plot. This is especially damaging with crime books, where the reader does not want to be told – by accident or design – who the murderer is, or that the police inspector is actually the illegitimate son of Lord Lucan and Madonna.

With crime books the custom is to warn the reader of your review with a ‘spoiler alert’ if there is any danger of this happening. But giving away too much detail can ruin the reader’s pleasure in other genres too, and there spoiler alerts are uncommon. So if you can’t give away much detail, what do you include?

One solution is to make it less of a review than an appreciation. It will contain more by way of generalities than specifics, giving the reader an idea of the book’s qualities as you see them.

Here is an example of what I mean. It is an appreciation by Hilary Custance Green of John William’s novel ‘Stoner’. It could hardly be done better.

A review for those who have read the book

In this case we can safely refer to specifics. The apparently happy couple have a parting of the ways, leading to an acrimonious divorce and legal proceedings to determine which of them gets the Schnauzer. We examine how well this handled, how convincingly it is done, and whether animals upstage people in books as well as plays.

A review of this type would contain more than assertions about the book but references to it to back those assertions up. It  might also make use of quotations, the best way to give us direct experience of the author’s work. It would tend towards what used to be called practical criticism

2 thoughts on “Book Reviews

  1. An interesting distinction between between review and appreciation. I do worry, when I write about fiction, that I might give away too much of the plot. This concern becomes a restriction but I shall now think in terms of an appreciation, which is helpful as I only write about the books (by name) that I have enjoyed. Thanks for the link.


    • I was accused of that once, though I believe it was a minor indiscretion.

      I find appreciations much harder to write than reviews, though I would always feel free to refer to any aspect of the plot which is referred to in the blurb.

      I also like to back up my points with quotations, which is really frustrating when the book is an uncorrected proof and you aren’t allowed to quote from it.


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