Book review workshop with Catherine Lang – 19 April 2017

If you are like me and have never written or even thought of writing a book review, then Catherine Lang’s book review workshop on 19th April was the place to be.

With several prize-winning book reviews to her credit, Catherine made what might seem a daunting topic not only extremely informative but fun.

First, it was important to recognise what does not constitute a review.

“It is not a blurb, it’s not a summary, not a précis like those that many of us struggled over at school and it’s definitely not a spoiler,” Catherine said, “I see writing a book review as like writing a mystery story – giving clues, creating something interesting and absorbing without giving away too many salient details.”

It came as a real surprise when Catherine confessed that she doesn’t read books unless she has to, but instead prefers to listen to them either while driving or walking. “It’s like listening to a radio drama”, she revealed, “as the characters come alive.”

A book review is not limited to fiction.  Poetry, autobiography, historic or scientific research can all be reviewed.

Catherine then went on to outline the mechanics of writing a good book review. First, read the book several times, as repeat reads lead the reviewer to see different aspects of the story, the setting and the characters. Take notes or use a voice recorder to document your impressions, and talk it over with others if you can to help brainstorm any impressions they have of the book.

What genre is it?

Characters:  Who are the main and minor characters? Did they feel real to you?  

Viewpoint: Who is the narrator and is he/she reliable?

Setting: How did the setting drive or influence the book?

Images:  Are there maps, photographs, drawings?

Theme: Is there an underlying theme?

Plot: Provide a taster without giving away any key details. How did it affect you – did it make you laugh, cry, cringe?

Language: Modern, old fashioned, erotic, fast-paced, overly descriptive, incoherent.

Author: Compare with previous works.

Quotes:  It’s ok to use the occasional quote, as it can sometimes sum up a plot or theme succinctly.

As Catherine explained, selecting the relevant information and then compressing these many aspects into a five hundred word review is challenging.  Any review needs to be informative and direct – revealing what’s good and what is not so good about your chosen book. Start with a strong intro, creating a couple of sentences describing what the book is about.

After such an instructive workshop I’m sure many more members of Ayr Writers’ Club will be entering book review competitions in future.

Thanks Catherine for a great evening.

 Helena Sheridan

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