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How to Eat a Book Review

by Crystal Laine Miller

The title is a rip-off from a poem I vaguely remember from grade school by Eve Merriam called “How to Eat a Poem.” It starts off like this:

“Don’t be polite. Bite in. Pick it up with your fingers and lick the juice that may run down your chin. …”

Eve alluded that reading a poem was like eating watermelon. Tasting, enjoying, and reveling in the texture and cool freshness, juice running down your arms and chin-the whole experience. I do love to eat…er…read a good book and everyone here does, too. I want my last meal to be with a good book. So, how do I choose that book? Since I’ve written so many book reviews, I think of book reviews as the reviewer’s taste of watermelon of that book. What goes into a good book review? I can tell you that eating watermelon, while enjoyable, isn’t something for a soirée. It could get messy.

A book review does not need to be a critique. It shouldn’t reveal plot points or give away “spoilers.” You know how it is when someone is talking to you during a movie and says, “Here’s where Indiana Jones just shoots the guy who just did the scary, fancy sword stuff!” You want to smack that guy. It’s like blowing the punch line. Don’t tell me. I want to experience it myself.

While it is fine for a reviewer to tell you he hated it/loved it, you don’t want much of that, either.What are the distasteful seeds to one person about a character or plot is another person’s seed spitting contest. Back to the movie illustration, how many times have you read a bad review of a movie, but you went anyway and loved it? Or vice versa? It is a matter of what you like/preference. A good reviewer helps you to judge for yourself in what to indulge, if at all.

The reviewer should be hitting these points:
• Characterization,
• a little bit of plot,
• message/theme (and the tone,)
• style,
• setting,
• genre,
• and finally, enjoyment level.

Even spitting seeds can be fun, so whatever the reviewer says, remember to look at the person writing the review too. Aunt Carol might enjoy watching everyone picking up the watermelon with both hands, spitting seeds, but will eat hers on a plate with a fork. But a book reviewer can’t be polite. He’ll pick it up with his fingers and let the juice run down his chin. Aunt Carol will know whether or not she wants to indulge in that watermelon, uh, book, all from the book review. That’s the whole point of having a book review.

Crystal Laine Miller has written and published over 1000 book reviews in magazines, as well as written book/manuscript reports and evaluations for agents and publishers. She’s married to an ER doc with four grown sons and two dogs. She prefers her watermelon without seeds. http://www.christianbookscout.blogspot.com

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5 Responses to How to Eat a Book Review

  1. Keli Gwyn says:

    What an entertaining post, Crystal, with great info on how to write an effective review that will entice potential readers to buy the book.

  2. Marcia says:

    I really appreciate you posting this, Crystal. I love reading and have many writer friends who have asked for reviews. I just never knew the right way to go about it. Now I do. Thanks again!

  3. Thanks for this helpful post. I joke that I’m a walking “Spoiler Alert!” since I can’t stop myself from discussing books in depth! But I’ve recently been reading other Christian fiction writers’ new releases and want to give some little reviews w/out spoilers, so people will go and buy them! Will definitely bookmark this page!

  4. Lin Johnson and Dr. Dennis E. Hensley assigned my first book review–after teaching the way to do them. I wrote 150-word book reviews until I could hit the word count on the first pass! LOL.

    But authors truly appreciate a good review–and I mean not gushing, but hitting the things that make people want to check their books out.

    Heather, I think all authors love someone who loves their books as you do–you need to belong to the ACFW Bookclub!

    Thanks, Keli!

    Marcia, if you ever have any questions, just email me. If I can, I’ll take time to answer. Deb Raney has this great tip sheet on how to influence for an author–that dovetails some with book reviews.

  5. Mary F. Allen says:

    Entertaining and informative. Thanks Crystal. I’m keeping some of this for quick reference.