What Makes a Good Book Review?

One of my favorite things about Sunday mornings is waking up knowing that while I’ve been asleep the New York Times has been delivered to my door.  I don’t read the whole thing.  IOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA don’t even attempt the crossword.  Well, sometimes I do but only if someone else is around who likes that sort of thing a little more than I do.  When I sort through the paper, first off I’m looking for the Book Review.  I can’t wait to see who’s reviewing what this week.  Last Sunday the front cover review featured a photo of Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra dressed to the nines at some fancy event (possibly Christmas by the look of the table decorations).  She’s smoking a cigarette and they’re both smiling at Orson Welles who has approached their table and appears to be regaling them with a funny story.  This cover feature is about not one but two new books just out:  My Lunches with Orson:  Conversations between Henry Jaglom and MyLunchesWithORsonOrson Welles and Ava Gardner:  The Secret ConversationsNeither of these books interests me much, probably because the heyday of both Ava Gardner and Orson Welles were before my time.  But I’m fascinated by the review.  It’s clever and engaging, in much the same way I imagine the conversations and secrets of these famous folks must have been.  It’s written by Maureen Dowd.  Now, we can’t all write reviews like Maureen Dowd.  Would that I could.  How about this bit, where Dowd describes the conversations with Orson Welles as “discussions that indolently roamed from chicken salad capers to chic romantic capers.”  The woman knows how to turn a phrase.  The review is full of quotes from each book (we know she has picked the best ones) and is two and a half pages long.  Of course I read the whole AvaGardnerthing.  It’s just so well written that, by the end of the review, I even contemplate buying these books.

Another source of books reviews that I like are those hand-written blurbs at my local independent bookstore:  Elliott Bay Books.  Those are short and sometimes make me laugh (and squint) when the reviewer’s handwriting gets really small on the second half of the bookmark.  There’s so much to say and so little space.  I can relate to this.  I too have a hard time writing succinctly when it comes to a book I like.  Usually, when I write a review for the blog, I write a first draft in which I go on and on about the plot.  Then I go back the next day and take most of that out. I need to go through the process of writing it all down before I can pull out the most interesting parts, the parts I absolutely must include to give a reader a sense of the book’s essence.  Then I need to think about that and summarize precisely what stands out for me as a reader, what I want my blog readers to get a sense of too.  But I also think it’s good practice to try writing brief, pithy book reviews too.

The wonderful Portland bookstore Powell’s has a book review contest of sorts in their dailyPowell's online feature, Daily Dose.  All you need to do is write a comment on any book or product on the bookstore’s website.  If their editor picks your review or comment, you win twenty dollars.  Find a link to Daily Dose here:  http://www.powells.com/features/dailydose.html  Be aware, though, that you’ll need to write a clever and brief review in order to win.  In a random winning post I looked at yesterday, the winning comment was only 83 words.  When I went to the “read more” link, I found that the original blurb started out at 155 words.  For me, writing a review of only 155 words would be a challenge, getting it down to 83 words would be even trickier.  Why not try your luck at this contest?  Consider it worthwhile practice at writing more concisely.  I know I could use that myself.

That said, every time I sit down to write a blog post, I tell myself, limit this to 500 words. And then, when I consider the piece done I check the word count.  Oops.  Like right now, this little piece on book reviews, in which I haven’t even begun to talk about GoodReads or Amazon, has already run to 739 words.  And I wonder if anyone out there is still with me…..


About writeinseattle

Two Seattle writers examining the writer's life.
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3 Responses to What Makes a Good Book Review?

  1. That is a good tip particularly to those new to the blogosphere.

    Brief but very precise info… Many thanks for sharing this one.
    A must read post!

  2. Thanks for your comment! It’s always nice to know someone is out there. I’m working on “brief but precise” as my new writing mantra….

  3. Hi friends, its great post about teachingand completely
    defined, keep it up all the time.

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