Book Reviews: What are they good for?

I have been busy writing for other venues and doing other things so haven’t been able to post a lot of content. But I did have a question you might help me with: what do you look for in book reviews? I am curious both from an intellectual perspective (what do people like and why) and from a practical one (I write book reviews). Given all of the heat lately over various reviewers and sources of reviews this seems like a timely question.

– Do you want a basic plot summery followed by reason to buy or not buy>
– Do you like a discussion of the issues raised in the book that only touches on the plot?
– Do you like a outline of what the author was trying to accomplish (in the reviewers eyes) and whether they succeeded?
– Do you like a political rant only tangentially related to the book in question? (Just teasing!)
– Some combination of the above or none of the above?

I would love to hear from bloggers, writers, readers, etc. Leave a comment, link or trackback here or email me if you have opinions or thoughts. You might also throw out some places and/or people you feel come closest to your model.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).


  1. I think what a book review should include varies greatly on the book under review. Certainly for some books at least a precis of the plot would be the most valuable, while in other cases it would be rather pointless. Ditto for discussion of issues.

    The review needs to be tailored for the book, what is it about the book that a reader should know that might interest them in it (or alternately warn them off, though personally I think review space would be better spent on books that the reviewer wants to recommend).

    Too much plot is a turn-off, though, for any book that relies on plot.

  2. I agree with most of what Derik has said though I do think that it’s just fine to write negative reviews if you really have problems with a book.

    Warning your readers (if you’re a reviewer that actually has readers) of what they shouldn’t waste their money on is just as useful as suggesting great things for them to read.

    I certainly prefer plugging great works, but if I read a clunker, I suggest people avoid it at all costs.


    Dan Wickett

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