This is my third post on writing reviews, and this time we will have a look at reviewing non-fiction. Of all the genres, this has to be the most difficult simply because non-fiction is not the same as fiction. Non-fiction deals with real life, real situations and real problems. Before I start on the subject, let me clarify: for the sake of this post, academic and other educational books are excluded. The aim is to look as books available to the general public, you and me, via the normal book distribution channels.
To my mind there are three categories of non-fiction:
- Self-help books: yoga, weight-loss, books on religion and its topics, psychological issues, etc.
- Books to learn a skill: crafts, writing, art, cooking, meditation, etc.
- Books that inform or entertain you: wildlife, travel books, history books, biographies, etc.
There are probably more than what I can think of right now, and some of these books can be categorised in more than one way, depending on the contents and your intention of reading it. And that is the essence of reading non-fiction: do you intend to read it for information? Do you want to better yourself? Or are you a writer or subject guru who is doing research for your next book?
When writing a review about a non-fiction book, I am of the opinion that you should state the reason you read the book in the first place. It will explain to the reader of the review, be it the author or a potential buyer, where you are coming from.
If you are a subject expert, and you give the book a less than exalted review, but you didn't state your reason, people might get the wrong impression. If you are a novice, this book might just be the best thing that has happened to you.
The same applies to someone who is reading the book for information's sake. Was the topic covered sufficiently for you to get what you needed? Did you find it easy to read the text? If you used one of the references, was it useful in aiding your understanding of the subject?
While many people, writers included, use the Internet for research, I have found that some subjects should not be researched on our source-of-all-information. I am referring to sex. Before you block my blog and report me to the police, let me clarify.
I needed to understand more about tantra. I searched for books that explained the philosophy behind it, rather than the practical application which was not what I required for my book, We, the One. I needed something different, a new point of view if you like, to tackle this story where intimacy is the key problem between my main characters. Intimacy is more than physical, it has some emotional and spiritual connections too, and I wanted a fresh approach for my story, thus the research and the books.
I found three of them: the first was as dull as dishwater, the second was leaning more towards the physical, and the third explained the approach I was looking for.
Now all three books had merit, but not all of it was useful to me. The first would be a textbook for students of tantra, but it was way too philosophical and vague for what I needed. The second was too physical, as mentioned. The third had more of the information I was looking for, although I was not happy with some of the religious statements the author made in the text. So if I had to review any or all three of these books, I would need to tell you why I read them, otherwise you would have no idea why I would review them the way I did.
I am not going to review these three books, because it would serve no purpose to people who would buy these books. They are all being marketed as books to improve your sex life, and the characters in my book had a completely different need that I had to figure out.
So here is what I suggest for reviewing non-fiction books:
- Tell your audience why your read the book - to improve yourself, learn something new or for information only.
- If the first two of these reasons apply to you, then study the book, do the exercises and take the next step towards that which you want: to be a better person, or to learn how to crochet. Only then write the review so your audience can appreciate the reasons you gave it three stars, for example.
- If you read the book for information only, then tell your audience if the information was useful and did the author fulfil your expectations for buying the book in the first place.
I bought my books online and had limited information available, therefor the two out of three booboo.
If you feel this post wasn't helpful, I won't blame you, since non-fiction reviews are not as easy and straight forward as reviews for fictional books. It is not just about liking or disliking the contents, it could be a life changing event to someone who reads your review.