Remember book reports? I had to do countless of these when I was in school, and I was never particularly fond of the task. A book report seemed more like a way of proving I read a book, rather than having actually gotten anything out of it. In grade school, I often had the suspicion that I couldn’t say anything bad about a book in my report. Usually, there was nothing in the report that asked me opinion one way or another. Book reports were often a series of questions you had to answer about the book you were reading. I think of them sometimes when I finish a book a find a series of book club “discussion” questions on the back pages of a book.
Book reports annoyed me. I didn’t need any inducements or encouragements to read. Indeed, book reports got in the way of my reading. It took time to complete them–time that I could be spending on reading another book.
Later, in high school and then in college, I decided that if I didn’t particularly care for a book, I’d mention it in my “report.” I generally didn’t dislike a book so much as find things I didn’t like about some aspect of the book. Reading A Tale of Two Cities, I had the idea that Dickens was a little full of himself as a writer, and I took the highly ironic step of mentioning this: me, a high schooler (or perhaps it was junior high, I can’t quite remember), criticizing the great Dickens on his ability to hold my attention! In college I remember reading William Gibson’s Neuromancer. Cyberpunk was never my thing, and the book confused me more than it entertained me.
At some point, book reports turned into book reviews. I couldn’t have imagined when I was writing those book reports in school that someone would pay me to read books and write about them. But that’s what happened. For a while I wrote a book review column for Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show. I’d review a couple of books in each column, one column per month, and get paid each time I turned in my column. And, of course, I’ve written reviews of books here, although I’m on the fence about calling them review. “Thoughts” is how I generally characterize what I write here.
It’s kind of funny to me that those book reports I dreaded are now one of the most common things you can find on the Internet. Go to Amazon and look at the reviews for books. Those that aren’t complaints about packaging or pricing are often nothing more than book reports. The same is true on sites like Goodreads.
I’m not sure if book reports are thing anymore. At least, I don’t remember my kids having to do them. It’s too bad, really, because I’ve told my kids that it is perfectly acceptable to say you didn’t like a book in a book report, so long as you can provide the reasons. I suspect that they aren’t done because a lot of youngster are probably writing the reviews that appear on Amazon and Goodreads. Can you reuse a review you’ve written on Goodreads for your book report?
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