I just finished reading a book review sent to me by a great Arizona lawyer. And I was pleased to discover that it was a terrific read and on a topic that fits Arizona Attorney Magazine. We’ll run it in an upcoming issue.

And that reminded me about how much I like book reviews—when they are executed well.

Here is another review in the September issue of the magazine. It’s written by Judge George Anagnost, a frequent contributor.

If you read Judge A’s review, you’ll spot some of the elements that make a good review:

  • It tells its own story; it is not a forced march, chapter by chapter, through the volume.
  • It evinces an understanding that a book review is still a magazine article, which needs somewhat of a narrative arc.
  • It contains an author’s voice, rather than relying on the importance or prestige of the subject-book.
  • It ties the book to contemporary issues, recognizing that readers will wonder, “What does this have to do with my life?”
  • It reviews a recent book, rather than waits until the book is old and stale.
  • It is written well and in a tone that matches the volume reviewed, rather than sounding like a high school book report (no offense to my high school readers).
  • It is not a review of a textbook, or of a practice-specific volume, which would better serve a subset of Bar members.
  • It’s brief—or at least brief-ish. The New York Review of Books we ain’t, so a book review for us has to be a delightful break rather than a full-fledged escape. Aim for 700 to 1,200 words. Readers and I will thank you.

Given my own criteria above, you’re likely to see a good number of history books reviewed. I do enjoy history, and I’m hoping readers do too. (Here is one exception, a charming review of Reading the Green: The Real Rules of the Game of Golf by lawyer Faith Klepper. She describes the book—concisely—and leaves no snark unturned. It’s not quite history, and it’s maybe a little specific of a topic, but golf, lawyers and humor seemed a perfect mix.)

But any review, even a treatment of history, that doesn’t touch on the modern day, or that doesn’t “reach” readers in a deeper way, will not make it into print—at least, not at Arizona Attorney. Instead, those authors get a polite “decline to publish” letter.

Do you have your own ideas for books to review? Contact me anytime at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

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