Book Reviews : A Quick Review of What You Should Do By Dr. Jennifer L. Bowie for Writing for Academic Publication
What is a Book Review? • “[S]ignificant indicators of scholarly communication… [can be use to] trace the flow of information within and across disciplines” (Lindholm-Roomantschuk, quoted in North 1194) • “[S]mall change of academic writing” (North 349) • “[S]econd class citizens” of academic publishing (Riley and Spreitzer, quoted in Hartley 1194) • “At its best, a book review is both informative and evaluative…” (MLA Style, quoted by North 350) • A mediation between author and reader with the review writer playing both roles (Gardiner 620) • Should include “’responsibility,’ ‘construction,’ and ‘self-consciousness’” (Gardiner 622) • “[T]houghtful, regardless of tone” (Cortada 35)
What Should it Include? • According to North (pg 1205): • An early paragraph discussing what book is about and putting the book in context • Audience information: • Who you think the best audience is • How well it meet the needs of the intended audience and (if different) the audience you think it best for • May also include audience uses (good for introductory graduate class along with…) • Critique of content and argument • Supported academic references as needed (and if common for your journal) • Discussion of strengths and limitations • If appropriate, note how well text is supported by visuals • Information on format, length, price, and value
How can I Make it Strong? • Include both positive and negative information and be specific • Consider the readers and the writer(s) • Be straightforward and lively • Take the review beyond +/- and “draw conclusions of broad significance” (Hartley 1200) • Provide fresh angles on the text (Hartley 1200) • If your views changed because of the book indicate this (Hartley 1200) • Apply Haraway’s “engaged criticism” and not just “automatic praise” (Haraway, quoted in Davis 602) • Recognize the diversity of views within the disciple (Davis 604) • “Tell it as you see it, yes, but frame it especially carefully” (Davis 605)
What Should I Avoid? • From Cortada: • Describing what the book should be, not what it is • Reviewing a book on a subject you know little about • Reviewing a book without actually reading or understanding it • Using the book review as a platform for your own issues, not the issue of the author/book • Not telling the reader what the book is about and how it fits into the larger context • From North: • Only including content and not including critique • Not discussing the argument of the book • Using the review to show your superiority • From Belcher • Covering everything • Using too many quotes (favor shorter quotes and paraphrasing, but try to put most of it in your own words) • Reviewing the book when you have some level of attachment or dislike for the author or are strongly against the arguments of the book
What General Format I Should Use? This may change on your journal, so do check out the reviews in the journal first and chose an exemplar or two. You may also find an organization that would better for you. • Introduction/Overview • General topic • Point of view • Overview of audience • Information about the author (if appropriate) • Context of book • Summary of the book • Basis of book • General organization of book • Topic of each chapter/section • Critique • Strengths and weaknesses (Belcher suggests one paragraph each) • Errors & accuracy • Conclusion • Overall assessment/critique of strengths, weaknesses, errors, and accuracy • Evaluation of how it responds to audience needs • Statement & discussion of recommendation (or non recommendation) of book
Sources • Belcher, Wendy. “Writing the Academic Book Review.” http://www.chicano.ucla.edu/press/siteart/jli_bookreviewguidelines.pdf accessed 3/14/07 • Cortada, J. W. (1998). Five ways to be a terrible book reviewer.Journal of Scholarly Publishing, 30.1: 34–37. • Davis, Natalie Zemon. "On Reviewing. Feminist Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3. (Autumn, 1988), pp. 602-606. • Gardiner, Linda. "Remember the Reader." Feminist Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3. (Autumn, 1988), pp. 617-622. • Hartley, James. "Reading and Writing Book Reviews Across the Disciplines." JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR INFORMATION SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, 57(9):1194–1207, 2006 • North, Stephen M. "On Book Reviews in Rhetoric and Composition." Rhetoric Review, Vol. 10, No. 2. (Spring, 1992), pp. 348-363.