The art of the book review

The art of the book review

What was the last book you read? Whether you loved it or hated it, here's everything you need to know about writing a good book review

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Participants in high spirits at the writing workshop. Below left: SCMP''s senior writer Oliver Chou gives a seminar on "Why and how to write a book review: An author's view".
Participants in high spirits at the writing workshop. Below left: SCMP''s senior writer Oliver Chou gives a seminar on "Why and how to write a book review: An author's view".
photo: Gary Mak

A Letter to My Family is a book review competition organised by Sun Hung Kai Properties (SHKP) and its SHKP Reading Club. To help students with their reviews, a workshop was organised, featuring Oliver Chou, senior writer at the South China Morning Post and author of three books. Four of Young Post's junior reporters attended the workshop, and here's what they learned …

For full contest rules and how to enter, go to facebook.com/shkpbookreviewcompetition and fill out the online application form. Upload your entry in English or Chinese and you could win an iPad mini or other cool prizes! Better hurry though, entries close on May 31.

Getting started

Before you even start to write your book review ...

1 Analyse it

Before you start reading, ask yourself: what will this book be about? Read the cover and imagine what the author wants to express. You need to have some expectations of the book before you start reading. Always keep in mind the four crucial elements: content, layout, style, and design (for instance, cover page) of the book.

2 Take notes as you read

Take notes, especially about how you feel when reading different parts of the book. You can write down your favourite scenes and why they were so memorable to you or jot down the personalities of important characters. This can help you find more accurate and specific words to describe the characters, which makes your book review more vivid and detailed.

3 Think about the theme before writing the review

After finishing the book, take some time to think about what you have learned. Then decide what you want to share with your readers. Perhaps it is the message or moral of the book. Based on that, you can set the tone and mood of the review.

The plot thickens

Now to actually write the review ...

1 Open with a catchy sentence

Grab readers' attention with the very first line. Start with a thought-provoking question, quote a memorable character from the book or even state the main dilemma or scenario faced by the protagonist.

2 Summarise the book

Summing up a 300-page book into a 300-word review is no piece of cake. Give the genre, setting, and main characters to help readers imagine the story, but don't give away too much. Remember: no spoilers!

3 Evaluation of the book

Share things you liked and disliked about the book. You can mention the writer's style, characters and the plot. Book reviews are mostly written to help people decide if they want to read the book, so a balanced evaluation can help them make a better decision.

Remember, they might not like what you like, and vice versa.

4 Rate the book

The last paragraph is often left for rating the book. Who would you recommend the book to, and why? The title, author, and name of the publisher, plus the price of the book, is usually provided at the end of the review.

The breakdown:

Here is how your book review should be structured:

10% - introduction (short questions/quotes from the book to arouse readers' attention and interest)

60% - brief summary of the content (plot, main arguments and events)

20% - commentary (try to have both praise and criticism to show that you are unbiased)

10% - conclusion (a suggestion, for instance, how can the book improve its weak part; this part should echo with the first paragraph to demonstrate a well-knit overall structure)

Try to enjoy the process of writing your book review. Whether you liked the book or not, sharing your views on the story will help spread the joy of reading!

Odessa Fung, Cammy Lam, Limbu Laxmi, Darren Tang

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
The art of the book review

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