Editor's Note: The final element of the Unfamiliar Genre Project is the student's reflection on the experience of researching and working with the genre they selected. After writing his review of the novel North of Hope, Br. William Petry, M.Sp.S, offered this reflection.
Final Reflection on the Unfamiliar Genre Project
I chose the genre of book review for my project because I am familiar with books but I am unacquainted with their reviews. I felt that this would be a good opportunity to learn something about this genre pertaining to something I really enjoy: reading books. I find myself recommending and referring to books all the time to friends, classmates, and confreres, so I figured learning about this genre would also help me in my day-to-day life. Throughout this semester and through this project I have come to distinguish the different components of a good book review, as well as the distinctions within the book review genre.
As I began my project, I had a wide vision of what book reviews are and how they are used. I started doing research and realized that there are many different sub-categories of book reviews. I saw that a non-fiction academic book review is very different in structure as well as style compared to a fiction novel review. I saw the type of qualities that the book reviewers had in order to write a book review and the different qualifications needed for these different types of reviews. I assumed that a book review had the standard objective of getting you to read or avoid the book reviewed. This is not always the case; different reviews have different objectives.
From my reading, an academic book review has the objective of proving coherence and verification of arguments or its lack of these qualities, commenting on the qualifications of the author, and providing personal comments on the work. A fiction book review has the objective of testing the quality of the literary work, commenting on the author and similar works, and providing a personal opinion on the piece. One is concerned about credibility and relevance, while the other is more concerned about quality. From these findings I realized that I needed to focus my project on a particular category, and I decided to choose fiction. Initially I chose fiction because I saw that the writers of academic or non-fiction reviews were generally qualified people, whereas the fiction reviewers ranged from professional to free-lance writers.
I learned about note-taking and research throughout this process. I explored the different components of a good book review by reading a number of reviews. I was able to annotate the similarities I found in each one and the things that caught my attention. This helped me to put into practice the note-taking skills I have acquired through the courses I have taken so far and use it in a practical way. I learned that the journalistic style of writing is very different to the academic style; journalism requires more character in my writing.
In my investigation I discovered a handbook on how to write book reviews. This is where I was able to pin down specific items to look out for to include in my review: main themes, main conflict, main protagonists, conventions and styles. I began taking notes of important themes and concepts as I read through the novel. When I completed the novel, I had already done more research on these types of reviews. I also had already written out the main conflicts, themes and descriptions of the protagonists. The main questions that I asked myself as I wrote the review were: What is at the heart of this novel? What spoke to me about this novel? What is Hassler really communicating, and why is it important?
Having completed this project, I feel satisfied with myself about what I have learned about the process and contents of this type of review and that I successfully wrote a review with all the components of a good book review. In addition to this, I now use book reviews frequently in selecting books to read, for leisure, spiritual life or academics.