What is a book report? What are you expected to come up with when your teacher gives you a task to write a book report? Naturally, your teacher should specify what s/he expects from you. Normally, a book report (sometimes also referred to as a book review) is one of the three kinds of work. It can be a plot summary, a character analysis, or a theme analysis.
They all share the same goal – to train the student on sharing an opinion on a particular aspect of the book: they are always quite specific about that. What they also share are certain details which you should always specify in your book report:
- the kind of book report that you are supposed to write;
- the title and the author of the book;
- the genre of the book;
- the time and place where the book was published;
- the time and place where the events in the book take place;
- the brief descriptions of characters relevant to your report (remember to mention their names);
- evidence from the text to support your standpoint. It is usually done with direct quotations or paraphrases.
Of course, each kind of a book report will have its own specifications. Let us take a better look at each of those:
One may think that, as the name implies, a plot summary means merely summarizing the plot of the book. However, just a mere retelling of the story that you have just read is only half on the job. The other half is your opinion on the book, your commentary. You are to demonstrate that you have not only read the information in the book but also understood it and are able to discuss it. You should explain what effect it has on the reader (i.e. you) and how it works. You are expected to expand upon why you thought the book was engaging or boring, why could something like this happen to anybody or why this story is made completely of thin air.
Naturally, you cannot merely give your opinion. It needs to be backed up by quotations or other examples from the book.
Unlike with a plot summary, the definition of a character analysis is self-explanatory. You take a particular character from the story and investigate everything there is to know about this character. This includes (but is not limited to) the physical appearance, the patterns of behavior, the interaction with other characters, the influence on the overall course of events, the way readers respond to the character, etc. Here are some subsidiary questions that may be of help when analyzing a character:
- How does s/he dress and what does it make other characters and, more importantly, us – the reader – think about this character?
- What are this character’s positive traits and how do they help him or her out in various situations that s/he has to come across?
- What are this character’s drawbacks that get him or her into critical or unpleasant situations?
- What tone does this character choose to speak to other characters? What are his or her intentions with this choice? What effect does it produce?
- What is the purpose of this character in the story? What is his or her value to the plot?
With this kind of book reports, you are to explore how a certain theme runs throughout the story and how it is revealed in various aspects. On the one hand, the task gets a bit vaguer, so writing a theme analysis is somewhat more challenging undertaking than other book reports. But on the other hand, it gives you much more freedom, and you can take a more individual approach to your writing.
Sometimes, you will be assigned a particular theme to investigate. But often, it will be up to you to pick a topic to analyze. This way, your task gets even easier, because you can choose a topic that interests you, in particular, the one that you relate to, and you can look it from your own personal angle. It is known that the more connection you have to what you are writing about, the less tedious it is to write.
Still, before moving on to your reflections, you need to establish what it is exactly that you will be analyzing. This can be done by answering the following questions:
- What is the theme that you are investigating?
- How and why is this theme important in the book?
- What parts of the book reveal this importance? How exactly they back up this importance? Is it obvious?
- Why is this theme important to you? How do you relate to it? Has it made the read more or less enjoyable?
As with any other work, it is much easier to accomplish when you have a plan of action. Therefore, it is good to prepare an outline for your book report beforehand. Here is a template of such an outline:
The background information about the analyzed text and explanation of what you are about to analyze.
- Main body
1. The gist of the book with a focus on the aspects that are interesting for your research.
2. The analysis of the collected evidence. Was the writing persuasive? What were the author’s intentions and did s/he achieve them?
This is a summary of your report. Your overall impression upon reading and reflecting. Your recommendations to someone who has not read the book yet.
Naturally, these are only the general guidelines for writing a book report. There may be more specific requirements – in such case, they shall be clarified by your teacher or professor. For example, a format style. However, the general rule is – reveal that you have what to say on the given topic, that you have a point to make. This point cannot be bare, it always needs to be grounded on solid evidence from the analyzed text – in the form of quotations or otherwise.