Book reviews are a main stay of English coursework from grade school to graduate school. Chances are, you will be writing plenty of them throughout your education, so getting good at this basic skill is an excellent way to ease your scholarly burden.
Plus, it isn’t really that hard to get good at book reports, provided you know the basics and keep in mind the key points of success. Read below to find out exactly what you need to know to become a whiz at book reports.
Types of Book Reports
There are several different types of book reports, divided chiefly by what they really focus on.
Plot Summary: Quite simply, these book reports attempt to provide a summary of the major points of a story’s narrative, giving the reader a cursory understanding of the basic nature of the plot. It is important to not give too much away in these sorts of reports if they are being written for an audience that actually intends to read the book afterwards. In academic settings, some teachers prefer that students do not worry about “spoilers,” given that the teacher is making sure you’ve actually read the book through.
Character Analysis: Like the plot summary, this sort of report focuses on the narrative as well, but this time primarily by relating the characters. A character analysis will focus less on the big picture of the general plot but, instead, fixate on how each individual character is portrayed and what the story attempts to show through the character’s presence in the work. The background, motivation, and purpose of each character is explored to give a clear portrait of each character’s place in the book.
Theme Summary: The theme summary looks at the overarching theme of the story. Example: The Count of Monte Cristo is primarily about injustice, revenge, intrigue, and politics. On the other hand, To Kill a Mockingbird is about racism, law, politics, and sexual violence.
Basic Structure of a Book Report
Although the focus might differ between the types of book reports, all book reports will actually touch on all of the subjects above. It is thus important for any effective book report to include at least some mention of everything you need to know in order to understand the work in question.
The setting should be described so that the reader has a good sense of when and where the action takes place. The setting provides context and is important for understanding what sort of tale the story is telling.
The characters must also be touched upon. It is impossible to tell a tale without a cast of characters. So even if your main focus is elsewhere, describing how the characters interact with other elements is essential.
The same goes for themes. How can you describe how a character relates to the story without picking upon the major theme of the work? Ditto, how can a story be described without reference to what it focuses on? Describing what the story is chiefly concerned about explains to the reader what sort of book he can expect this to be.
Of course, the actual plot of the story needs to be described so that the reader can grasp what sort of tale is told. No book report is complete without at least sketching out the broad strokes of where the story sets off. Minimally, the reader should easily understand the premise.
Lastly, a book report will also include a critical element. The writer should express a reasoned opinion about the merit of the work, pointing out its strengths and weaknesses, and perhaps comparing it to other works of similar types. If you liked the book, tell the reader why; if you hated it, make sure he knows for which reasons!
Things to Do Before Reading
It never hurts to prepare yourself before reading. Write down some notes right off the bat, including:
What are you actually expecting from this book? Do you have any opinion on whether you’ll like it or not?
What do you think the book is about, however you’ve come to this opinion? It might be a guess based on a title, or something more substantial because it is a popular work that is well known.
What is the author known for otherwise? Have you heard of him or her before?
What kind of story is it? Science fiction, romance, coming-of-age, adventure, etc.
Things to Do While Reading
Any decent book report will require a good amount of note taking while reading. After all, you’re going to be writing about what you read, so why not keep some notes while you’re reading it to save yourself from having to go back and search through the book for some juicy bits.
It is especially useful to keep a list of important pages or chapters. It makes it incredibly easier if you know where to look, rather than hunting for that elusive sentence amongst pages upon pages of the book!
It also will help you keep your thoughts in order for when you set down to write the book. By making notes, you’ll remember the key points you actually want to address, and more easily compose your report as a consequence.
Make Sure You Edit!
After you’ve written an introduction, dealt with the major points you want to write in the body of the report, and concluded with some thoughtful criticism, make sure you edit everything! You don’t want to hand in a book report that is filled with grammatical and spelling errors. Those will kill your grades!
Also, be sure you’ve actually met the requirements of the book report. Especially make sure you’ve met the length requirements! Your grade depends on following instructions when these reports are written for classes. Trust me, all teachers hate students who don’t read their instructions.
What About Book Reviews?
The most telling difference between a book report and book review is that a review is primarily a critical analysis. Whereas a report will include criticism, a review is primarily a work of criticism, and deals much more heavily with the merits of the work and its relation to the discipline.
A book report is more chiefly fixated on the actual content of the book, with the critical element being an add on.
It isn’t that hard to write a good book report, but it does take practice and effort. Provided you keep in mind what sort of book report you’re writing, you’ll do fine.
Plus, make sure you aren’t accidentally handing in a book review, by keeping criticism to a limited portion of your work.
Nevertheless, don’t think that just because a book report is something you’ve been used to writing since grade school that higher-education book reports won’t demand more work from you.
Not only will you read more difficult works, but also your writing and analysis will be scrutinized much more deeply. As with all work, you really must make an effort to excel if you want to succeed. Don’t be lazy! Give yourself the time and write your best!