How to review a book

This year, I’ve been listing every book I read in this What I’ve Read diary. Each page invites you to scribble some notes about the book, as well as give it a star rating. Which begs the question: what makes a book good? Just how do you review a book?

My What I’ve Read diary was a present from Millenial Maize

There are lots of parts to a book, and not just pages either. Things like characters, settings, events. More nuanced things too, the things that exist between the lines and which we’ll be looking at today. Style. Theme. Even truth. They all add up to something more than the sum of their parts. Let’s ready our critical scalpels and look inside the anatomy of a novel. At the things which make a story good or bad. Let’s learn how to review a book.

Why review a book?

Reviewing a book isn’t about criticising it. It’s about thinking analytically about its composition, and the choices that went into it to making it. There are some brilliant novels out there in the world and it’s important to recognise the hard work, choices and sacrifices that went into them. Reviewing a book – even if only in your head for a day after finishing one – is part of experiencing and respecting it. And about understanding what makes it good – or bad – compared to the bazillions of other books out there.

As we learn how to review a book, with some simple questions, we’ll see the amount of crossover between them. If writing a book was as easy as working through this like a checklist, everyone would be doing it!

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Get Rhythm: How to Write in Poetic Meter

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary…

Ever wondered why some poetry sounds so good when you speak it out loud? How it contains its own rhythm that you can’t help but fall into? There’s a word for that. Poetic meter*.

This article started life as an essay on meter and how to write in it. But seeing as I got bored writing it, I figure it wouldn’t have enticed my readers to stick around reading it. And I am married to a web analyst who notices things like my website’s performance. So we’re going to try something snappier; more fun and more visual.

iambic pentameter diagram explaining rhythm Read More

Pre-Meditated Poetry vs. Writing Poetry of Passion

So how’s everyone doing in quarantine? Run out of films to watch or books to read? Eaten a housemate? No, of course things aren’t that bad yet. Netflix is infinite, books are plentiful, and your housemate won’t fit in your oven. But, there is plenty of time for catching up on tasks around the house. Plenty of time for writing. Plenty of time to pay some attention to my neglected blog – and perhaps for writing poetry…

I do poetry quite regularly now. Not instead of prose; that still gets its 5000 words a week (occasionally I even send work off to agents or competitions; I just don’t advertise the fact). Performing poetry means a lot of my media posts now are about poetry, especially since I’ve got some poetry friends to tweet and twitter with. Also, pictures of me on a stage gesticulating by a microphone make for better Tweets than wrote more words today:

Chatting with other poets, I’ve come to realise that my poetry-writing process might be a bit different to the norm – though not, I suspect, different to the process of a prose writer. You see, at the poetry nights I go to, most poets have fresh material every month: new bits of verse about things they’ve done or seen, or feelings they’ve had. I will listen, sifting through my Kindle for anything I might not have read out yet, coming up short. I think my poems might have a longer gestation period than others.

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Reading Challenge 2019: All the Books I Read

As well you know if you’re a returning reader of this blog, I make a note of every book I read. It’s a hallowed, time-honoured tradition that I started last year eons ago. When I first started, I found that watching that list get longer and longer inspired me to read more books, to increase the size of my tally. It became something of a reading challenge.

I also found I read more widely. I tried a few non-horror fantasies and dramas, and I liked broadening my reading-range and picking up some ideas along the way. I’ve actually started something this year; every payday I stroll to the bookshop* and get myself a new book – usually by someone I’ve not heard of, and purely based on the title, cover and blurb. Cos if you don’t judge a book by its cover, you’re lying.
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All Write Now II: More Great Writing Music

Three years ago I wrote about the kind of music I like to stick on when I’m writing. A good bit of music can be inspirational and atmospheric, helping you to sink into a creative state of mind. And if you’re writing in public, it can also help to block out the sounds of wailing infants and tradesmen ordering lattes.

I still listen to the music I lauded in my last blog post but, in the three years since I wrote my first list, I’ve added a few more albums to my arsenal. It’s good to have a few options for writing music as I find that as you get too familiar with something, you start engaging with it more and waiting for your favourite bits. And when you’re engaging too much with the music, you aren’t engaging enough with your writing.

So here’s a few more ideas to help channel your thoughts and block out the family argument at the next door table. Read More