Monday, May 2, 2011

Know your Subject Matter: understanding novels and reviewing them.

It fairly bothers me when I see a review of a book that I have already read, that has completely misinterpreted  a novel or it's intentions. So here I am, in another rage of fury, showing you all how you could improve on your reviews and understand your books a little better. I'm not going to break this down into steps because these things do not necessarily need to follow an order, I will however break it into points that you will need elaborate on as a reviewer or reader.

This is one of the biggest factors in understanding a novel because there are so many things that a reader can research about a book to make it clearer in their mind. If your book was written or set in another time/place, uses words you don't understand, includes a historical figure, symbolism or reference to another book it seem very foreign to the reader and knowledge needs to be extended upon in order to fully grasp the potential of a story. An example of a reviewer who didn't research was a girl on whom referred to Sylvia Plath's 'The Bell Jar' as a book that used some very cliche phrases and wasn't very authentic to the time. If this girl had of researched the Author she would have learned that the book was written before Plath's death in 1962 and was therefore impossible to be unauthentic. This reviewer may have misinformed many other who could have otherwise enjoyed the book had they not been turned against it.
Things to research:
Background Information:
  -Who wrote the book and when
  -Author history or biography if relevant
  -Inspiration for novel or books inspired by the novel (If you wanted to compare)
  -Part of a series?
  -What genre is it?
  -For which age group is it directed?

The Settings of the novel:
  -Information about the era in which the novel is set
  -Information about the cultural circumstances in the novel
  -Important social issues that take place
  -How the roles of different people in society are stereotyped

The Meaning of the novel:
  -Dictionary and thesaurus to understand complex language
  -Look up any unusual phrases
  -Understanding the cover (sometimes the cover is significant)
  -Understanding the writing style
So if you didn't like a book because it wasn't your thing doesn't necessarily mean it was a bad novel. 
If you don't like a particular genre or subject matter, then don't read it. If you do, make sure to note in your review that you typically don't like the genre so your opinion in somewhat biased. 

To find novels you will like:
  -Look at the recommendations or 'Customers who bought this also bought' list for similar books.
  -Read the blurb or plot first
  -Read the first page before deciding
  -Ask others for their opinion on the book
  -Search books under a subject matter or genre you enjoy
  -Read another book by an author you have previously enjoyed the work of
*You might decide to recommend similar books at the bottom of a review, to help out other readers

Destruct the text in your review by referring to the structure of the text, the adjectives, the small talk. Make sure your review is helpful and critical without being too complex. You want to know what your talking about but make it to-the-point. Ensure that you're not going on with a lot of Y.A babble eg. "He was like so hot"

I have seen a lot of reviews with 4 stars or 6 stars marked at the bottom of a review, but do not know what the denominator is. 4/5 compared to 4/10 is a big difference so you want to make sure you mark your rating system accurately and completely so as not to mislead reviewers (after all isn't the point to encourage or discourage them from reading the novel).

Ensure that you write about each point that you planned to write about, that you followed a structure and did all the appropriate research. Is there anything else to include? a link or a picture? Is there a sequel coming out? or a movie in production? Are all of your reviews going to take on the same structure? Is the purpose to talk just about the book or did you want to bring up an important issue that takes place in both the novel in real life? 
The only way to ensure all these things is to write a list and check it off as you go. 

I hope this helps bloggers, reviewers or readers who want to understand their books better.
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