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© Copyright 2003, Jim Loy
I was really bad at writing book reports, when I was in school. Now I write book reviews. Some of these reviews are short and simple, just saying that I liked this book. These short ones work fine for me, because many people have read other things that I have written, and have seen that they are interested in some of the same things that I have written about, and they might want to read this book that I recommend, just because I liked it. You do not have it that easy. Most of my reviews are somewhat more involved than that. See My Book Reviews.
Don't fake it: When you write a book report, one of your tasks is to convince the reader that you actually read the book. On a crude level, there are two ways to convince people that you have read a book: (1) read the book, (2) fake it. Faking it (skimming, reading the comic version, checking out the movie, copying someone else's report) has always been very popular; I used to just skim, because I was a very poor reader. Faking it seldom works. In fact, it is often easier to just read the book. Learn that skill, and you can become a very fast reader, and it can be very pleasant to read a book. It would be handy to learn speed reading. I am not a speed reader, it took me four days to read the first Harry Potter book, which is not bad.
Take notes: You've just read a book. OK, what do you know about it? You forget? Really? Me too. I remember a lot of it, but I forget a lot, too. I may have great trouble telling the story. If I had to write a report about it, I would take some notes. In My Synopsis of The Hound of the Baskervilles I wrote this:
This is the third (or fourth) time that I have read this story. I have always thought that it would be smart to take notes, while reading a book. To help some of these people, I did that with The Hound of the Baskervilles. It worked pretty well. I would read a chapter, and then summarize it in a small (or big) paragraph. I often had to go back and check some facts. It was slower, that way. But, I understood the story better.
And I remembered the story much better. Use a dictionary, if there is an important word that you don't know.
Be honest: How is this?: "I was forced to read Moby Dick and I hated it. It was way too long, and I couldn't believe the characters, and the language was too hard for me to understand." That is a good start, but you should probably try to say something good about the book, too. Anyway, that was more honest than faking it. Let's continue: "The characters were so stupid to keep following Captain Ahab. After a while, I didn't care if they got killed by the whale or not, because I couldn't relate to people that stupid." Better, but that idea must be explored: "If I were there, on that ship, what could I have done? Could I kill Captain Ahab? Would I? What good would it have done? Was there really no way to prevent the final tragedy?" You see, I have finally got to something positive about the book, Melville (the author) has forced me (the reader) to examine my own heart. That's heavy stuff, which demands even more thought, and writing. I probably want to rewrite my report on Moby Dick, from the start.
Give a clue: Give a clue that you have actually read the book. The fact that the Illiad is largely about Achilles (or the fact that the Trojan Horse is not in this story) is a pretty important fact, and goes a long way toward convincing the teacher that you read the Illiad. Mention some facts that will show that you did read the book.
Tell the story: Tell a shortened version of the story. This may be most of your report, or it may just be a short paragraph at the beginning of the report ("This book is the story of a small part of the Trojan war . . ."). My Synopsis of The Hound of the Baskervilles lists the chapters, with their headings, and then tells the story of each chapter. This idea works for some book reports, especially if the chapter headings help tell the story. You can even let some of the chapter headings tell their part of the story without comments, or you can skip a chapter or two. Some non-fiction can also be summarized in this way (see my review of How to Lie With Statistics - by Darrell Huff). More likely, the chapter headings will be a good guide for you, as you retell the story.
Your audience: The audience is your teacher, who has already read the book. But the report may work better if you write for a different audience, someone who has not read the book. Tell that person why he/she should (or should not) read this book.
Find something to say about the story: Besides telling the story, you probably need to come up with some comments about the story (it was believable, it was not believable, I liked the character, this guy was a really evil guy, then I dozed off for about three chapters, I was disappointed with the ending, . . .). Expand. I liked the character. Why? I was disappointed with the ending. Why? Why? Why?
Describe the main characters: This may be a major part of what the teacher asks of you. Who is the main character (it might not be the title character, if there is one)? Describe the character. Was he/she a good or bad character (interesting, one dimensional, attractive, smart/stupid, believable, . . .)? Did the character change in some way (learn something, grow up, become cynical, become a winner/loser, . . .)? I think that is an important question for all reports about fiction.
Sum up: End with a logical end: "Even though I didn't like the main character, I still liked the story. I think people should read this book."
Good study habits: As with any assignment, do it early. Do what the teacher actually assigned (read the instructions).
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