What’s in a Book Review?

One way of writing about literary texts is writing a review for it. As I have discussed in my previous articles, writing a critical analysis of a literary text is very different from writing a review for it. Book reviews are not meant to analyse a literary text neither are they meant to give us a detailed discussion of the themes in it. The main idea of a review is to give the readers a sense of how it would feel to read the novel and give them reasons why they should or should not read a novel. Without extending this discussion any further let us go ahead and read a book review and try to understand what the reviewer has tried to achieve through it.

Here, I will be analysing the review of Shobhana Kumar’s A Sky Full of Bucket Lists by K Srilata published on The Hindu.

Capturing the Essence: Title & Subtitle of a Book Review

The title of the review is “Despite pins and needles” and thus as readers we get the sense that there is something about A Sky Full of Bucket Lists that K Srilata, our reviewer, finds uncomfortable but that there is also something more to it because of her lexical choice “Despite”. The subtitle of the review “The invisible is nudged into half-light in this collection of haibun” is further revealing. Those of you who, like me, are unfamiliar with the term haibun will look it up and realise that it is a form of poetry that is a combination of prose and haiku (a Japanese form of poetry). Therefore, we now know that A Sky full of Bucket Lists contains poetry and that it has tried to reveal something that is inherently invisible.

The Experience of Reading the Book

Srilata begins her review by referring to a quotation from the beginning of the book and she writes that she found herself returning to the quotation after having read the book. This gives the reader an idea that what the writer, that is Shobhana Kumar promised at the beginning of the book, she has managed to accomplish or retain throughout the book. K Srilata makes use of the nouns “gentleness”, “spaciousness” which gives the reader the sense that reading the book would be a gentle and freeing experience.

By pondering on the question “What is it that Shobhana sees?” the reviewer is trying to understand the perspective through which the poet writes. K Srilata carefully chooses excerpts from the book like a “last call to the family” and “a son coming back” to give the reader a feeling that the content of the book is going to be emotional and about people.

Themes Explored in the Book

The reviewer has given us a glimpse of the theme of the poetry, which for me, was a little confusing as I encountered words such as “Lethologica” and phrases that discuss how Kumar’s poetry talks about “touch[ing] a place that is unnamed yet?”. While I am sure that some of us might have been intrigued by the ideas conveyed by this phrase, it is also possible that some of us took a step back at this first instance of unfamiliarity.

Assessing the Book

K Srilata has included a fair amount of assessment of the book by writing that Shobhana Kumar has been “deft[]”, that her poetry is “not laboured” and that she has managed to incorporate “brevity and exactness”. The reviewer not only writes about what she appreciates in the book but also what she does not appreciate like “ the theatrical vocabulary of acts and scenes” that she finds “distracting”.

To Read or not to Read

It is evident that the purpose of the review was to give the reader just the right tools to get them to decide to read or not read the book. Poetry, brevity, exactness, emotional, gentle are descriptors that stick to my mind after having read the review. Now the question is, would I go ahead and read it? Does the idea of brevity and exactness appeal to me? At this moment, do I feel inclined to read a text that would be emotional? Is the thought of reading poetry that leaves me with a calming sensation appealing?

What did you think? Would you want to read the book? If so think about why? The next time you read a book review think about the review itself and what it has revealed to you about the book.

Check out the PDF below to aid you in analysing a book review or writing one yourself!

Hope this article has been useful for you.

Thanks,

In obeisance to the divine in you

Trishna

Works Cited

-Srilata, K. “Despite pins and needles: K. Srilata reviews ‘A Sky Full of Bucket Lists’ by Shobhana Kumar”. The Hindu, https://www.thehindu.com/books/despite-pins-and-needles-k-srilata-reviews-a-sky-full-of-bucket-lists-by-shobhana-kumar/article34221828.ece. Accessed 10 Apr 2021.

-Photo by Houcine Ncib on Unsplash

Book Review Checklist

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