Graduate Student Supplement: Book Reviews (Fall 2009)

Overview

The purpose of a review is a critical analysis which reveals the strengths, weaknesses, usefulness and quality of your subject. The review should give the reader a clear sense of the potential knowledge or enjoyment to be gained from your book. Like a good book, your review should have a thesis and a supporting argument. Remember that this is not a book report: be both critical and appreciative, but come to your own conclusions. If you want examples, look at journals in history, or your own field, or even newspaper book and movie reviews. Assume your reader is a student like yourself, intelligent but with little background in Japanese history or women’s studies.

Selection

The choice of book is up to you, subject to approval by me. This is your chance to study what interests you about Japanese women: history, economics, political science, culture, family, literature, or anything else which seriously engages Japanese women’s history to 1700.

There are few limits on your choices. One of the books must have been published in the last ten years. Wander the library, if you don’t have any ideas immediately: look at the shelves of Japanese history, or literature, or art.

You will also need to do some background reading: in addition to the course materials, you will need to use at least three related scholarly sources in your essay, properly cited in your bibliography, of course.

Details:

  • Each review should be 2000-3000 words (approximately 8-10 double-spaced pages, depending on print style). Reasonable font is is required: something standard and readable and a nice size. Normal margins are also a must: 1-1.5 inches.
  • Citations and bibliography should follow the Chicago Manual of Style format for history. Plagiarism, of course, is to be avoided.
  • The first review is due Wednesday, 10/14; the second review is due Friday, 12/4.
  • Lateness will be penalized. Serious illness or equivalent excuses will be accepted only in advance, with documentation; other classes’ assignments, sporting events and recreational travel do not constitute acceptable excuses for lateness.
  • Grammar and spelling count: lapses distract the reader from the impact of your argument.

Grading:

Your review grade will be based on the quality, clarity, completeness and effectiveness of your writing. Most important is the quality of your analysis of the book: is it thorough, balanced and convincing? Is sufficient evidence presented, and with an appropriate structure? Is it a coherent essay? Can your reader learn from your review what is in the book and whether it would be worth reading?


The elements of a good review:

Summary: a concise and clear restatement of the basic content of the book. It should include the author’s thesis, if it is a scholarly work; the plot, if it is a novel or drama; some idea of how the book is structured, and what is contained within. Summary alone should take up no more than 1/3 of the text of the final review. Remember that more detail can be included in the analytical sections of the review; this is just introduction.

Thesis: What is the point of the book? What conclusions does it try to reach, or, if it is a novel, what is the underlying message? Is this an ambitious or radical idea, or is it conservative, unexciting?

Argument and Evidence:

  • Scholarly Work: What kind of evidence or data is presented? Where does the evidence come from? Is it reliable, and is it interpreted reasonably? What kind of conclusions are reached along the way, aside from the main thesis? What is the logic that leads from evidence to conclusion? Does the evidence support the thesis and conclusions? Is there evidence missing, or is it interpreted in a one-sided way? How does the author deal with alternative arguments or scholars who have reached different conclusions?
  • Literature: What effect is the author trying to achieve? What kind of literature is this, and how do its standards or forms affect the delivery of the ideas or messages of the author? How does the author use language, images, cultural references, character, voice, conflict, plot?

Context: What is the background of the author? When did he or she live and what was happening at that time? What is the historical context: the time period the fiction is set in, or the time period discussed by the book? What other books discuss the same kinds of things, and how does this book compare? Note that your textbook is an invaluable resource for comparisons and context.

Evaluation: Does the author achieve the desired effect? Are you convinced by the argument, moved by the story? How much have you learned and is what you learned what the author intended? Are the conclusions strongly supported by the evidence? Is the literature “good” (and what does that mean)? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this book? How does this work compare or contrast to other works written on the same subject, or around the same time, or by the same author?

Personal Reaction: How did this book affect you? Why?

Recommendation: What would another reader get out of this book? What are the greatest strengths and weaknesses of the book? Would you recommend this book to a fellow student? Anyone else? Why or why not?

“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested;  that is,
some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously;  and some few to be read wholly,
and with diligence and attention. Some books also may be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others;
but that would be only in the less important arguments, and the meaner sort of books….”
– Francis Bacon (17c)