How to Critique a Book
Recently, an opinion has become more and more popular. It says that contemporary literature is boring and that it is always better to watch a movie based upon a story than to read the whole book. Many high-school students are complaining that they cannot understand the contents of the books they have to read. On the other hand, there are some professional critics who firmly believe in the inability of many modern authors to write good novels or stories. The truth, as it has been said, is somewhere in the middle; today we have more options to spend our free time (holidays abroad thanks to low-cost airlines; computer games; watching movies at home, etc.), so books do not catch our attention so often.
But good literature still exists and it requires a lot of efforts to be comprehended and presented to the audience. This is so because information is everywhere and we cannot tell which book is good and which is not. Thus, the function of critics and reviewers is pretty important: they should (1) find the weak points of the book and recommend to the author how to improve it, and (2) recommend to us the literature which is to be defined as valuable. Not everyone can be a good critic, but still you can try your ability to analyze a book in a professional way.
Here are some tips on how to critique a book:
1. Find important biographical data about the author: family environment, education, achievements, experiences, interactions with other authors, etc. This could serve you as to find representation of life situations and real experiences in the book.
2. Learn more about the literary movement to which the author belongs (romanticism, symbolism, modernism, and so forth). You should explain in your paper in which way the book belongs to the movement in question, and how it differs from other representative works belonging to the same movement (for example, there is American romanticism, German romanticism, and Russian romanticism).
3. Analyze the structure of the book: it may contain various essays or short stories; it may contain poetry; it may be also a novel, an anthology, a volume with articles, and so on. Is there any order of the stories/essays? What about the novel? How many chapters does it contain and what is its length?
4. Analyze the plot:
- main characters and secondary characters: describe them in a few sentences. What is their biographical background? Do they represent a given way of thinking or any beliefs?
- antagonisms and collisions: a good novel always contains some conflicts and dramatics. Who is involved in the conflicts and why? What happens?
- main events: you should pay attention particularly to the exposition, the rising collision, and the climax of the book.
5. Find weak points of the plot: is there anything illogical or incoherent in the book? Is it intentional? Don’t criticize from your own point of view. You should rather follow the plot and the internal logic of the story.
6. What is there that attracts the reader’s attention? What do you personally like in the book? Here is the place to refer to other reviews in order to show that you are not the only one who has noticed the positive sides of the book.
7. Some recommendations: what, in your opinion, should be improved and how? Is there any progress in the author’s creative activity?
8. The message of the book: every literary work has a message to tell. In your opinion, what is the message?
Your paper should be carefully elaborated as to present the contents of the book, its author and its message. Try to be impartial, without employing personal or emotional arguments. You should keep in mind the following: writing a book critique may have some consequences for the reviewer. The author always has the right to reply to your criticism. You can test your impartiality by playing a fictional dialogue with the author. Put yourself in their shoes. Then revise the paper. Now it should be more impartial than before!
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