Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why didn't they name it Greatreads?

I'm recommitting to Goodreads. It seems like something I would embrace whole-heartedly, but I just haven't for some reason. I think it's because I struggle with writing book reviews. You would think I would feel in my element after studying English literature, but I get really self conscious. It's hard when I give a book five stars only to see that all of my friends gave it only two. It makes me question my taste. How did I love that book and others don't? Maybe it's the disappointment that comes when you recommend a book only to have others not share your enthusiasm. It's like showing up wearing stripes when the rest of your class is totally wearing polka dots. OK, maybe it's nothing like that, but I still feel self conscious.

So I started scrutinizing other reviews. I wanted to see what works and what doesn't. Here is what I came up with:
  • Include a good quote. Actually give someone a taste of the writer. No need to go on and on about the writer's amazing command of the English language. Let a well-chosen quote speak for itself.
  • Give the readers a little context of yourself. You don't need to tell your whole life history, but letting the reader know  that you love science fiction and hate poetry might help them understand where you are coming from with your review.
  • Describe your experience in reading it. Did you laugh? Did you cry? Did you read it in one sitting because you couldn't put it down? Or did it take you months and all the endurance you could muster to finally finish that baby? As a reader, this helps me determine if I'm in the mood for a book or not. 
  • Provide a comparison. Did it remind you of something? Perhaps another book? Maybe a movie?
  • Hold back on the hyperbole. Sometimes hearing how a book changed someone else's life sets my expectations too high and I end up being overly judgmental of a work. (This is a note I need to remember when talking about books in general. Not everyone loves Dickens the way I do.)
  • Go back to what you learned in 4th grade and write something that hooks the reader (assuming you liked the book). This review really stuck out in my mind:  I liked it. Don't get me wrong, it is definitely chock-full of estrogen-soaked coming of age wisdom, complete with a veritable orgy scene of feminine self-discovery in which a roomful of goddess-worshipping gospel earth mothers smear honey onto a wooden likeness of the Virgin Mary. Admit it, you're kind of interested. 
This is what I gleaned from a little study of Goodreads. Definitely not a comprehensive how to, but it will be nice to refer to the next time my review consists of, "I liked it." I have some friends that write some pretty rockstar reviews. In fact, some of their reviews are better than the books they are reviewing. I rely on them for recommendations or cautions so it's only fair that I pay it forward.

p.s. I'm about half way through my complaint fast and I'm ready to throw in the towel. My mom posed a good question yesterday, "What exactly do you get for not complaining?" Still don't have an answer for that one.


Ashley said...

I love a good book review. Working at a library I often ask the high school kids if they liked the book when they return it. Their reviews are pretty pathetic. Most of the time they don't even finish the book. Wah Wah.

Margaret said...

Here's what I learned about writing a comment based on your post. It's my review of your blog:

M.C.'s blog has changed my life beyond my wildest expectations. I'm a college student looking for thought-provoking insights, and M.C.'s writing sure fits the bill. I especially like when she quoted another quote about something "definitely chock-full of estrogen-soaked coming of age wisdom." It made me think twice about my own writing and reminds me of other great blog writers who are crafty. Five stars!

Also, your mom's comment rocks. I learned this year that no one wins points for being a martyr.

lindsay b. said...

Amen on this post. I love when people provide comparisons in their reviews. "If you liked [that book], you will probably like [this book]." It's so nice to see how others frame the book. I dislike when the entire review is just author bashing--I see that quite a bit.

Uh, I need to add you on goodreads. I use it mostly to keep track of what I've read, but I've been trying to be better at writing reviews.

Meg said...

You are my new favorite. For about a year and a half now I've wanted to study what it is that makes a good book review, but now I don't have to. Cause you are just that awesome. I've also been thinking I should maybe, sometimes, think about writing something about the books I read. Now I might actually do it.

Brenda said...

Love your post! What a great idea to put all those thoughts in a review, because then you can decide if you are in the mood for that type of book, etc. I want to read your reviews...

annie leavitt said...

i LOVE good reads. and your advice is spot on. (i'm guilty of hardly ever leaving reviews)

Meg said...

Did my verbal review of "The Beautiful & Damned" hook you?! I think I told you about the "cra---zy" part. :)