First Things First: The Purposes of Book Reviews and Commentary

Before endeavoring into a series of book reviews, I thought it important to discuss a few matters. The first of these matters deals with purpose.

Most often, people read book reviews to decide what books they want to read. In this case, a typical reader is looking for answers to typical questions:

  • What was the reviewer’s overall impression/rating of the book?
  • What is the premise of the book?
  • What did the reviewer like or not like about the book?
  • Are there any reasons why this book may be of interest to a particular reader?

These questions lend to a certain format that has general consistency across different sites such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Goodreads. The format begins with a title, followed by a star-rating, then typically a synopsis, followed by the actual review of the material. Sites like SF Signal have even formed a template that includes a brief summary of the book, rating, pros, cons, bottom line, and the body of the review. This format is quite rigid, but it allows for the casual reader to glance quickly at the review and get an immediate impression.

Another purpose people turn to book reviews is to better understand a novel. Some novels, particularly those with a literary bent, leave the reader with a sense of uncertainty. An example is Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, which concludes with an ambiguous, yet satisfying ending. In these instances, I often find myself curious of what others thought of the book not from a reviewer’s standpoint, but rather from a commentator’s standpoint. I am looking for some form of exposition to explain the text, even if it is open to interpretation.

The third purpose I will mention is different entirely from the other two. It is a commentary meant to propagate a theme rather than the actual book itself. Speculative fiction is a genre of ideas and often there are themes explored that merit their own discussion. Sometimes these themes are demonstrated in new and innovative ways and are worthy of writing about on their own merit.

Knowing that there are various purposes for reviewing and commenting on books, I will try and refrain from creating a mishmash of personal thoughts, exposition, and thematic commentary. Instead, the desire will be for the purpose of each post to be well understood and appeal to a specific reader. It is especially important, considering the plethora of content available on the web these days.

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