21 October 2012

Critiquing Books

So you want to do a book critique? Don't be bothered about the use of the word 'critique', your instructor may have asked you to do a report or a review; the focus is the same as long as the instructor means for you to write about a book.

A book critique is defined as the literary analysis of a book. Note that the aim is to express your personal feelings and emotions

Read the book
This goes without gainsaying, how can you write about a book you have not read? 

Take and review your note
Ensure you take notes while reading; don't write down chunks of quotes but key quotes and thought or questions that hit you while reading the book. Thereafter, read through your note and review.

What are others saying about the book or about the central theme? Though this is other people's opinion (not yours so you need not bring it into the analysis), it could lead you to things you overlooked in the book. It does not mean that if the reviews are negative then your critique should be negative; it only means you can put yours in perspective and lay a solid foundation for the thoughts or arguments you raise in your analysis.

From the notes you have taken, it should be pretty easy to summarise without returning to the book; that is assuming you actually read not skip through the book. Don't attempt to rewrite the book, give the gist and the scope of the book. That way, if your instructor were to ask soemone who is yet to read the book to grade your assignment, the person will have enough information about the book. The quality of your summary also shows your instructor that you actually read, not skip through the book.

Analyse the book
This is where the actual critiquing happens. If you have read the book, taken notes of your thoughts and summarised then your work is half done. You can construct your analysis by putting together the information and evidence gathered into a cohesive idea. Your analysis should address the following:

What literary approach (if any) did the author employ?

Is the book well written and clearly organized? 

What is the central theme of the book?

Does the author offer new information or new interpretation to the theme(s)?

Does the book agree or disagree with any other thing you have read about the theme/course?  

What main points does the author make?

Does the author appear to substantiate each point s/he makes with sound logic and sufficient evidence?  

What kind of research (interview, extensive archival, group discussion etc.) did the author do?  

Does the book include pertinent illustrations (where necessary)?  

What kind of readership (general, expert etc.) is the book aimed at? 

Does the language employed, speak to the intended readership?

Does the book include sufficient documentation (notes, bibliography)?  

If your question is what format do I use?
There are many out there but like most writings, there should be a beginning, middle and end. The format below appears direct:
  1. Begin with the full citation including author and title
  2. Do an introduction, which may include why the author wrote the book, author's background and writing style
  3. The summary or brief synopsis may come next
  4. Your analysis should follow
  5. Your conclusion

Your criticism should be constructive and objective (your judgement should be based on the author's stated intentions not yours).  E.g. If the author states that the book will concentrate on the economic history of the Africans, it is not fair to criticize it because it does not cover all sorts of other topics.
If you quote from the book, put the page number in parentheses at the end of the quoted sentence e.g. (p. 25).

Keep in mind that you are reading and critiquing a book because you want to learn, so keep a dictionary on hand to look up new words.

Either at the beginning or the end of your paper (depending on the format you use), you should give the full citation for your book.  This includes author's name, title, city, publisher, edition (if it is not the first one), translator (if any), year. 

Write your critique in an interesting and thought-provoking format 

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