Basic science informs us that plants are nourished by, and grow with the aid of, water, carbon dioxide, sunlight, as well as other nutrients from the soil. Each of these contributes to the general growth and wellbeing of the plant. In the same way, there are certain things that are of immense importance to the growth and development of a writer. The importance of voracious reading and continuous practice of the craft has been sung from rooftops for ages, and rightly so. Nevertheless, one among several other significant, if not equally important, conditions that make for an accomplished writer is feedback.
Book reviews are one way upcoming writers can get honest feedback on their work. There are two types of book reviews, namely: descriptive, and critical book reviews. Of these two, the critical book review is most conducive for a writer’s growth and development in the craft.
Descriptive reviews simply provide the essential information about a book. This includes the description and exposition of the book. The reviewer outlines the perceived direction of the book, and supports this with striking or relevant quotes from the text. Such a review does not pass the rule over the book, only brings the book to light.
Critical reviews for their part not only describe but also evaluate a book. This evaluation is done with reference to the accepted literary and historical standards of the particular genre that such writing belongs to. Here too, textual support is drawn from the text, but not just for the purpose of simply providing information about the book; the support is for the evaluative arguments being made.
A critical review describes the book under review, providing an insight into the thoughts of the book’s author; discusses the author’s biographical information as well as philosophical leanings, values, etc. in order to enhance the reader’s understanding of the work by providing context; and appraises the book. Appraisal of the book includes: a statement of the reviewer’s understanding of the author’s purpose; how well the reviewer feels the author’s purpose has been achieved; and evidence to support the reviewer’s judgement of the author’ achievement or failure. All these are measured against generic conventions. So a review – specifically, a critical review – surgically dissects a book and lays bare both its strengths and weaknesses, achievements and failings, with reference to the generic standard of the genre to which the book belongs.
Writers who are desirous of growth encourage reviews of their books. While some reviews may be scathing, and others shallow, there is always something new the writer learns from reading such reviews with an open mind. The writer may come to see as may be pointed out by a reviewer, for instance, that they did not pass across their message clearly, or that the devices they used were inadequate to carry the weight of their purposes, or that they were lax with their mechanics, organisation of ideas, and the like. The fact that the reviewer is detached from the book and is writing objectively places him/her in a position to identify the hills and valleys of the work.
Undoubtedly, every up and coming writer will benefit from the opportunity for growth provided by book reviews. While reading and writing go a long way in developing a writer’s craft, getting and learning from objective feedback is equally important if any writer wishes to get better at writing.