What is the best way to critique a literary non-fiction?
It is easy for one to criticize people, processes, governments, etc. without necessarily adding value. Sometimes, such criticisms are done in bad faith.
In a work of art, however, this should not be the case. If you have decided to do a critique of a book, for instance, then try being genuine about it. Know how to do it right and then know the essence of the critique in the first place. Sometimes, when I read some critics (of books that I have read), I can’t help but wonder if they were referring to the same work.
Doing a critique for a movie is almost a picnic compared to that done for a book. The visuals and audio that come with the movie make the critic’s work look like a piece of cake. But with the written work, intelligence, a good eye, objectivity, a good understanding of tones and characters (for novels), a good understanding of subject matter, etc., come in handy.
Below are my guiding tips for being a better critic of non-fiction:
- First, have it at the back of your mind that the essence of the activity is to offer constructive advice and professional opinion. So, even if it is not the finest work you have read, ensure your contributions are invaluable and true.
- Know and understand the target audience for that book. This way, your assessment is accurate. Don’t critique a children’s book and assume the readers will be adults.
- Get a good grip of the message and how it is conveyed. Now, reflect on your understanding of the message, have an idea of how the reader will understand it, and then be the judge of whether the message was well conveyed. Are there grey areas? If there are, say so.
- After you have digested the general message of the book, do a grammar and semantic check. Look out for spelling errors, arrangement of words, ambiguous sentences, and then point them out nicely. True, some authors who present their work up for criticism are assumed to be immune to harsh analyses, but it behooves you as a professional critic to be humane about it. Before the negative criticisms begin to pour in, however, do the positives first; generally, it is natural for one to be disposed to a rebuke after they have been commended for one thing or the other.
- Do not go personal with the author. Deal with the work and not its writer. You are entitled to your opinion of the person of the author, but it is highly unprofessional to let this opinion come between you and the work. No personal attacks.
- Do a follow-up on the work, not necessarily with the author. Ask to know how well the work is coming up, if your contributions have been helpful and all that. This way, you show that your criticism was genuine, and for the good of the book out there.