Writing Reviews

When writing a book review, do you use present or past tense?
This is a frequently asked question, one which I used to ask myself often too.

I start off writing book reviews using present tense and have been doing so ever since. However, along the way, I do have doubts on whether I am doing the right thing. So, one day, I decide to check it out and pen down the correct approach here, to reaffirm myself as well as for the benefit of anyone who reads it.

The correct approach is to use present tense to relate the events or restate any action that takes places in the book.

However, in regard to your own opinion, there is no hard and fast rule, that is to say, no right or wrong way. You can use a more flexible approach when stating your own reaction, although my choice of preference is to remain in the present tense as much as possible.

You may then ask, why the use of present tense is the correct approach?

This is because according to the academic guidelines for literary analysis, a literary work is a living thing. Say each time you read a book, you are actually replaying the events of the book and responding to them with your emotions: love, joy, happiness, sadness, anger, guilt, fear, relief, hope, etc. The events and happenings on the page that you are reading are taking place in the present, as are your reactions. To you as the reader, the book is always alive. For that reason, it is only grammatically correct to discuss the work in question in the present tense.

A work of writing cannot die. Hence, it should never be put across as a thing of the past, that is, in the past tense. For easy understanding, imagine the work of art as a person. We use present tense because it is in the here and now.

The work of writing always exists in the present, and your appraisal exists in the present. As a result, it is appropriate that your review of that writing be carried out in the present tense. Though exceptions may apply in special circumstances whereby past tense is deemed to be more suitable, in most cases, reviews should always be written in the present tense.

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