By Joel Dignam
Book reviews are a great means of sharing key learnings with others. As part of the Commons Library Skills Share sessions Joel Dignam ran a workshop on 27th July 2022 about the “noble art of book reviewing.” The video presentation and notes found below provide numerous insights and tips for writing effective and engaging book reviews, including some ideas shared by attendees. Those who are interested in contributing reviews to the Commons Library can get in touch with us via [email protected]
Why Review Books?
- Writing about a book can help you, as the reader, summarise, understand, and reflect on its key points
- In turn you can share important learnings with others
- Write the book review as a way to develop your own understanding
- Ask yourself: what did I make of this book?
- Write up your notes and your review as if you were having a conversation about the book
Sample questions to ask in the book review ‘conversation’ with yourself
- Who is this book for and who would be the ideal audience for it?
- What are the author’s ideas?
- Do you agree with them or not, and why?
- What do you like about the book?
- Has this book changed anything about the way you think or your understanding of a topic?
- What did you take away?
- What things from this book could be applied to activist practice?
- What, if anything, was missing from the book?
- Synthesize what you get from the book
- Turn that into specific ideas
- Write them up in a way where you can easily summon what you’ve learnt
- Practice taking notes and sharing your ideas about a book with others
Tips for writing up your book review
- Use examples from the book
- Be mindful of the perspective that you bring, particularly when being critical or when the writer’s background differs from your own
- You can use headings based on questions from your notes to structure your review
- Think about using elements of narrative
- There is no optimal length but the more you write the less others may read
- Match what you include in your review to your audience
- If your review is online, then include links to the other books and articles which you reference
- Consider using elements of narrative in your review
Two books that Joel recommends as further reading are:
- Mortimer J. A Adler and Charles Van Doren, How To Read A Book
- Sonke Ahrens, How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers
- Read book reviews in the Commons Library
- Learn with the Commons Library – details of our 2022 skills sessions
- Guide to Writing for the Commons Library
Thanks to the John T Reid Charitable Trust for their generous support with this and the Commons Library’s other Skills Sessions.