Recently, I looked back on the books I’d read over the last year.
Instead of feeling proud like I had expected to, I felt a bit of a sinking feeling in my gut…
For about 2/3 of the books I’d read, if someone were to ask me what the book was about, I wouldn’t have been able to give them a clear and thoughtful answer.
Instead, I probably would’ve babbled and gotten red in the face once I realized that I didn’t even remember the protagonist’s name or the argument’s key point.
Rather ashamed, I decided to finally implement a powerful self-education technique I’ve long neglected.
This year, I’m going to review every book I read. (aside from the ones I strongly dislike)
My 2024 Book Review Challenge
In 2024, I’m going to turn myself into the type of person who actually has something informed and interesting to say about every book they read, whether it’s a classic, a history book, a philosophical treatise, or a collection of essays or poems.
The reviews will be around 300-500 words.
And although each one will probably have a unique structure relating to my purpose for reading the book, all of them will at least answer the following questions:
- What were the main lessons you learned?
- What did you think of the book?
- What were your favorite parts and why?
My thinking is that alongside helping me become more knowledgeable about each book, the assignment of writing a review will also motivate me to take better notes and marginalia, read more carefully, re-read those notes, and think deeply about every book I read.
I’m sure that by reflecting on the book’s themes, characters, writerly techniques, ideas, arguments, events, etc., I’ll also remember more of the book, and it’ll change me on a more profound level than if I were to just toss it into my bookshelf and plow ahead to the next one.
10 Reasons to Review the Books You Read
If you’re thinking of doing something similar, I’d like to point out 10 benefits of reviewing books you read, based on my experience with the several I’ve done so far, and from what I’ve heard from readers much more advanced than myself:
1. You retain more of the book. Writing is a form of retrieval practice, a science-based tactic for moving stuff into your long-term memory. By writing a review, you’re also spending time with a few of the book’s main ideas, and considering them, which will make them more likely to stick.
2. You discover what you think about the book. It’s hard to know your opinion of a book until you sit down and write about your experience as a reader — what you liked and didn’t. Otherwise, your opinion remains hidden behind murky waters of vague feelings and thoughts.
3. It’s a documentation of your key takeaways and lessons. If you save your reviews somewhere, you can always refer to them to refresh yourself on the key things you learned and your opinion of the book.
4. You could make some side hustle money. If you put the reviews up on YouTube or a blog or Twitter you could make some affiliate income when people read your review and buy the book.
5. You’re encouraged to read the book more closely. When you know you have to review the book, you’ll take more notes, underline more passages, do more marginalia, and spend more time pausing and thinking about the book as you’re reading it (also helps with retention).
6. You’re forced to review your marginalia and notes. Before writing your review, you’ll probably want to re-read all the great notes you took, and so instead of forgetting what you said and underlined, you’ll revisit these things and commit them to memory.
7. You’ll have something to say about the book. When someone asks you your thoughts on the book, you’ll impress the hell out of them. I’m always impressed by someone who can articulate their opinion and pick out the specifics of what they loved about a book.
8. You’ll be more likely to apply its lessons. Whether it’s a practical how to guide or a work of literary fiction, the lessons the book contains will be more evident and accessible to you after you write a review, since you revisited them and thought about how to apply them to real life.
9. Someone could hire you to write book reviews. Recently I got a gig writing 400-word reviews for new books by independent authors. It doesn’t pay much, but it sounds fun, and maybe in the future I can use this gig on my resume to get better paying book review jobs.
10. You get to spend more time in a book you love. When you love a book, sometimes you don’t want to leave it. You want to return to those passages that made you weep, laugh out loud, or reconsider your worldview. Reviewing books gives you more heart to hear time with the book.
Review Your Favorite Books
I bet there are some books that stand out to you as the most impactful. Why not start with those?
Go grab your favorite book and write to people what it’s about and why they should read it, focusing mostly on how it changed you and your life for the better.
It doesn’t have to be long or follow a specific structure. Just make it your own! Let your opinion honestly flow and come into form on the page.
That’s what I did with my review of Martin Eden. I wrote 3 reasons why autodidacts should read Martin Eden.
And this was one of the samples I sent to the book reviewer company that gave me a freelance book review writing gig.
If you want to make reading a bigger part of your lifelong self-education, check out my article on 35 tactics I’ve used to become someone who reads 2 hours per day.