Lesson Plans

Reading Selection Recommendations


Curbing Plagiarism

Additional Teaching & Course Design Resources

Guide Contributors

Authors & Contributors

Book Review

Another unique assignment is the book review. This assignment is innovative because it goes beyond the mere analysis and interpretive skills many essays consist of and ventures into the realm of evaluation. Students express their argument on whether an author's strategy worked or not. These judgments are not just mere opinion though, since textual evidence is required to back the argument. After the assignment instructions, there are several resources for students such as advice for choosing the best focused content, the evaluation/grading criteria for the assignment, a sample grading sheet, and a peer review workshop sheet.

Book Review Assignment

Over the course of the semester, you’ll submit two brief book reviews summarizing, analyzing, and evaluating one of the books we’ve been reading—one near midterm and one near the end of the semester. You’re free to choose any of the books we’re reading or have so far read for each review. These reviews must be at least 750 words, and should demonstrate:

Some strategies:

1.  Write a statement giving essential information about the book: title, author, general subject matter, etc.

2.  State the author’s purpose in writing the book, as you surmise it. What is the book’s subject matter?

3.  State the novel’s thesis—this is a conclusion (or interpretation), however tentative, reached upon development of the theme.

4.  How did the book affect you? Were any previous ideas you had on the subject changed, abandoned, or reinforced due to this book? How is the book related to your own experiences? What other books or movies came to mind as you read this one?

5.  Explain your interpretation of the book’s development—the way that the novel reaches its conclusion. Provide specific references and quotations to support your interpretation of the book’s development.

6.  Evaluate the book for interest, accuracy, objectivity, importance, thoroughness, usefulness, etc.—whatever criteria you find most applicable to the book as you, and how you imagine other readers, would experience it. Respond to the novel’s opinions. What do you agree or disagree with? And why? Show whether or not any conclusions drawn are derived logically from the “evidence.” Explore issues the book raises. What possibilities does the book suggest? What has the author omitted or what problems were left unsolved? What specific points are not convincing? Compare it with other books on similar subjects or other books by the same as well as different authors. Is it only a reworking of earlier books; a refutation of previous positions? Have newly uncovered sources justified a new approach by the author? Comment on parts of particular interest, and point out anything that seems to give the book literary merit. Relate the book to larger issues.


Excellent (A-level)

Good (B-level)
Although it’s clear that the reviewer read and understood the book being reviewed, B-level reviews sometimes make claims about the novel’s structure or evaluate the effectiveness of its language or aesthetic choices without offering 1) enough concrete evidence to demonstrate the validity of the claim, or 2) enough explanation of the evidence to convince the reader that it is significant. The review’s tone might suggest a biased approach to the book’s evaluation, or a few mistakes at the line-level or in the MLA citation might appear.

Average (C-level)
C-level reviews tend to emphasize surface-level descriptions of the book being reviewed without providing many instances of structural or evaluative claims—or these claims are often unsupported with persuasive evidence from the novel in question. Important structural or interpretive questions are acknowledged without adequate discussion. The tone of the review might suggest that its evaluation, whether positive or negative, was arrived at without thorough consideration of the book’s many elements. Line-level errors and/or mistakes in the MLA citation may be noticeable.

Weak (D-level)
D-level reviews might leave out or misrepresent key components of the book’s plot, leading a reader familiar with the book to believe that the reviewer had skimmed the book without enough attention. The connection between claims made in the review and any evidence presented might be unclear or confusing. The tone might be broadly contemptuous or enthusiastic without clear reasons to justify it. Mechanical errors might be often distracting. Required portions of the review are missing.

Redo (R-level)
In most cases, the R-level review was simply incomplete. It might also have been completed, but for other reasons fails to meet the basic expectations of the assignment. When resubmitted and regraded, R-level assignments will be lowered by one letter grade.

E238     NAME     Student X
Book Review 1

4—      Representing the novel (x7 weight) 
The review demonstrates comprehension of the book’s plot (the “what”) and conclusions (the “why”), as well as its structure and primary narrative strategies (the “how”).

3.5—   Using evidence to reach critical conclusions (x7 weight)
The review selects and integrates concrete details and examples from the novel as well as relevant personal reactions (“intrinsic evidence”) to develop and support a critical interpretation and evaluation of the novel.

5—      Tone & Style (x4 weight)
The tone of the review convinces the reader at all times that the reviewer is a careful and balanced judge who is evaluating the novel critically.

5—      Conventions & Correctness (x2 weight)
A correct MLA-style citation for the book is included—arranging author’s name, book title, place of publication, publisher, and year of publication in the correct format—and the review has been proofread and edited to eliminate all sentence-level errors.

TOTAL             82.5/ 100pts

Comments:      Central to this review is the relationship between happiness and perfection in Kundera’s novel, but for the idea to stick requires more examination of concrete moments from the novel to help us see how this conclusion is reached, or what makes it valid—the most solid reference to the novel is near the bottom of p. 2, “Franz sees it in this his mistress,” etc., but even that remains broad summary. I’m interested, too, in the connection to Eternal Sunshine, since flawed happiness is again the focus, but the review doesn’t draw attention to any of the flaws in the movie’s main characters or, more importantly, how these are negotiated in the space of a relationship, which is also Kundera’s focus. Finally, the reference to “imaginations” when calling attention to the movie calls attention to the importance of memory in both the movie and Kundera’s novel, which if incorporated could make the review’s thesis concerning happiness and perfection all the more powerful.

After you’ve read and made notes on your partner’s Book Review, type your answers to the following prompts in the spaces provided:

1.  Describe those elements of the book’s plot best captured by your partner’s book review, and one plot element that might be important enough to appear.

2.  Note where your partner refers to the book’s structure, and describe the concrete evidence used (or that might be used) to support his or her points.

3.  Explain a good example of the tone your partner conveys throughout the review, and describe its effectiveness.

4.  Where does your partner evaluate the book, and what evidence does he or she use to support the evaluation?

5.  Offer suggestions that might help your partner to revise.





Kerouac’s descriptions reveal the beauty of the world as well as its ignorance.

“The world was upside down hanging in an ocean of endless space and here were all these people sitting in theaters watching movies down there in the world to which I would return.”

Kerouac is immersed in the reality of nature, “hanging in an ocean of endless space,” an image of beauty, but he also realizes that the people who are in the city watching movies are removed from this reality, and are in fact the ones who are upside down.

Nature is the perfect Buddhist—Smith struggles with the idea that whatever creates also brings death.

“Pretty girls make graves.”

From an act of passion and sex comes as the result a birth and creation, which ultimately leads to death—there can be no death without life, and therefore suffering.

The end was anticlimactic, but suitable because it analyzes the effects of passion on the human condition.