Book Reports vs. Book Reviews: An Important Distinction
There's nothing quite as frustrating in academia as earning a low score on an assignment not because we didn't do a good job but because we misinterpreted the rules. Sometimes we think we have a solid grasp on details only to learn – too late and to our chagrin! -- that we spent hours meticulously writing something our instructors never wanted. One of the most common examples of this wavelength malfunction comes in the form of book reports versus book reviews. It's not just a change in word. It's a change in meaning. Let's dive in and see why full knowledge of the distinction can save the grade.
When it's a book report on your teacher's mind, it's a topical overview of the source material and its writer that needs to be on yours. Your goals are twofold: paint a clear image of the author and then explain the story he or she has published. You'll spend at least a full paragraph on that author, describing where they were born, how they were raised, which schools they attended, so on and so forth. You have limited window for implication in this section, so don't take too many liberties. If it's deemed rather common knowledge that something influenced a writer's creative output, though, do be sure to note it. For example, Edgar Allan Poe was infamous for his rough life and difficult interpersonal relationships. This can be seen pretty clearly (no offense, Edgar) in the beautifully haunted style he so perfected.
Once you've gotten that out of the way, the rest of your paper will be spent summarizing your reading. Pay attention not just to the characters and setting but to the sequence and tone. Clearly distinguish the beginning of the story from its middle and climax and resolution, but try to carry the information across so neatly that readers don't require you actually pointing out these segments. In other words, don't open a paragraph with, "and then, in the middle of A Christmas Carol..." when you can instead convey the summary capably enough that it feels like the middle of A Christmas Carol just from reading your paper. It's a fine line, but practicing this will go a long way with your teachers.
Here's a quick checklist:
- Information on the author.
- Great representation of each section of the story.
- Make sure that it flows and is fun to read. Your reader should recognize when the story's plot tension rises and descends.
So the #1 issue that students have when confusing these two assignment types is that they pen book reports when a book review is needed. Reviews are far more in-depth and require more brainpower to really master; a comparatively simpler book report is probably more likely to elicit eye rolls from a disappointed teacher than if you made the opposite mistake. (Hand in a sterling book review when all she wanted was a summary and you'll be commended for your wholly unnecessary hard work, at least.)
Thus, the remainder of this article will be spent helping you to recognize what magic a review needs to truly shine. You're analyzing a story with this format, which means you need to understand the themes on a far deeper level. You need to be able to explain to your teacher what exactly the author seems to have wanted to convey. Emotional resonance like a character losing a child and finding it in themselves to carry on? Political commentary like a government on the verge of crumbling over bureaucratic squabbles? Messages of hope or of love lost or of new beginnings – or perilous ends. Stories have it all and it's up to you, the student, to identify with your assigned text. Search for symbols within the various chapters. Is there any deeper meaning behind a gangster wearing a holy cross around his neck? Latch on to that and describe your thoughts.
You can also analyze whether or not a particular story is reasonable, in your estimation, about its subject. You can even spend some time telling your teacher just what you think about the author's approach. Maybe you feel an element was unfairly represented or insensitively handled. Tell your teacher. Do it in an academic and grammatically sound format, and they will very likely be impressed you took the time to develop those feelings. These are the kinds of things that elevate a decent review into a great one. And now that you're sure you'll never confuse them with reports, you're ready to get out there and begin writing proudly!