|Katie the Critic is up to no good!|
I don't think I ever learned a proper way to write book reviews -- I taught myself to do it, and it's a craft I'm still trying to hone. If you're wanting to write reviews, I think a good place to start is to read a bunch of them. I like the LARB. Of course, writing a good review isn't all about emulating another person's style, but it's a good way to kind of get a feel for the genre -- and yes, book reviews are their own genre (at least I like to think so).
I start by reading the book just for the sheer enjoyment of it, cover to cover. Some people like to read poetry books a bit here and a bit there, but when you're writing a review, you're trying to get a sense of the whole, the book's argument. So you'll need to experience it as such.
Once I've read it through, I'll take a little breaksie. Sometimes that break is a day. Sometimes it's a week. But I need to have some time to muse and think about the poems and how they connect with one another. I can't just read a book and then go to my computer and type. I'm a reflecter, so, I need to reflect.
I read the book through a second time, but on this read through, I'm a bit more purposeful. I'm on the lookout for poems or phrases that stick out. I'm armed with post-it notes and highlighters. I'm reading the book in terms of something specific, with some sort of driving question. For example, with my most recent review, I wanted to think about the poet's use of metaphor. In the past, I've looked at how a poet deals with gender, how their work fits into the revisionist mythmaking tradition, how the poet represents culture. But there should be some sort of driving question about craft/content/theory. Figuring that out is probably the toughest part of writing a book review. Then I'll dogear pieces that support my argument about the text's use of craft.
My next step is to piece everything together. I'll usually pick two or three poems to offer a close reading of (ok, I usually pick like ten poems that I fall in love with, and then I have to narrow it down), and the rest I just pick out phrases here and there. Then, I actually write the review. Because I've already done a lot of the mental work, it's usually pretty speedy (maybe two days, an hour or so each sitting).
Revising for me is typically cutting things out because I'm a bad girl and go over word limits.
Then, polishing. I have to read my piece out loud to make sure it "sounds" good -- and yes, I look crazy doing this, but it's typically just me and the cats here in my home office so it's 'kay.
I send off to editor. I bite fingernails, thinking that editor will hate it, thinking that editor will tell me my review writing days are over.
Editor never says that.
And life goes on.