For at least the past year, one of my main blogging goals has been to write more thoughtful reviews. Tracking my goals every month has made me realize I need to better define what this even means. I know there are many bloggers I follow whose reviews I consider thoughtful, so to answer this question, I considered what features they have in common. I also thought about commonalities between my favorite reviews that I’ve written myself. I’ll share the qualities that I look for in a thoughtful review below, but I’d also love to hear what you think makes a thoughtful/good book review in the comments.
From my own reviews, I know that more thoughtful reviews take more time to write. For reviews where I just give a brief overview of my reaction to a book, I usually take 30 minutes. For my stronger, more in-depth reviews, I typically spend about an hour.
When I say a review is thoughtful, one thing I mean is that it covers more than just a summary of the plot and/or the reviewer’s subjective response to the book. A thoughtful review should give specific descriptions of what worked and what didn’t. For example, I would consider a review more thoughtful (and more helpful!) if it described an author’s writing as ‘lyrical’ or ‘precise’, instead of just ‘great’.
I also appreciate when a review engages with the content of a book. Instead of just describing the quality of the writing, a review like this also addresses the substance of a book. I mostly imagine nonfiction when I’m thinking about this criteria. A reviewer engaging with the content of a nonfiction book might share whether they found the author’s points convincing. This can definitely be done with fiction as well though, perhaps talking about themes in an author’s work. I think I manage to include these elements in my reviews some of the time. I’m also generally aware of whether or not I’m doing so.
Last but not least, I’ve noticed that thoughtful reviews often describe the context in which a particular work was published. This may include things like descriptions of who the author is and what they’ve written previously or descriptions of other books that are somehow related. I very rarely do this in my own reviews, but find the additional information it provides to be useful for understanding a particular book. It’s something I’d like to try to do more often. I hope it will continue to become easier as I read more books that are related to one another.
What elements would make you describe a review as thoughtful? Or are there other qualities common to the reviews that you admire?