I recently read a great discussion on the B&B ex libris blog regarding "What makes a great book review" If you didn't have a chance to read the post -- and the follow-up comments, take the time to do so now. I found it very interesting and quite helpful for a newbie like me.
I do not want to duplicate the discussion, but rather deviate from it a bit. I am very curious HOW you go about writing book reviews. I know what I personally like in a book review and I try to deliver what I know I enjoy: very quick plot overview; character details; author's writing style (particularly use of words); major theme and/or purpose for the story; and personal thoughts associated with the overall rating. The issue with which I am having difficulty is coming up with a system. There are many times that I almost feel that I need to read the book twice before writing a review: once for overview and enjoyment; and again for details to include in the review. While this would be ideal, I simply do not have the time.
For example -- I have recently finished The Giver and The Bell Jar -- both rather deep, heavily themed books, and I am finding it very difficult to sort through all my personal thoughts on the subject. I always intend to take notes while I am reading to help me with this problem (I can't decide if the problem is old age, short term memory loss, or basic reading comprehension difficulties), but I become so engrossed in the story that I do not take the time to write notes. Then the time comes to write the review and I can't seem to recall significant details that I want to include. I also enjoy adding textual quotes to my reviews as I feel it adds to the credibility of the opinions being voiced (I constantly teach my students that you must support your ideas with text). However, I can never quickly find the quote I wish to use.
It would seem logical to keep a notebook handy as I read and jot down page numbers of significant quotes. Logical, yes - practical for me, no. The quotes that strike me as significant while reading are rarely the quotes I wish to use in the review.
Then there is the matter of detail. As I am reading the book I consciously think "I will certainly remember this -- there is no reason to take the time to write it down." But, you guessed it, when I want to recall the detail it has somehow vanished in the recesses of my mind. For example, as I was reading the Chocolate Chip Cookie Murders I recall that the protagonist had been working on her PhD when she felt the need to return to her hometown. I think the PhD was in English literature - but I'm not sure. I wanted to put that small detail in the review, but since I couldn't verify the fact without rereading the book, I chose to be very vague.
I am always so impressed with the reviews that I read on your blogs. Somehow you all - each in your own personal way - manage to succinctly recap the highlights of the novel without divulging any spoilers; you manage to adequately state your personal opinion of the story that either causes me to think that this is a story I would enjoy - or not (and you do so in a very diplomatic manner); and many of you select perfect quotes to support your opinions.
I would welcome any tips and/or advice that you would be willing to share to help me over this hump. Does it get easier with time?