Reviewing books helps me in a couple of ways: writing a careful, honest review makes me think and thinking helps me remember the book, and if the content of the book, or my reaction to the content of the book, is even in a minor way life-changing, then the writing helps me integrate whatever I brought away from the reading into my life. Not that it’s all that much of a life, but still, making it a little coherent makes me feel so normal. Also, a review makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, in a way that just reading a book does not — I’m not sure that reading requires effort, but writing does, and effort is important in my little world. It’s also a sad fact that I get an exaggerated kick out of someone liking a review I’ve written and there’s a element of neediness involved.
So, I’m trying to compose something like a recipe for a a good review and this is a first cut at it. Someone reading a review, at least in the places where mine might appear, is trying to decide whether or not to read (or even to buy, yikes!) the book, so they have some obvious needs:
- What is the book about?
- Does the author know anything about the subject?
- Can a normal person read it without Herculean effort?
- What background is required to understand it?
- What educational level is assumed?
- Is the work polemic?
- Is it any good (in the broadest possible sense)?
This short list will, unless I drop the project entirely which is always sitting there as both option and possibility, be increased and revised as my ruminations continue.
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