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How Do You Review a Book?

Posted on 15th May 2009 at 10:06 by Clive Webster with 10 comments

Clive Webster
It seems that this week is Dragon Age week - Joe's put up his Dragon Age Hands-on Preview and I received my review copy of the game's prequel novel Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne yesterday. I've been pondering how exactly I'm going to review it ever since.

The issue is that our reviews usually follow a fairly tight formula: here's a product, it costs £X, does the performance and features it offers mean it's worth that price? The issue is when you're trying to review a product where your judgements will be largely subjective - making it tricky to definitively say whether it's worth spending time with or not. And a review that's not definitive fails to be a useful review.

The problem is akin to music reviews, which I gave up reading many years ago. You can describe music (and usually music journalists do a fairly good job of describing the qualities of the sound they're reviewing), but merely describing a sound has never given me much of a sense of whether that sound is any good, whether it's interesting, and whether I, as a reader should buy it.

To do so, the journalist would have to summarise as to whether the album/track/DVD is worth the money being asked, and to do that, the reviewer would have to inflict his or her personal taste upon the reader.

That's not a huge problem though, as long as the reviewer declares his/her tastes to the reader first. If the reader shares the writer's tastes, they can be reasonably sure that if the writer likes the work being reviewed so will they.

Similarly, someone who doesn't share the writer's opinions has been empowered to completely disagree with the conclusion of the review but can still walk away with the feeling that they've gained useful knowledge from reading it.

How Do You Review a Book? How do you review a book?

So, I'm thinking that maybe I should spend a bit of time talking about the authors and kinds of fantasy novel that I like to read when writing up my thoughts on The Stolen Throne. But have I just over-thought the problem, or would that be genuinely useful to you? Answers below please.

PS, the other solution to the problem of a subjective review process is to give a away a free sample (iTunes will let you listen to about 30 seconds of a music track to help you decide whether to buy it, for example). It seems Bioware has had the same thought, so it's made the first chapter of The Stolen Throne a free pdf download.

10 Comments

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Blademrk 15th May 2009, 11:18 Quote
Quote:
PS, the other solution to the problem of a subjective review process is to give a away a free sample... It seems Bioware has had the same thought, so it's made the first chapter of The Stolen Throne a free pdf download.
That's actually a pretty good idea.
It's usually hard to write a review of a book without giving to much of the plot away.
Hugo 15th May 2009, 11:30 Quote
Reviewing a book should be no different to reviewing a game. You explain what other books the book is like, what other developers authors the writer was influenced by etc and then tell relate the experience of reading the book. Was it engaging? Was it well written? Did you relate to the characters? Would you recommend a friend also read it?
Jamie 15th May 2009, 11:47 Quote
I think you should lend the book to me so I can see if I want to read it.
CardJoe 15th May 2009, 11:53 Quote
Subjective reviews? Game-based tie-ins? Journalism about journalism? Lecturing readers about individual tastes and personal trivia before getting to the product? It seems I'm going to have some competition in the future - this is usually my area!
Tyrmot 15th May 2009, 12:07 Quote
Knowing what kind of stuff you like to read in the area is always good, as it gives a better idea on your viewpoint when reviewing this one.
Hugo 15th May 2009, 12:10 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by CardJoe
Subjective reviews? Game-based tie-ins? Journalism about journalism? Lecturing readers about individual tastes and personal trivia before getting to the product? It seems I'm going to have some competition in the future - this is usually my area!

Exactly my point :D
phuzz 15th May 2009, 13:52 Quote
I'm with Tyrmot, I find it easier to judge recommendations from people when I have an idea of where they're coming from.
Cupboard 15th May 2009, 15:59 Quote
Give it to Joe, reviewing a book should be fairly similar to reviewing a game.
CardJoe 15th May 2009, 17:06 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cupboard
Give it to Joe, reviewing a book should be fairly similar to reviewing a game.

True - and I'm the only person in the world who can do either of those things!

:superman pose:
perplekks45 27th May 2009, 18:07 Quote
Reviewing books is pretty hard I guess.
Whereever you go you hear Shakespeare is the King of the Hill of English literature but to me personally his stories just don't appeal. I'm not saying they're bad or badly written but I just don't really like them. If I had to review let's say MacBeth I'd find it very hard to review it fairly.

What I'm trying to say is that I think you can fail epicly when reviewing literature [maybe even more with poems] whereas reviewing a game is, as mentioned in the original post, pretty much a straightforward task.
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