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English Language & Literature

Resources for conducting literary research on English & American Literatures.

The Significance of Book Reviews

The words "book review" typed on a blank piece of paper

Book reviews are a good measure of contemporary reaction to a novel. Usually written between six months and two years of a book's publication, they typically contain information about a book's plot, style, and quality of writing, as well as the author's biographical details.  They may also give comparisons to other similar titles recently published.  All of this information is useful in determining not only the reception of a novel, but the intellectual and aesthetic developments in the literary arts of the period.

How to Find Book Reviews in Newspapers & Magazines

What You Need to Know Prior to Searching for a Book Review:

  • The author's name
  • The title of the novel
  • The date the novel was published OR
  • The date of the first edition of the novel

This information is often found on the title page and the back (also called verso) of the title page. If you do not know the date of publication and do not have a copy of the book, look in Wikipedia.

When you know the year of publication, you can select the appropriate database. This is important because not all databases may contain the amount of coverage you need. For example, you likely would not want to choose a database that only contains current coverage when you need a book review from the 19th century.

Where are Book Reviews Published?

Book reviews may appear in different kinds of publications:

  • Literary Magazines -- Book reviews in literary magazines provide substantive, compelling reviews written by established book critics. Examples of literary magazines include:
    • London Review of Books
    • New York Review of Books
    • New York Times Book Review
    • The New Yorker
    • Paris Review
    • Times Literary Supplement (TLS)
       
  • General/Popular Magazines -- Book reviews in general/popular magazines, like Time or Newsweek, tend to be brief (500-750 words) and highlight novels across genres that are in the gaining mainstream popularity.
     
  • Newspapers -- Book reviews in newspapers, like The Philadelphia Inquirer or your local newspaper, tend to be very brief, but they can offer unique geographical perspectives on a novel.
     
  • Trade Magazines -- Book reviews in trade magazines, like Publishers Weekly, Choice, Library Journal, and Booklist, are often directed toward readers who make book purchasing decisions (i.e. librarians, booksellers, etc.) and tend to be very brief (often a paragraph), so you may wish to ignore references to them.
     
  • Scholarly Journals -- Book reviews in scholarly journals, like The Journal of Modern Literature or British Journal for the History of Science, are directed toward an academic audience and tend to focus more on reviewing scholarly works, not necessarily novels.

Find Current Book Reviews

Find Historical Book Reviews

What to Look For in a Book Review

  • Adjectives used to describe the work
     
  • Mentions of significant passages, scenes, or characters
    • Would we agree with the critic today?
       
  • Suggested audiences for the work
     
  • Mentions and comparisons of other works by the author
    • Are we familiar with the works mentioned?
       
  • Mentions and comparisons of works by different authors
    • Is the critic identifying a known or unknown work/author?
    • Is the critic canon-making or canon-busting?
       
  • Whether the critic believes the work to be significant in a big-picture kind of way