book review

Guidelines for the review of a novel

You have to hand in your review and compile a handout in order to receive full credit.  I will subtract 1 full grade for each day of late submission. If you do not come to class and hand in your handout only afterwards, you will receive no points for the presentation, so plan accordingly!  You are free to choose a different book or novel but check with me first. For the Introduction to Judaism class, I suggest the following:

  • Cara de Silva, In Memory’s Kitchen.
  • James McBride. The Color of Water. A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother.
  • J.Sanford Rikoon. Rachel Calof’s Story. A Jewish Homesteader on the Northern Plains
  • Helen Jacobus Apte/Marus D. Rosenbaum. Heart of a Wife. The Diary of a Southern Jewish Woman.
  • Nan Fink. Stranger in the Midst. A Memoir of Spiritual Discovery.
  • Mark Kurzem. Unraveling the Mystery of My Jewish Father’s Nazi Boyhood.
  • Stephen J. Dubner. Choosing my Religion. A memoir of a family beyond belief.


Your review should include both summary and evaluation (2/3 summary, 1/3 evaluation). The summary should give an overview of the book’s central thesis. Your critique assesses its strengths and weaknesses, and analyzes how this book addresses issues of Jewish identity (and which issues). Both should be presented in a measured and non-judgmental way.

Questions to address in the overview section(s) may include…

  • What is the book’s central thesis or argument?
  • What scope does the author choose to cover? What are its major and minor themes?
  • How does s/he go about it?
  • What is the authors’ viewpoint, approach, and/or stated methodology? What assumptions shape his/her work?
  • How and to what extent is the book relevant for our course?


Class conference and handout 5%

Be prepared to present your book in about five minutes to your group: its main arguments, characters, story line. Evaluate the book: does it convince? Bring your book to class, and prepare a handout that names the book, author, year, your name, and a brief analysis and synopsis, on one page.

Further suggestions can be found at

There are also several on-line collections of book reviews such as

Review of Biblical Literature (RBL)


Bryn Mawr Classical Review (BMCR)

You may be able to find reviews of your books. Feel free to consult them, but if you do so (1) indicate your use  (2) make sure that you form your own opinion [it is often better to read such reviews AFTER you’ve read the book and written at least a first draft of your own review]. Since reviewers are sometimes already wrapped up in debates with reviewees, other reviews are best for helping to illuminate the *reception* of a book, rather than what you should or should not think/feel about it.


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