Meta-Pile #5 The Gentle Art of Reviewing: The Five Forms

17 Jun

As part of my ongoing quest to perfect my reviewing style, expand my knowledge base, and make better analyses of what I read, thus improving the reviews I offer, (the perfect excuse to spend mindless hours browsing and searching Wikipedia, naturally,I have tried to identify just what it is I am doing when I craft a book review. To my surprise, I learned that book reviews are considered to be a form of literary criticism.

Oddly enough, it’s hard for me to think about myself engaging in literary criticism when I’m only writing  book reviews (especially when most of them are non-fiction), because for me  literary criticism involves  the production of articles of 10-30 pages or longer monographs that evaluate the literary quality of an author’s work, and I have no formal training in literature,  but that is exactly what I am doing. In researching styles and templates for reviewing books, I  have had cause to look back to my student days, and  the instructions from my undergraduate professors on critiques we wrote on assigned reading, and realized that I preferred writing reviews that looked like that, but then I wondered,  is a ‘critique’ the same as a ‘review? And what about those pesky terms “bibliographic essay” and “literature review?” How do they fit into the equation, And then,  to complicate matters further,  I like to read Publishers Weekly, The Times Literary Supplement, The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, Books & Culture, the book review sections of academic periodicals, and even user-generated reviews on Amazon and GoodReads.com, so you could say that I like formal book reviews over informal assessments.

In all I have come to identify five forms of book evaluations, some which consider only the “book-in-hand”, some which cover multiple books:  Book Review, Book Critique, Annotated Bibliographies, Bibliographic Essays and Literature Reviews,  all of them forms of directed literary criticism -even when the source material is non-fiction. To keep them straight in my mind, as well as to help you, the gentle reader, I decided to  air out my findings and so I present to you the Five Forms of Book Reviews:

  1. Book Review.  A book review gives an evaluation of a book (text or audio) that either provides a recommendation for or against reading it, (which seems silly to my mind, because simply hearing about a work is not the same as reading -or seeing, or hearing- the work for yourself), or that provides a (hopefully reasoned) judgement about the story or argument.  These can be academic and journal reviews, personal reviews, paid reviews, volunteer reviews, and professional reviews  According to Wikipedia, a book review is a “form of literary criticism in which a book is analyzed based on content, style, and merit. … Reviewers, in literary periodicals, often use the occasion of a book review for a display of learning or to promulgate their own ideas on the topic of a fiction or non-fiction work” (1) and notes that often, evaluations are based on personal taste, which translate into only those books get reviewed that a reader really likes or really hates. The majority of people, however understand, and use a book review as a way to respond to the experience of reading, and don’t always provide convincing reasons for this response, so instead of a reasoned opinion on an author or a boo, it becomes a statement of personal taste and we all know the maxim about taste: De gustibus, non est disputandum.
  2. Book Critique  A critique of a work covers more than just the bare bones of plot, theme, style.  It considers the author’s credentials (and thus his expertise or authority in writing), the strengths and weaknesses of the argument, as well as engaging with other reviews of the work to give a more balanced view. A proper critique should also provide some context about the work: when, where, and why it was written, and how -if at all- it should affect our judgement of the work. In some of the more august reviewing literature,  critiques and reviews blend together, but I like to make a distinction. I suppose this means my ‘reviews’ are actually critiques, but since ‘review’ is a little less pretentious-sounding than ‘critique’, I’ll stay with ‘review’ to describe my evaluations.
  3. Annotated Bibliography :  Annotated Bibliographies are perhaps the ‘easiest’ or simplest form of literary criticism that covers multiple titles. It’s really a listing of books, together with a one or two sentence description of its contents, or recommendation about it’s use. These are usually topically and/or chronologically oriented, and find a home within public libraries, undergraduate libraries, or even museums.
  4. Bibliographic Essay :  Bibliographic essays are usually stand alone works that include comments and evaluations of multiple works either by the same author, or on the same topic.  I will use them in two other ways:   to review an author’s entire corpus, or a majority portion thereof; or to provide readers wit a generalized reading plan on a topic of interest.
  5. Literature Review:  Literature Reviews cover the current state of research (or scholarship) on a problem of scientific or humanistic note, or within a particular  academic discipline.  They are designed to be more impartial than a bibliographic essay, and are usually found within a larger research context, such as scientific research papers, a master’s thesis or  doctoral dissertations.

These five forms make up the expected literary and intellectual content  of Piles and Philes, and to a lesser extent my other forthcoming blogs.

 


Sources:

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Review  Accessed on 9 June 2014

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critique  Accessed on 9 June 2014

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2 Responses to “Meta-Pile #5 The Gentle Art of Reviewing: The Five Forms”

  1. Literacy-chic June 20, 2014 at 10:40 am #

    I really like this post! It’s a useful breakdown of the different ways you can review a book. I think I tend toward the critique, personally. I like to give some indication of the substance of a book rather than a surface-level “like” or “dislike,” “recommend,” or “don’t recommend,” which is what reviews too often are–so I definitely agree with your opinion on that one. I do think that academic book reviews tend more toward critique, and so there are book reviews that are more interesting to read because there is some analysis involved.

    I tend to want to go a little bit further, and mention that there’s a kind of “form” of the popular review these days that points to the reader’s own excellence as a reader or a review writer, and less to the book. These are usually on GoodReads and Amazon. Then, there are reviews that are little more than a promo for the book. The real problems I have with popular reviews is that there are many readers who are 1) uncritical, 2) indiscriminate, or 3) unfairly critical. Everyone wants their 2 seconds of fame, and the book review is a way to do that, apparently. It’s… strange.

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  1. Literary Peregrinations along the Walsingham Way | The Walsingham Way - April 28, 2016

    […] ( If you are ever interested in the types of reviews I craft, you can find out more by going here: The Gengle Art of Reviewing) […]

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