My Method for Writing These Reviews of Fiction

 

After writing these fiction book reviews for almost twelve years now, I’m finally ready to describe the method I use. Here is a short description of my approach. For better or worse, this is my method.

First I put in a ridiculous amount of concern into selecting the next work of fiction I am going to read. I try to maintain several balances in my reading such as classic or new, male or female, novel or play or story collection or even poems, an author whom I am familiar with or an author who is new to me. Also I try to maintain geographical and racial and time period diversity. Of course a perfect balance in my reading would be a much too constraining goal, but I do keep all of these factors in mind when selecting my next work of fiction. At the same time I try to find something that I actually do want to read.

And then I will start reading. However, I may quickly or slowly find that the current work is unsuited for me. I give up on these unsuitable books, because there is always something else I want to read. I won’t write reviews of those works which I don’t finish.

What happens when I do land on a suitable book?

As I read, I write down notes about the work, some of which I may use later. I will write down quotes from the book, especially those quotes that reflect the particular flavor or qualities of that work. If it’s a humorous work, I will look for a funny quote, etc. I will include those quotes from the work in my review that will give those reading my review the style of the writing.

I try to find a meaningful adjective or adjectives that describes the style of the work in question. Recent adjectives I have used to describe books are “deadpan”, “self-obsessed”, “jaunty”, “confessional”, “passionate”, “pleasant”, good-natured”, “off-putting”, “angry”, “brutally direct”, “intense”, “authentic”, “honest”, “a sad disturbing read”. Later I will look up these adjectives in the thesaurus to find other words that might even better describe the work. The trick is to make it seem as though those adjectives don’t sound like they were stolen out of some thesaurus. 🙂

After I finish reading a work, I will wait a couple of days until I “recover”. I don’t know if waiting a couple of days is a good or bad thing, but it is something I must do.

When I do write the review, I usually try to include a short phrase in my review title to capture the spirit of the work.

My review will always contain short descriptions of the basic situation and characters without giving away any of the plot.

Then I will discuss issues that the work of fiction raised for me. These are not necessarily judgmental, but sometimes they are. The issues usually reflect the effect that the work had on me. Also I will usually include my extraneous thoughts concerning the work.

Finally I will give a grade to a work which is in itself a rather harrowing experience, grading a work of possible art. I don’t feel that the grade that I give has to necessarily reflect what I have written in the article.

One of my main criteria for evaluating a book is how enthusiastically I return to reading it after I have put it down a few times. Sometimes I just cannot express my doubts about a fictional work but will still downgrade it anyhow.

So that’s my method. What method do you use?

 

 

17 responses to this post.

  1. Love this Tony. Some of it accords with my approach, though I spend less time choosing my next read because I have so many review copies to read, my monthly reading group book, and sometimes Jane Austen group reads.

    I also tend to write my reviews within a day of finishing, though occasionally it will be a couple of days later. I think having a break is probably good – probably better is having a break between writing and posting the review! I sometimes leave it overnight to let it sit, but it depends on timing of other posts.

    I do use a thesaurus occasionally to avoid using the same-old words but as you say you don’t want it to sound like it’s come from a thesaurus.

    I take notes as I write, usually making them at the back of the book. I love books with blank pages at the back. I often have heading like characters, language, etc but they’ll vary a bit with the book.

    I like to include the effect the book had on me but I do probably tend to be a bit too analytical rather than emotional in my reviews. I often try to relate my review to issues going around – either literary issues or political ones, for example.

    It’s late now, but I’m sure I’ll think of a few more things to say tomorrow!

    BTW I think we started blogging around the same time, and here we still both are!

    Liked by 1 person

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    • Hi Sue,
      It’s getting late in Australia, but it’s 9:00 AM here in Minnesota.
      I’ve been using two notebooks to keep my notes concerning fiction I’m reading in. Both of them are nearly full, and I can hardly wait to start a new one.
      I usually keep about 3 to 5 reviews ahead of my posting, and decide which of the available ones to post.
      Another thing I forgot to mention is that I always read the post over carefully for last minute corrections or changes before putting it up, but sometimes I don’t read it over carefully enough. 🙂
      Yes, these 12 years have flown by, haven’t they?

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  2. LOL I think I’m Queen of the Careless Typos.
    I’ve thought about this, but I don’t think I have a system. Sometimes I barge on in and other times I slave over reproducing notes from my journals for some days.
    I don’t think I’ve ever used a thesaurus. I just write what comes naturally and if people think I’m being repetitive, they can go and read someone else’s blog!

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    • Hi Lisa,
      Apparently you do keep notes in your journal as you read. That is something that I consider key. I find especially in the morning just before I get up I will have some idea concerning a book I’m reading and will scribble it down then. Those early morning insights seem to be the best.

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  3. Very interesting post. You’re far more methodical than I, which is probably why you write so many (good) reviews while I post so rarely. Although I can waste a lot of time deciding what to read next, I’m usually hung up on what suits my current mood rather attempting to balance the factors you list. I occasionally use a thesaurus when I feel I’m overworking my adjectives! I will take notes when I read, but don’t like doing so, as it takes up time I’d rather spend reading the book. I never keep ahead on my posts and I’m very lazy about reviewing the books I’ve finished, as I’m eager to get on to the next book! The result? I read a lot of great books I never end up reviewing! Oh, and did I say my slipshod habits mean I don’t post very much?

    Liked by 1 person

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    • Hi Janakay,
      I’m not as methodical as I made myself out to be. When I was on my Graham Greene spree or my Patrick White spree or my Dawn Powell spree or my Elizabeth Taylor spree, etc., I barely considered reading anyone else.

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      • I’ve yet to try Patrick White (he’s on my list) and I’ve only read a couple of Graham Greenes. I’m a late, but very enthused convert to E. Taylor. Why is this woman not acknowledged as one of the 20th century greats? I recently acquired Powell’s Time to be Born, which I’ll get to sometime. Ever read any Paula Fox? Last month I finished God of Nightmares, an early one, set in New Orleans yet! It was fantastic, so I’ll be off to others.
        BTW your Bottle Factory review got me re-started on Bainbridge (love her work but haven’t read any for years). Finished Every Man for Himself recently, which I’m now trying to make myself review (spoiler alert: I loved it) but if I do, I give up my reading time today!

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        • Paula Fox. I know I’ve read ‘Desperate Characters’ and ‘The Widow’s Children’, and I recall having a high estimation of her work. She did not have much adult fiction as most of her work is children’s fiction. Somehow I missed hearing about ‘The God of Nightmares’. That might be one to read for me.

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  4. My reading for review process is quite similar. I used to take extensive notes but much of the time I now stick to notes jotted on sticky notes or on blank pages if there are any. It’s a less effective method though. I’m a slow reader and an even slower writer. I used to press myself to produce a review as soon as I was finished, but now I leave the book for a few days and then take about three days to write a review working on it a little each day. And I am fanatical about word choice—I hate excessive repetition—so an online dictionary/thesaurus (Merriam Webster) is essential. Until recently I was editing essays and reviews for an online magazine and I was shocked how many people would use the same adjective 5-10 times over a short span. My edits would go back with lists of alternatives or a suggestion to look to a thesaurus!

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    • Hi roughghosts.
      I alternate between two on-line thesauruses, Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com and frequently will use both as sometimes they come up with different alternatives. I am not a quick reader or writer either.
      There is one difference in our two methods. After I have read a work and I have all my notes for it, I usually complete my review in one sitting.

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    • Oh good, Joe … another lover of blank pages!! I used to use sticky notes but don’t now.

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