For more than eleven years now, I’ve been reviewing books. I got started when fellow writer David Stewart created the Washington Independent Review of Books as a web site and invited me to contribute. Then I was approached by the Internet Review of Books who offered to send me books for review.
Early on, I set a rule for myself: don’t give a bad review. If I believe that a book isn’t worth a reader’s time, I simply refuse to review it. And if I personally don’t like a book, that’s not a reason to give a bad review. My personal taste is not the issue. Just tell my readers what they will gain by reading this book.
And reviewing takes time. I’m a slow reader because I love to savor the innate poetry—the beauty of the writing—that characterizes the work of any successful author. If the book is fiction, artistic writing is expected. If it’s nonfiction, beautiful prose is still preferable to flat text.
When I’m reading a book for review, I make notes with page numbers so I can go back to passages I might want to cite. Then I draft an outline that I’ll follow while writing. I always start with what I hope will be an entertaining opening observation. Then comes the bulk of the review, a series of paragraphs describing the book’s content, how it is organized, and what comprises the various sections. Next, I write a paragraph on which readers are most likely to enjoy the book. I end with a judgment or observation designed to both entertain and enlighten.
More next time.