Recently, I’ve published my 150th book review, taking on and discussing the merits of Margaret Mitchell’s colossal masterpiece, Gone With the Wind. Writing my 150th book review brought so much nostalgia that I thought of writing something special to commemorate this momentous remarkable feat. I mean, time zoomed past by so fast that I didn’t realize I was already on my 150th book review.
There were so many topics that popped out on my mind but one subject kept on coming back. In nearly 500 blog posts, not once did I discuss how I come up with my own book reviews. For this Christmas Eve special, I am tackling this subject.
How do I come up with my book reviews? This is a question I am often being asked by my peers. Out of jest, I often jokingly discount such questions and discussions. Lately, however, I have come to realize the importance of such queries. Unconsciously, the search for answers to this question opened a door to a path that beholds the future of my book review writing ventures.
The Humble Beginnings
It was in early 2017 when I decided to start doing book reviews. It was a critical juncture in my blogging ventures as I was at loss on the direction my blog is going to take. I was at am impasse and then a brilliant idea seized me – why not write book reviews considering how reading is second nature to me (well, third because writing is second nature to me). I’ve been putting it off for a couple of months but I know I must start sometime.
The start, as they say, is always the most challenging part of any venture. When I started writing my first book review, Nicola Yoon’s The Sun is Also a Star, I found it a challenge summarizing my thoughts. It felt like I had nothing to say yet I have so much to say. I didn’t know how but somehow I was able to complete and publish it. Somehow, I still find it amateurish and whenever I read it, I cringe internally. However, except for some minor grammatical corrections, I preserved the original transcript to remind me of my humble beginnings.
It was a victory, however, no matter how small it was. It marked the start of a new and unexpected journey. It is a roller coaster ride but I am in for all the thrills and frills.
Conforming to a Simple Formula
One thing is apparent from my first few book reviews – I conform to a certain formula of what I think would work. In a nutshell, my review would focus on the major elements of the novel or book – the characters, the major themes and subjects, the writing, and the dialogues. The same still applies to all my book reviews to date.
More often than not, I would start every book review with an opening statement. The opening paragraph would be something related to the book. My first book reviews were written on a personal point of view, hence, the opening paragraphs were based on personal point of view, e.g. how the book is my first venture into the works of this or that author.
The opening paragraph would then be succeeded by a brief summary of what the novel is about. It would often be a paragraph or two. I always ensure that I either pique the reader’s curiosity and interest or that I don’t give any spoilers. As much as possible, I want to capture other prospective readers’ attention, especially for books that I love and would recommend to others.
The opening paragraph and the summary of the novel are the easier parts. Skimming and discussing the novel’s major themes and subjects take a bulk of my time because I want to cover as much as I could. As some novels contain many themes and subjects, I only discuss the major ones, the ones that play a significant role in current day’s society. If I am feeling like it, I stratify the book review in such manner that these main themes are highlighted. This is specially true for plot-centric, tension-filled and colossal novels such as Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. However, it is rare that I find myself in such a mood.
Discussion on the themes and subjects often take a healthy chunk of my book reviews. I guess that it is essential considering that these themes and subjects are the heart and soul of most works of fiction. However, before writing the conclusion of every book review, I also give short insights into the writing and the storytelling.
More often than not, I handle character study with lesser aplomb than I do with the main themes. It is different, however, for character-centric fictions such as those told through first person-point-of view and young adult fiction. I am very critical of young adult fiction characters because of the target population. The establishment of a real and authentic connection between the characters and the readers is critical in young adult fiction.
This is why I have so many gripes on this genre – I often find the characters under-developed and mere caricatures. Moreover, they are doubled up with cringy and unimaginative lines and bland prose. Two fine examples are Lang Leav’s Sad Girls and Daniel Handler’s Why We Broke Up. At the onset, I felt the latter was cute before I realized how rant-y it was.
That being said, the prose and the themes and subjects are the main focal points of my book reviews. However, I try to be as flexible as possible. Still, I adjust my reviews accordingly depending on the nature of the books I am doing a review on. What is most important for me is that I capture the spirit that the author tried to convey through his/her writing. This is the reason why it takes me time before I complete book review.
If I encounter difficulties capturing the book’s spirit, I do some research; I might have missed something that is causing some sort of disconnect. The research is integral in my writing especially since I have switched from a more personal tone to a more editorial tone. My current book reviews no longer contain singular pronouns such as “I” and “My”. I still place my personal thoughts at the end of the review, after giving my verdict and rating. I have to find the perfect equilibrium between the editorial and the personal.
The future? I know the future holds many secrets and mysteries. What I am aiming for right now is to switch to a full editorial book review. I am cognizant that it is too ambitious but I am inspired by the established reviewers whose works are published in major publications. They just have a different way of capturing the spirit of literary works that is breathtaking and thought-provoking. Achieving even just half of that is the dream.
For now, I am taking things in stride, acting like a sponge and learn from seasoned writers and fellow book bloggers. I must say, my writing has slowly and gradually evolved. That is the idea, after all, to keep on moving forward while improving.
And before I forget it, happy holidays everyone!