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    The Book Review Formula

    May 21, 2007 by Brandy Vencel

    Back before I was a blogger, maybe three or four years ago now, I reviewed books for my church’s newsletter. At that time, I had a format I followed for each review, which made them all fairly consistent in structure and kept me from using too many words. After all, the newsletter was printed on real paper, meaning there were actual space restraints.

    The only space restraint in blogging is the attention span of the audience, a thing which my husband constantly accuses me of disregarding.

    For the life of me, I cannot remember my old format. Thankfully, I have come up with a new one. Many throughout the ages have used the categories of good, true, and beautiful. I suppose that Plato guy would be the most popular. I fully admit that I have not read much Plato at all {though this is an eventual goal of mine, along with losing the baby weight}. This means I may use and misuse the categories all at once.

    In an uncommon {for me} postmodern style, allow me to explain what these categories mean to me:

    • Good: This would be referring to something {in this case a book} in the moral sense. Is the book good? Does it discuss a topic that is good in a way that is good? Does the work promote goodness in the reader? In a work of fiction {not that I really ever review fiction}, I would watch for who the reader ends up “rooting for,” so to speak. Does the work twist everything around so that the reader roots for a bad guy? Movies do this a lot {think Ocean’s 11-12-13, etc.}. A story can entertain while still twisting the reader to support evil. In nonfiction, a truly true fact, or unnecessary gory details about something not good {doubleplus ungood for those 1984 fans} can be discussed, making the work true, but not necessarily good.
    • True: There are a couple ways of looking at this category. The first would be a matter of history. Are the facts presented true accounts of something that really happened? A good starting question, except that a lot of nonfiction these days consists of so much personal introspection and bravado, that I think a better question to ask is whether the work is true in the sense of eternity. Does the author’s assertion match up with God’s assertions as maintained by Scripture? As the ultimate holder of Truth, Scripture is a great place to start {and end} when analyzing anything.
    • Beautiful: Here, I mean well-written. In the negative, a reader would expect a “beautiful” book to be free of glaring typographical errors and poorly structured phrases that detract from the reader’s ability to think through and enjoy the work. In the positive, a gloriously “beautiful” book would create a sense of awe and wonder, even if it is a work of nonfiction. Anyone who has read Chesterton knows that this is not only possible, but expected of a truly great author. Beautiful writing is not trite, nor is it pedestrian. It makes the craft look easy, all the while revealing the efforts of a hard-working mind.

    So, for what they are worth, these are my new categories. For my own, personally selected reading, I may or may not follow this structure. For books that are sent to me as free, review copies, this will be my absolute plan {until I come up with a better, more brilliant absolute plan}. My first free review copy arrives this week. Keep a look out for the upcoming review.

    By the way, official Book Reviews {where I received the book from a marketer or publisher for free for the purpose of having it reviewed publicly on Afterthoughts}, will be posted in their own category.

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    1 Comment

  • Reply Kimbrah May 22, 2007 at 12:09 am

    Okay, hope that first one didn’t go through, that was totally weird…anyway….

    Speaking of reading, I (meaning Eddie) finally got the Google Reader hooked up on my blog. Thanks so much for explaining it,I am so tickled that it works!

    Great post by the way!

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