Whether the analysis of a book is called an evaluation, a review or a critique, its objective is basically the same; specifically, to point out its strengths and weaknesses and discuss how the content personally resonated with you. In school, a book evaluation is both a demonstration that you've read the material and a tool for mastering structure and clarity in your writing. As an adult, book evaluations may involve paid opportunities to share your views with a newspaper readership or assess a manuscript's potential for commercial success with a book publishing company.
Start your evaluation by identifying the title, author, genre and when it was published. Hook your readers with a brief teaser of what it's about. Example: "Mistress Masham's Repose," a children's fantasy by T. H. White, was first released in 1946 and serves up the adventure of an intrepid young girl's discovery that a colony of Lilliputians is living on her property.
Provide a synopsis that offers fiction readers a glimpse of the story's setting and era as well as the central conflict that forces characters to take risks, face fears, and evolve. Identify some of the obstacles they confront, who their helpmates are, and what's at stake if they fail.
For nonfiction evaluations, define the author's intentions. Example: Based on her years of study and experience at the lemur habitat in Glendora, Ms. Jones seeks to explain the correlation between the intelligence of these creatures and the selectivity they exhibit in choosing mates.
Include a few chapter titles, describe how the content is organised, the methodology the author used to acquire it and whether there are photos, illustrations or graphs to supplement the text.
Identify the book's target demographic. Examples:
Children ages 9-12 Teenagers Adult females Educators Politicians
If there are books similar in theme to the one you're evaluating, use phrases such as, "Fans of 'A Knight in Shining Armor' by Jude Devereaux will find comparable fish-out-of-water mirth in Sophie Kinsella's 'Twenties Girl.'"
Discuss the book's merits and flaws. Be specific. "This book really didn't do anything for me" isn't as useful as "The amount of backstory given for each character--even those with minor roles--was distracting and slowed the plot's pace." Examine recurring symbols, themes and motifs and how they contribute to a story's development.
Maintain a balance between objective observations and subjective prejudices. While every reader brings her own frame of reference to the table, to lambaste a book just because you personally hate science fiction does injustice to a story that faithfully adheres to the parameters and nuances of the genre and is actually well written.
Research the author's background in order to comment on his credentials as well as reference other titles he has written. With "Mistress Masham's Repose," for example, readers may be surprised that this is the same author who wrote "The Once and Future King" and that his diverse hobbies included falconry, deep-sea fishing, and flying aeroplanes. For nonfiction analyses, an author's credentials are especially relevant. Example: A Capitol Hill insider who has worked under three successive presidents will be deemed more knowledgeable about D.C. politics than someone who went to Washington once on a field trip.
- Colorado State Universities Libraries: How to Evaluate Books
- Western Libraries: Evaluating Books
- "The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing"; Mayra Calvani, Anne K. Edwards; 2008
- "Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America"; Gail Pool; 2007
- Take notes on the book as you're reading it. Jot down page numbers or use Post-it Notes to jog your memory when you reference specific scenes, character descriptions and lines of dialogue.
- Don't spill all the secrets. The exception to this is if you're working for a publisher or film producer and providing coverage notes on what the story is about. In these situations, a buyer needs to know that the ending is satisfying, plausible and not predicated on contrivance.