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ENGL 372: American Literature II - Tammaro: What is a book review?

Dr. Thom Tammaro's Assignment

What is a book review?

A book review is a critical description, evaluation, or analysis of a book. It generally comes out in the first six months to a year after a book is published. It is different than a work of literary criticism or critique which often is published later. Book reviews are found in trade publications and newspapers.

Assignment Purpose:

To explore contemporary reviews of literature using outside sources. You will be exploring the critical reception of one book by one author who we're studying this semester, to read what contemporary reviewers and critics had to say about the book shortly after it was published.


Choose the book from which a poem, story, essay (or excerpt from a full length book) that we have read in class. You will then need to know the correct publication date of the book. For example, if you wanted to know the critical reception of Robert Frost’s North of Boston, which contains his poem, “Mending Wall,” you need to know that North of Boston was published in 1915 by Henry Holt and Company of New York. You would then begin searching for contemporary reviews in newspapers and magazines from 1915-1916 or thereabouts. Be sure to research the critical reception of this book when it was published. Find reviews that were published within 1-2 years of the publication of the book. Do not to confuse a book review with a critical analysis essay or scholarly article that appeared years after the book was published. Most book reviews will be identified as such. In order to get a fair sense of the book’s contemporary critical reception, you’ll need to locate 4-6 reviews. For example, it is interesting to note how tepid and mixed the reviews of Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951) were when it was first published—given the cult/classic status the book has acquired over the years.

Remember, sometimes book reviews appear months after the publication date, sometimes as much as a year later. The purpose of this assignment is to present what book reviewers had to say about the book when the book was published. Were they all in agreement? Mixed? Your thesis should reflect what you find in your research—for example: “Upon examination of contemporary reviews of ____________, I have discovered that reviewers were in agreement about the importance of this book,” or: “Upon examination of contemporary reviews of ____________, I have discovered that reviewers were mixed in their assessment of this book,”; or, “Upon examination of contemporary reviews of ____________, reviewers were unanimous in their dismissal of this book.” Be sure to construct a clear, focused thesis in your introductory paragraph.