Monday, June 4, 2012

Armchair BEA Day 1: Introductions

Today is Day 1 of the week-long Armchair BEA, a community event for book bloggers not attending Book Expo America this week. Each day we will post on a different, pre-assigned topic, visit each others' blogs and just generally share our enthusiasm for blogging about books. Today's topic is Introductions; instead of pairing bloggers for interviews, we've got a set of questions to answer for ourselves and read about others.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging?

My name is Marie; I trained as a librarian as a second career and now work as a bookseller at an independent bookstore in Cambridge, Mass. I've been blogging for almost five years (it'll be official in August). I guess I got into blogging to connect with other readers and to create a kind of digital calling card- here's what I do, what I read, how I write and what I'm interested in. I created the blog to have a sort of digital sandbox where I could mess around and invite others to come by and participate.

What are you currently reading, or what is your favorite book you have read so far in 2012?

I'm reading a bunch of books right now. My bedside book is Freedom in Exile, the autobiography of the 14th Dalai Lama. I'm in the middle of Pure, by Andrew Miller, a fantastic novel set in pre-Revolutionary Paris about a man who's brought in to demolish a cemetary, and Heat and Dust, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's 1975 Booker Prize winner about two women in India at different points in time.
They're all fabulous in their own ways. Pure is a great novel with a wry humor and sly, careful writing and I'm really enjoying it.

My favorite 2012 release so far is probably Patrick Flanery's brilliant Absolution. From the backlist, I loved The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Moffie, by Andre Carl van der Merwe. But I've read a lot of great books this year; I think 2012 is going to be a fantastic reading year overall.
Tell us one non-book-related thing that everyone reading your blog may not know about you.
Well, I'm pretty much an open book, so there isn't much, at least without getting very personal. I never learned to drive!

What is your favorite feature on your blog (i.e. author interviews, memes, something specific to your blog)?
My favorite thing is the Publisher Spotlight series. I wish I could get my act together to do more of them. I love interviewing publishers and authors and bringing attention to some of my favorite small presses.

Where do you see your blog in five years?
I don't know! That's a tough question because my blog has changed along with my life and who knows what I'll be doing in five years. Maybe I'll shut it down by then, or stop taking ARCs, or who knows. We'll see.

Which is your favorite post that you have written that you want everyone to read?
The post I want everyone to read is whatever book review I've written most recently. It's all about the books.

If you could eat dinner with any author or character, who would it be and why?
I would like to meet Amara Lakhous or Massimo Carlotto, because their books are crazy good and I'd love to meet the personalities behind some very idiosyncratic and off-beat books. Especially Carlotto, who I imagine must be a kind of maniac in real life.

What literary location would you most like to visit? Why?
I would like to visit Thornfield Hall if it existed. I adore the idea of big gothic houses with room after room after room and secret passages and such. Or Manderley, which is similar if more sinister.

What is your favorite part about the book blogging community? Is there anything that you would like to see change in the coming years?
My favorite part of the book blogging community is the friends I've made. I guess honestly I'd like to see it become less involved with the publishing industry- more independent. Right now it seems like lots of bloggers read all the same books, get all the same ARCs, compete for and brag about books, interviews, access, etc. I'd like to see book bloggers just do their own thing. And I guess that includes myself. I do all that stuff too, and I'd like to not do it but one does get both spoiled and star struck.

I'm tired of all the talk about negative reviews. I'm tired of being made to feel guilty if I don't like a book, and I'm tired of feeling like the publishing industry only tolerates our existence to the extent that we are willing to be mouthpieces for publicity departments. I would like more tolerance of diversity of opinions, less panic that a negative post on a blog will demolish the career and/or self-esteem of all the nascent Faulkners and Austens out there, less pressure to "say something nice or don't say anything at all." One thing I've learned is how small the book world is, and I know for a fact I've lost more-prominent and paid reviewing and writing opportunities because I'm not Polly Positive all the time. I guess that's the price I have to pay.

Recently I was offered the chance to do a readalong of an upcoming book by a very well-known, award-winning author. We're not talking debut here- we're talking about a literary star. Then I found out a publishing executive affiliated with the author nixed it due to fear of negative publicity. That's disappointing. This person's success and celebrity would not be affected one iota by a negative blog review. Ridiculous.

Have your reading tastes changed since you started blogging? How?
No. Not really. I've always had lots of interests though blogging has given me more knowledge about publishing and more incentive to try genres like science fiction and crime fiction. But I still like serious literary fiction, small presses and translations. And I'm always happiest when I eschew the latest-and-greatest and go back to my reading roots.

Go to Armchair BEA Central for more posts from other Armchair participants!


rhapsodyinbooks said...

You are so right about "the publishing industry only tolerates our existence to the extent that we are willing to be mouthpieces for publicity departments." I have been amazed over (a) all the unrelenting pressure to read and review then **coupled with** all the hostility and "that's it for you" sort of attitude when you don't gush over the book. On the other hand, I'm also amazed that I haven't totally committed to saying no to doing any reviews! LOL But I'm close. I think it's like dieting though. You know you won't be happy AFTER saying yes to that piece of chocolate cake, but it's so hard not to go ahead and grab it. I've just got to get more willpower (in both areas!)

Audra said...

This year I've really slowed down my reviewing because while I read so many books last year, in the end, I felt like I'd eaten a lot of junk. My reading wasn't as diverse as I'd like and I feel you on the same ARCs over and over -- I hate feeling boring and predictable.

I try to be fair when I do a negative review but I do feel some pressure to remain positive -- and that's pretty stressful. It's so easy to be swept up in the industry thing -- esp as a new blogger -- free books! author interviews! traffic! -- but the novelty does wear off. Trying to find my 'voice' is important for me this year.

Thanks for being so candid and sharing your thoughts!

Jeanne said...

You know I agree about bloggers needing ever-more independence from publishers. But I do think it's important to evaluate both what a reviewer likes and doesn't like in the same review. I count it a success when I say I didn't like more things than I could find to like, and then one of the commenters says those things would actually attract her.

Andi said...

Well written, Marie. I said in my vlog today that I'd like to see less overall PRESSURE in book blogging in the coming years.

Bellezza said...

Visiting Manderly, now that's a great idea! I had no clue what to put for this question, so I skipped it entirely, but I so love Rebecca. Not her, the book. ;)

It's wonderful blogging with you, Marie, ever since you were my Persephone Secret Santa one year. I hang the ornament you included, of the Christmas wreath, on my tree every year.

As long as I'm off subject, this is a great background you have up! XO

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

I reread The Secret Garden as well this year, it was a childhood favourite and I was happy to see that it has stood the test of time.

I liked the section of the post where you talked about ARCs and book tours - like any new blogger I loved ARCs for a long time but now I'm starting to step back and make sure that I have the ultimate freedom over my reading schedule.

I'm a new follower of your blog :)
My introduction post

Ryan said...

I read The Secret Garden for the first time this year and ended up enjoying it way more than I ever though I would.

Hope you enjoy the week.

Kailana said...

My favourite part is the friends I have met, too. :)

Anonymous said...

I can't agree with you more on the book reviews. They are what matter to me the most in any blog. Your reviews have pointed some great reads in my direction.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Hi Marie, I'm not participating in the Armchair BEA, but reading all of the posts has been fun. It's always great learning a bit more about fellow book bloggers. I love how open and honest you are. I'm guilty of not always being able resist reading the latest books. I am trying to get better and read my older books.

Lisa said...

When it comes to writing reviews, I try very hard to be fair. Even if I didn't like it, I know there are people who will. So I just try to point out some good and some bad. It's a hard line to walk though.

I'm another who basically does their own thing. I just don't have time to do a lot of extra stuff though. I have gotten to read some awesome books though.

Laura Massey said...

Oh, I'd love to visit Thornfield, as well! That's a great choice!

Marce said...

I have been blogging for almost 3 years and you were my first follower :-)

What I have enjoyed about your blog is that it is different, you have your own voice and reviews books I haven't heard of which I appreciate.

I enjoyed your statement on the blogging community, negativity etc. I have also seen where popular authors won't do certain blogging events, I can't imagine, even if a few don't enjoy your work you are already a successful author, I found that odd also.

Susan's Literary Cafe said...

I agree with everything you said, I am glad I found you and are still here. Because your blog is different from most blogger, and is much more diversified. You are correct about the pressure, I am careful of stepping on toes sometimes. I love some of the smaller presses and have conversations about the publishing world works. I learned so much as well. There have been plenty of times that I just wanted to read a few books of my choosing, not what books are out, and buzz books. It nice to see older books reviewed and not pressured. Thanks Marie for your honesty.

Susan's Literary Cafe said...

By the way, I like your new look.

Unknown said...

Hi Marie, I'm Amy!

I'm still reading some of the Armchair BEA intros and other posts. I wasn't sure if I should comment since I'm so late but you've made so many here that I thought "yes, she's right" and "exactly" while reading" so here I go and I apologize for being unable to be brief (it just isn't in my blood!)

I read this comment of yours and completely related to it...unfortunately:
"Right now it seems like lots of bloggers read all the same books, get all the same ARCs, compete for and brag about books, interviews, access, etc. I'd like to see book bloggers just do their own thing."
I don't compete for or brag about books or interviews (in fact, interviews are smething I think I should try to do more of) but I am so annoyed that I backed myself into a corner with all of the review books I said yes too. Some of them are very good and I'm so glad I read them but more of them aren't. It irritates me to no end because there are so many amazing books I want to read and I don't have the time because I'm reviewing books I wouldn't normally read! Ugh!. I've written myself a note and put it by my desk SO I can learn to say NO!

A readalong of a well-known established author's book was nixed by a publishing exec because of possible negative reviews? Sheesh! I didn't realize this kind of thing happens or that the publishing industry was like that (I don't pay much attention to politics either). I don't like writing negative reviews because I feel badly for the author who, regardless of whether I liked the book or found it lacking, put in a lot of time and effort writing it, but if you want the good, you're going to have to take the negative as well otherwise just give your book to your friends. But I feel as long as I'm not unkind or nasty, I'm going to write what I thought...or what's the point?

I'm sorry that you've lost paid or more prominent opportunities for writing about books because you're not Polly Positive (great term/name!). I think that's ridiculous, wrong and it makes me sad that that kind of crap (excuse me) exists around books.

What you've said helps explain why there are so many books published that maybe shouldn't have been....I wonder how many got published!

You chose such wonderful literary locations to visit! I would love to join you on a visit to Manderley or Thornfield Hall with you!

I have more to say but I won't!

Anonymous said...

I really wished blogs weren't so in bed with publishers. I'll be honest and say that I really don't like when everyone posts about all the loot they get. I'd rather read about books, old and new, that you read or maybe picked up a sale or book signing. Also, if everyone is reading the same book then all the reviews run together.

Unknown said...

I agree with your thoughts on negative reviews. I had a blogger tell me that I was "really brave" to post one and two star reviews. If I took the time to read the book, I'm going to post a review whether I liked the book or not! I try not be overly snarky in a negative review but I'm still going to post it. One of the panelists at BEA said you should make sure you write something positive in your review for every negative thing you write. I didn't agree with that. Sometimes it's impossible!

Rachel @chaosisafriendofmine

Chrystal said...

I think you just reminded me that I need to read The Secret Garden again. :)