Why those “why” questions in book reviews are so important

Volunteer-Reader-2014The Volunteer Reader program is in full swing now, and several eager reviewers have already dropped by to sign out their first galley copies for consideration. We’re open Monday to Friday, 9-5pm, so feel free to drop by anytime.

Book reviews can be intimidating at times, especially when it comes to articulating “why” you feel a certain way about a piece of writing. Below is a prosaic primer on why answering the “why” question is so important, which wraps up with a list of great “why” questions to frame your book review.

“Never ask too many ‘why’ questions, lest they get you in trouble.” The many variations of this kernel of cautionary advice should be familiar to anyone who’s had their sense of curiosity trivialized or stifled by others who claim to have no time for “big questions.”

It’s often easier to tackle the “little questions,” for sure. It’s much easier to spend a few minutes brainstorming “what should I make for dinner tonight?” than to wax philosophical about the nature of the cosmos: “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

The same goes for matters of taste in art and literature. It’s easy to say, “this book was amazing! I hope the author comes to Wordfest someday!” or “I disliked this novel so much that it drove me to drink. I’d rather read my life insurance policy!”

It’s much harder to explain “why” you feel a certain way about a book. Why does it leave you feeling elated, saddened, depressed, pensive, maybe inspired or perhaps wanting to throw something? Why does it provoke this response in you? Why does it leave you craving for more after you’ve finished reading it or, conversely, wishing that you’d never picked it up?

These kinds of “why” questions can be tough to answer. But tackling them is the best way you can help the Wordfest programming team decide whether a book is worth further consideration, and where it could fit in the program if included in the Festival.

So, stop by the Wordfest office from now until June. Sign up to be a Volunteer Reader. Grab a review copy, say “hi,” and take as many free bookmarks as you’d like. We’d love to meet you! Check wordfest.com for more details on participating in the Volunteer Reader program. Below are some of the big “why” questions that we think matter most in a review:

  • What response did you have to the book? Why do you think it evoked that response?
  • What do you think the author was trying to achieve in this book? Does it do what it set out to do? Does its goal seem worthwhile? Why or why not?
  • What audience(s) do you think the book is written towards? Do you think it would be appreciated by that audience? Do you think it would have any appeal outside that audience? Why or why not?

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