by Angie Mohn
This post is part of a HippoCamp 2022 recap series, with guest blog posts written by HippoCamp attendees. Learn more about our conference for creative nonfiction writers.
Most of us can recall from childhood the projects of reading an assigned book and then writing a book report. As a child, this was one of my favorite assignments. I not only got to read, but then write about what I learned. Not every book I read, I liked, and some were harder than others. But both reading and writing were enticing to my young mind, and I enjoyed those particular assignments.
Book reviews are not the book reports from our childhood. In fact, book reviews are quite the opposite. There’s an art that goes into writing a high-quality book review. According to speaker Vicky Mayk, a book review is a clear, well written and balanced critique of a published work. She goes on to explain that book reviews are all about the author’s writing and that in writing a book review, we have opportunities to explain how well the author succeeded in using their craft and skill to tell their story.
I’ve never considered writing a book review, but after hearing the many benefits described in this information packed flash session, I just might. Mayk explained that book reviews are a form of “literary citizenship.” This was a new term I learned this year at HippoCamp. Literary citizenship is the practice of being part of a writing community. You’re not just focused on self-promoting your work, but becoming actively involved in a writing community (like HippoCamp) and contributing to the writing world. Literary citizenship teaches us not just how to be better writers, but also to be a good steward to other writers by reading and supporting their work. This is how we learn and grow to be the best writers we aspire to become.
And then there’s free books. What writer doesn’t love a free book? I know I want free books. I think this might be the main selling point for me to consider writing a book review in the future. As writers, we naturally love to curl up with a good book to briefly abandon the crazy world around us and mentally escape. According to Mayk, when writers get published, they want to be reviewed and receive feedback. It’s a win-win scenario, as this is where you can get some free books by volunteering to write a book review for another writer. Thus, supporting and contributing to literary citizenship.
Mayk provided some helpful tips in writing a high-quality book review. These tips include:
- Consider the publication source and its audience before you write your review.
- Avoid the “and then” syndrome when writing.
- Emphasize the writer’s craft: consider the setting, POV, and structure. Are the basic elements of writing skillfully and successfully used?
- Use highlights from the book: use short excerpts and quote brief sections that stood out.
- Don’t be afraid to get personal in your review: as writers, we can get emotional when we read and write. Emotions should still come through in high-quality book reviews. While very subjective, people still want to know how the book impacted someone else and how it made them feel.
Writing a high-quality book review is a simple yet effective way to keep both your thinking and writing skills sharp. It’s a great way for a reviewer to demonstrate their own writing talent, while providing support and helpful feedback to the literary community.