Writing a Review when the Book Puts No Step in Your Groove

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Janet Maslin reviews The Help in a two-sided, thoughtful assessment.  She calls the novel "problematic, but ultimately winning," and always gives support for her opinions.  When she says that the author, Kathryn Stocket "renders black maids' voices in thick, dated dialect," she gives an example from the book that will make the review's reader wince in understanding ("Law have mercy, I reckon I'm on do it.").  Maslin's review seems more reliable in its ability to list pros and cons of the work without ever being overly critical or gushingly praising.  Had the Maslin just torn apart Stocket's work, I would have been less likely to take the review seriously.  As Dr. Jerz said, it is very easy to climb on a pedestal and criticize.  Maslin doesn't do that, she is clear about what she perceives as the book's flaws, but is also quick to temper her review with commendation.

I wrote my own review on a book that I was, to borrow a term from The Simpsons, rather "meh" about.  The book was OK.  It was a quick read for me, but much of that was due to the predictability of the plot (up until the end, which threw me, I'll admit), and the simplicity of the characterization.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed the book; it was relaxing, not mentally taxing (oh, look at me with the internal rhyming), and tied up loose ends neatly.  Writing the review was difficult for me, because I felt like I lost sight of my purpose.  Was I trying to convince someone to read this book?  At first I thought that was the purpose of a review, but what about all the "bad" reviews out there?  Am I just summarizing the characters and events in the book?  Dr. Jerz gave us a clear answer of "no" to that.  So, I'm telling people what I thought of the book?  Well, after years of being immersed in the knowledge that "I liked it" or "I didn't like it" are not appropriate reactions, where does one start?  And if I didn't have any passionate connection or deep hatred for the book afterwards, would the person who read my review be left with similar feelings of "meh"?  That's certainly not a reaction I want anyone to have after reading something I've written.  Did anyone else have the same type of problems when writing their reviews?

In Karyssa's entry on the same subject, she provides links to tutorials about review-writing, and examines the reasons for certain techniques in reviews.  



Our reviewer is the same person! Score one for our awesomeness.

I agree with you about the method by which a reviewer reviews a piece of literature. If she said "This part sucks. I wish it said this," it would be more like reading a rant from a fan instead of an objective reader.

I would have had trouble writing my review if I had written it about a book I didn't appreciate. I reviewed Persepolis, a book that I enjoyed but wouldn't call my absolute favorite thing ever. However, I admire just about every aspect of it. If I hadn't felt that way, I think it would have been much more difficult to review it. I suppose that contradicts the whole "objective reader" idea. Wow... now I'm confused.

Melissa Schwenk said:

Josie, when I was writing my review I had a hard time with what to put in and what to leave out. I’m not sure if I struck a good balance or not because I tended to get into a lot of character development more than anything. However, what space was left over I filled in with quotes. I doubt this was a good strategy to use, but I think it will entice people to read the book nonetheless.

Aja Hannah said:

Yeah! Rhyming!

I actually didn't find it hard to start writing a book review. Then again, I've written a few reviews for this paper and my old one, but now that I think about it I did have a block in the beginning. It was hard to switch out of that objective style. Where is the line drawn that still keeps it news?

When I was writing my blog for this part, I found that I started to review the book online instead of on paper. I jotted a few notes about the book and started there for my review.

Also, now that I think about it, the review I read seems really closed. Maybe the books really were good and there was nothing to say negative about them, but I didn't see any cons. That's really important to have to still remain a little objective. There are definitely cons to Twilight so where were they in the review? Would they have given too much away?

Josie Rush said:

I think a way to include cons and not give too much away would be, as Melissa said, to include quotes. For example, a con could be that the book borders on sappy at times. (I don't want to get attacked by any Twilight fans, I'm just giving an theory here). All the reviewer would have to do would be to include a quote that was especially mushy, guarranteed to make the reader roll her eyes or groan. Problem sovled, nothing given away.

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