book reviews with unexpected style

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It took some time for me to figure out how I wanted to capture my thoughts on what I’m reading as part of my 100 books in 12 months project. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to slow down enough to write formal reviews, I decided to use a reading notes format where I keep a list of thoughts as I read, quote some lines that knock my socks off and include links to reviews and poems from each book.

While doing that for Donna Vorreyer’s Every Love Story Is an Apocalypse Story, I stumbled upon her non-traditional book review of Amorak Huey’s Boom Box.

The review is a sketch. That’s it. That’s the whole thing.

And I loved it.

She tells us a lot about the book with quick impressions and short quotes and, of course, an image that aligns with the book’s title. She sketched a cassette tape along with the folded, detailed card stock inserts that — back in *my* day — served as “album” cover for the cassette… and lyrics, if we were lucky.

Donna’s nontraditional book review delighted me, as I was already curious about inventive ways to respond to the books we read. I had written a nontraditional review to an essay collection a couple years back, but I had no idea what else was out there. With this blog post, I attempt to correct that.

I used Twitter to put out a call for examples, and I got some really great responses, albeit from a small group of people. Huge thanks to Donna Vorreyer, Renée E. D’Aoust and Kathryn Cowles for their responses and kudos to journals like Rhino Poetry,* The Rupture, River Teeth and Tinderbox Poetry for publishing such unique reviews.

I’d love to expand this list and include additional selections (especially video!), so feel free to contact me with additions or link to them in the comments. In the meantime, here are some of the types of creative, nontraditional book reviews** I discovered, along with linked examples:

UPDATED AS I FIND EXAMPLES (most recently, August 16, 2020)


Correspondence (a series of letters)

A narrative using primarily titles of poems in the collection

Lyric essay

Lab report with hypotheses, data points & conclusions


* Since so many of these reviews come from Rhino, I reached out to the editors to dig into some history/background and the philosophy behind opening up to these reviews, and I’ll add that commentary when it’s received.

** Note that I’ve only included reviews published in journals/magazines but have not restricted it to poetry reviews.

*** Yes, I included my own example. I trust you’ll survive this act of blatant self-promotion.


  1. This reminded me of that time so long ago before facebook took over our connections – people I met through online communities and the way we responded to each other’s work. Dave Bonta did a “review” of one of my books that consisted of response poems. Very exciting. Can’t wait to read these examples.

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