Monday, January 18, 2016

Am I reading a book review or a book report here?!

Have you ever read a book review and feel like you just re-read the book summary? What about written one. I know I have. 
 
I have read some “reviews” that are almost word for word what I can find on the back of the book. And I always end up with a dramatic eye roll and a “Well that was helpful”scoff bouncing through my mind. And yet I started no better myself. I had to learn the differences between a book report and a book review.


Throughout school, I grew up writing book reports and some teachers called them reviews but expected the same thing (shame on these teachers now that I know better). So when I first started reviewing books, I found myself just creating a summary. Yes, it was different that the original summary, but still, that is all it was. Maybe one sentence about the content or how I felt toward it.

Yet that is what is needed in a review. Our reactions! A summary can give me an idea of whether I want to read the book or not, but reading reviews from like-minded readers is what informs me what to expect on a deeper level. It tells me about story depth, character growth, if it made them laugh or cry. Did the reader believe what they read, did it seem well researched, or was in bland and one dimensional? These are just some of the qualities we look for in reviews yet so many are missed.

I still often find myself somewhere between the two. I often still tell about the story but I also interject my personal thoughts. Partly to better explain the story, partly because I do not know if the person reading my review read the summary. I know a few readers who ignore summaries. They decide off reviews, title, cover etc. Not many, but a few all the same. After years upon years of reports, it is not always easy to break this but I do still try. Now after blogging, the more I think about this, the more I want to go back through my reviews and see how they come across.


Have you ever found yourself in this trap? What do you find most important in a book review?

13 comments:

  1. I think you have differentiate between casual blogging and professional reviewing. Reviews on goodreads aren't the same as the reviews you'd find on Kirkus for example. A book report is essentially the same thing as a review. A book report is not supposed to be a summary (?). The actual plot doesn't belong there imo.

    Reviewing takes practice and time and even after two years of blogging I catch myself sometimes slipping into descriptive passages.

    - Jen from The Bookavid

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  2. I've always had to do literary analysis with books, so I've found I don't really have this problem that much. I'm not a huge fan of writing summaries because if someone clicked on it that means they've probably read it or seen other reviews that have the summary or can look it up on Goodreads. Instead I have begun to do 2 sentence summaries and then get on with my thoughts. Sometimes I have a hard time putting my thoughts into words, especially if I liked it for no particular reason.

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  3. If I'm writing a review on Goodreads, I won't bother explaining what the book is about because the blurb is already there. If it's on my blog though, I'll give a brief blurb in about 3 or 4 sentences before moving to my actual review where I say what I liked or disliked about the book and why. I also like to write the blurb in my own words rather than copy it directly from Goodreads. I also try to write my reviews in max. 2 paragraphs because I feel that it's easier for people to read them when they are direct and to the point.

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  4. OMG Yes! I hated book reports in school. The saddest thing was, whenever I wanted to talk about my impression of the book I always got the "you're not a professional, you don't get to have an opinion" speech. Which is BS. Because how else will you know how I feel about a book, what I thought about it. Hell, how will you know I've actually read it? I could just read some book reports done by those literary critics that they call "professionals" and just made a summary based on that. Since I've started my book blog, I tend to write my feelings about the characters and then talk a little bit about the pacing. Nothing about the actual story though, because I don't want to give away spoilers. I can't actually make a summary of the book, I've always been terrible at it. If I tried to make a summary of a book and you read it, trying to decide if that might be something you'd want to read, you'd be so confused. But like you said, I want to know why you rated a book the way you did, based on your reading experience. I don't want to know about the actual storyline, like a summary, because I'll just read the book myself. When I read a review I want to learn about what that book made the reviewer enjoy reading it or not, did it resonate with them in any way, were there any cool, interesting topics in the book, are there any metaphors for more problematic topics, that kind of thing. Great post!

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  5. I always try to recap what the book was about and then talk about what worked for me (and/or what didn't). It is hard to summarize sometimes and other times I feel like they missed something in the summary, or it should have read something like this. I hardly ever read the summary of books, so I love when reviewers recap the book in their own words. You can usually tell if they liked it by how they say what the books was about.

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  6. Yes, I've read some like that. My favorite reviews are the ones where the reviewer puts their personal opinion on the characters, plot, and other details. When the reviewer lets us know that this author's work is on par and comparable to another author's work I always appreciate that as well.

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  7. Yeah, I am not really fond of reports, recaps, summaries or whatever. Those reviews are usually unprofessional and probably serve just as a reminder to the reader of a book they've already read. I usually write short summaries with some thoughts and impressions about every book I read just so I can look back to it sometime in the future and maybe decide to re-read a book based on that. But when it comes to other people's reviews of books I haven't read, I usually skim through it looking for some keywords, some expressions of certain emotions and I usually don't read whole reviews if I notice that most of it is parts of the story recaps, because I want to experience the story myself, and the less I know about the story, the better. Oh, and ratings are important to me as well. Especially if I am following a reviewer for a longer time and know their rating system more or less, I can judge whether or not I will like the book based on their rating and based on the genres, too.

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  8. I hate it when I read a review that's just a summary of the book. In fact, I typically skip over the recap part of a review almost completely - I don't really want to know much more than is in the synopsis unless there's not much info given there. And when I write a review, I barely give any synopsis at all (unless I think it's necessary to understand my review) - that's what the blurb is for!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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  9. I love this topic! I'm guilty about this, too! Not always, but some of my reviews. One faux pas I did when I first started reviewing was writing a blow-by-blow summary of the whole book! Bad me! One person actually called me out on it. Now, I really try my best not to do these types of reviews. I've started creating my style and hopefully, it's better than what I did before. :)

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  10. I get very bored very quickly when a review I read is 50%+ summary. I feel like there isn't a point to it--I want to read how someone felt about the book, not really what the book was (chances are I know that already). I also feel like not including summarizing elements is one of the best ways to avoid spoilers for people to whom that matters.

    But then I never had to write a book report, so my opinion might be skewed a bit by that ^^;

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  11. I remember writing book reports and, basically, they were just dry questions(title, author, characters, plot...). Looking back, they must have been really monotonous for the teacher.

    When I read a review, a brief recap is ok but I really want to know what the reviewer thought of the book and the reasons why they loved/liked/disliked/hated it. I usually try to write my reviews like that.

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  12. I try to remember to talk about my opinion of the characters and plot, and let the blurb speak for itself. It is hard not to summarize the book in the review though.

    Julie @ Chapter Break

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  13. I don't write reviews anymore, and I only read reviews for books that I've already read. With those reviews I look for the reviewers thoughts on the book and how it compares with my own experience with the book. I don't bother reading longer reviews though, I visit over 30 blogs a day and just don't have time to mess with those!

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