The Art of Assessment: How to Review Anything by Magdalena Ball makes quite a promise in its title, and Ball proves true to her word.
Employing her considerable experience as a reviewer and radio host through The Compulsive Reader, the author takes us through the qualities necessary in a professional reviewer, finding the products to assess, writing our findings in a clear, thoughtful, and substantiated way, honing our skills, and getting our reviews published—whether we are starting out or breaking into the professional leagues.
Ball gives advice for reviewing books (including sections on poetry, biography, children’s, how-to and academic works), concerts, CDs, film/video, restaurants and other products (including a section on mystery shopping). There are also sample reviews with sidebars; an ample section on interviewing authors to add depth to reviews; and two chapters delineating where we can get paid. (My favorite chapter was “Expert Opinion: Interviews with Successful Reviewers”.)
I can’t confirm that The Art of Assessment is a “complete guide to writing and publishing reviews of anything” (as the preface states) without having read other books on the subject for comparison, but this book has assisted me with my first music review, documentary review, and in forming better book reviews. It reminded me of the “heart” of what I do and why, and while I have not yet read the books the author recommends for reviewers, I consider this one my bible. (There are no sections for travel reviews, or on the organization required to be a reviewer, but in a recent interview Ball shares many resources for these areas.)
The paperback is excellent as a reference to quickly find various resources and tips, and the sidebars are useful. The Kindle version is also worth purchasing, as the convenience of always having the book to hand, and making use of the Bookmarks and Notes feature of the Kindle, will allow one to find specific points of interest, but the sidebars are not as well defined.
When I asked Ms. Ball how a good assessment might be considered an art form, she replied: “I think that writing a good assessment is like any kind of writing—there is always an element of art in it—the sense of what works and what doesn’t; the “ear” that a reviewer develops by close, active reading. It’s also a skill, which can be learnt to a certain extent, but the creative element—the building of a new piece of writing; determining the overall approach; the theme of the review, and writing something that does justice to the work itself—is art.”
To that end, we are empowered to discover for ourselves what comes with life practice, and Ball shares what can be taught in short, pithy chapters, often backed with several resources. (These are invaluable as new reviewers are inundated with information online and by social consensus, but rarely armed with knowledge of how useful such information is.)
[The Kindle is $3.99 for a limited time.]