As an (aspiring) book reviewer, I’m trying to teach myself how to read critically, not just for enjoyment. This is at times fun, and other times distracting. It can be difficult to concentrate on the story, when I’m thinking about how I’ll write a review for it.
I have begun to develop a strategy, though.
1. A notebook next to me. As I read, I jot down my thoughts and observations, but it’s really just a streaming thought, not a coherent whole. I put these notes together later.
2. Peer discussion. I’ve mentioned my bookclubs on here several times, now. I’m a member of several local clubs that meet once or twice a month to discuss the book we picked and read together. This allows me to hear other opinions on the novels I’ve been reading, and helps me articulate and defend (or concede) my own opinions on the book. I also visit message boards, for those books that I’m not reading for a club.
3. Falling back on education. While currently not in school, I was once (and hope to be again) an English Literature major (also majoring in Biology). Years of reading, and then writing papers on what I’ve read, has definitely helped me out in my reviews. A college essay is not the same as a review, but you use many of the same skills with each.*
These three strategies have begun to help me bring my reviews more thought and depth, as well as perhaps more relevance. I am, of course, still learning. My eventual hope is that I might even make a little money from my blog, but my true goal is to share my love and understanding of books. If even just a few people get something out of my writing, I’m happy. I want to be a published writer someday, among many dreams, and I can only think that writing here, and reading with my brain turned on, are great places to start.
*This is not at all to say you must be (even partially) college educated to do intellectual work. It’s just helped me personally in this particular instance. There are many continuing education and community outreach programs, even through local libraries, that adults can learn critical thinking skills from. Many great minds, though, were entirely self-taught.