Book Blogger Appreciation Week: Burnout

Book-blogger-1-768x768Book Blogger Appreciation Week is back, friends! Ana, Jenny, Heather, and Andi have taken over the reigns from Amy, who had to stop organizing the event in 2012 because it takes so much work. A lot has changed in both my blogging life and my life… life in the last four (!) years, so I’m excited to participate this year.

Today’s prompt is:

One of the unfortunate side effects of reading and blogging like rockstars seems to be a tendency toward burnout. How do you keep things fresh on your blog and in your reading?

When it comes to my reading, I’ve always had a rule where I can’t read the same genre twice in a row, which has turned out to be a remarkably solid foundation for my reading. I’ve never really had a point in my life where I just didn’t feel motivated to pick up a book, really.

But as for blogging… my main advice? Do it for you.

As I mentioned yesterday, I find procedure and structure really soothing. And I always get such a rush when I figure out a new routine. But, if I’m not careful, I can lock myself into that procedure or routine even if it no longer works.

Case in point: there was a point when I was posting three book reviews a week, while I was in college and had the time to do so. (Plus, I was reading books for class, which I also reviewed, so I was basically reading in every aspect of my life.) There came a time when I realized that this wasn’t sustainable, and then, a little later, I realized that I could just… change it. I was in charge of my book blog. It can be whatever I want.

So I changed it. And I started reviewing movies, too, and some television, because that started to make sense to me.

At the end of the day, book blogging—or movie blogging or whatever kind of blogging you’re up to—is whatever you make of it. If it becomes a burden or obligation, then you’re just going to burn out faster and start dreading it. And that’s probably not the reason you started blogging in the first place, right?

So have fun and do it for you—don’t blog a certain way because you think that’s how it has to be or someone told you to.

Book Blogger Appreciation Week: Connectivity

Book-blogger-1-768x768Book Blogger Appreciation Week is back, friends! Ana, Jenny, Heather, and Andi have taken over the reigns from Amy, who had to stop organizing the event in 2012 because it takes so much work. A lot has changed in both my blogging life and my life… life in the last four (!) years, so I’m excited to participate this year.

Today’s prompt is:

How do you stay connected to the community? Examples: social media, regular commenting, participation in blog events, etc. Tell us your faves!

I actually consider myself kind of quiet in the book blogging community and online in general. Ever since I first tricked my way onto the Internet at the dawn of the millennium, I’ve largely been a lurker. What I really love about blogging is that it’s up to you, really, how involved you want to be. When I first started in 2009, I felt really burdened by the obligation to keep tabs on everything. (I’m a bit of a completionist and my anxiety finds procedure really soothing, so I have to be careful that I don’t lock myself into a Portlandia technology loop instead of actually achieving my goals.) But once I realized that I could book blog however I wanted, I actually started participating a lot more!

I do have a Twitter account, which is useful for chatting with book bloggers I already know, but largely, commenting is how I stay connected to the community and expand. Since I’m a book blogger, I know how much a comment can make my day, so I try to pass that along.

But although the majority of bloggers I follow use WordPress, there’s no standard platform, which makes tracking comments hard. So I’ve come up with a system of my own to let me keep track of comments I’ve made. It’s not very complex. I use Notational Velocity, a tiny notes app for Mac, but you could use any word processing app for the operating system of your choice. I just keep a list of every comment I’ve left in it, and I clear it out every Sunday when I go through the comments left on my blog and anywhere else I’ve been blogging that week.

Book Blogger Appreciation Week: Recommendation

Book-blogger-1-768x768Book Blogger Appreciation Week is back, friends! Ana, Jenny, Heather, and Andi have taken over the reigns from Amy, who had to stop organizing the event in 2012 because it takes so much work. A lot has changed in both my blogging life and my life… life in the last four (!) years, so I’m excited to participate this year.

Today’s prompt is:

What have you read and loved because of a fellow blogger?

The most recent book that blew my mind and came to me from a fellow blogger was Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours, which Ana at the Book Smugglers gave a glowing review. I actually hadn’t heard anything about it until it was on the Book Smugglers.

And it is—it is so dark and so bleak and so good and so necessary. I don’t want to say that the subject matter is so delicate that I would only read this if someone I trusted recommended it, because feminist dystopian fiction is a very real genre. But it was really nice to read a review of the book from a quarter that got what O’Neill was trying to lay down, whether or not the blogger liked it or not. (Ana liked it, obviously.) One of the things that I really appreciate about book blogging is that you get a taste for other people’s tastes, which makes recommendations a lot less fraught. I know that I can trust the Book Smugglers for feminist-minded sf, and I’m not just saying that because they let me yell about Knightriders for Smugglivius.

Or maybe my books to read spreadsheet has just spiraled so far out of control that adding recommendations is no longer a source of anxiety for me. I’m not going to read everything on that list before I die, let me tell you that right now.

Book Blogger Appreciation Week: Introduction


Book Blogger Appreciation Week is back, friends! Ana, Jenny, Heather, and Andi have taken over the reigns from Amy, who had to stop organizing the event in 2012 because it takes so much work. A lot has changed in both my blogging life and my life… life in the last four (!) years, so I’m excited to participate this year.

Today’s prompt is:

Introduce yourself by telling us about five books that represent you as a person or your interests/lifestyle.

I thought this was going to be an immensely difficult question, honestly, but when I sat down to make my short list, I realized that picking five books to represent myself wasn’t the same as picking my five favorite books of top notch quality (although all five on this list are of top notch quality). It’s like how my favorite musical is Rock of Ages. It’s not a very good musical, but it is my favorite, and you will glean a lot about me from that fact.

Either that or I have managed to evolve into a recognizable brand over the last four years: your friendly neighborhood weird queer fannish auntie.

So, in no particular order:

Gossamer Axe
by Gael Baudino

Gossamer Axe is a queer pagan rock and roll feminist fantasy published in 1990. If that doesn’t sound totally rad to you, then we are very different people.

The Sundering
by Jacqueline Carey

Okay, this is a cheat, because The Sundering is a duet, composed of Banewreaker and Godslayer, but it ultimately functions as a single novel—much like The Lord of the Rings, which it beautifully deconstructs.

Textual Poachers
by Henry Jenkins

I’m a reader-response theorist by training and a fan by inclination, and Jenkins’ first major book on media studies was a major touchstone for me in college while I was writing my thesis. I remain over the moon that my personal copy of this book is both from a thrift store I worked at in high school and has the original cover featuring the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation as knights.

The Magician’s Book
by Laura Miller

I’ve cooled on Miller in recent years, through no fault of her own—I’ve just had to seriously assess my pop culture intake, what with that darned day job and everything. But The Magician’s Book, wherein she explores her relationship with The Chronicles of Narnia, is still a very important book to me and a fantastic example of how making criticism personal makes it even better.

Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste
by Carl Wilson

A writer’s quest to find out why Celine Dion is so successful and yet so critically reviled ends up becoming both a call for dialogue-focused criticism that cops to its inherent subjectivity and a beautiful treatise on the nature of love. This is one of my favorite books of criticism that’s also kind of about criticism.

Book Blogger Appreciation Week: The Week in Review

Share a highlight of this year’s BBAW. Whether it’s a blog you discovered or a book you’re going to read or a way you felt refreshed, this is the day to celebrate the week!

I wish I had been a bit more active this week, but school, work, and rehearsal scheme against me, as they often do; it’s the reason I always schedule posts in advance! I have been enjoying myself and enjoying finding new blogs to read, though, even if it’ll take me a while to get around to giving them the attention they deserve.

But I think the highlight of this week, besides the love and support pouring from every corner of the wonderful book blogging community, was this quote from Teresa’s Wednesday post:

Another thing I love about book blogging is that it’s open to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. To be a book blogger, you don’t need a literature degree, you don’t need to provide a list of qualifications, and you don’t have to be part of the New York literary scene. All you need is an opinion and a willingness to write it down. Maybe not everyone will like what you write, but with time, perseverance, and a little good luck, you’ll probably find at least a few people who are interested. I love that in the book blogging world you can find academics taking reading suggestions from high school students and accountants sharing literary insights with attorneys. That kind of level playing field is all too rare.

I apply critical theory wherever I go, over the cries of people saying “it’s just a movie!” or “don’t worry about it” or “not everything has to mean something” (someone actually said that to me, that is not a generic example). For me, it’s a way of life, and one that is accessible to everyone, not just academics. What Teresa has wrote above is brilliantly and blindingly true; here, in this space, we can examine books freely, sinking our teeth where we will, handing them off to each other, and having discussions where (le gasp!) we might not agree with each other but we respect each other’s points of view.

That’s not only the highlight of my week, I think it’s the highlight of my blogging experience. Shine on, you crazy diamonds.

Book Blogger Appreciation Week: Underappreciated

One of the best parts about book blogging is the exposure to books and authors you might never have heard of before. Pimp the book you think needs more recognition on this day. Get creative! Maybe share snippets from other bloggers who have reviewed it or make some fun art to get your message across.

When I’m pressed to recommend amazing books, I have two go-tos: the first, The Magician’s Book, is pretty well-loved in the book blogging community. The second boasts four reviews when plugged into the book blogger search engine, and three of those are mine or my fault. The winner is clear: ladies and gentlemen, I give you Banewreaker.

Jacqueline Carey is one of my favorite writers, but jumping into her Kushiel novels can be a bit daunting—while they’re split up into trilogies, there’s nine of them, not to mention their high page count. There’s also her Santa Olivia series, which I haven’t read yet, but they’re her foray into science fiction and Carey, from my limited experience, is best with a world she can fully manipulate. There’s a lot of reasons to start with Banewreaker when approaching Carey, but the biggest one is that you have to respect a woman who takes on The Lord of the Rings.

As you may have guessed, I am a huge The Lord of the Rings freak. (A distant relative once teased me for the fact that my blog’s tag cloud features Tolkien’s name more prominently than Austen; I cannot imagine why she thought the reverse would be true.) I’m also a huge fan of fantasy deconstructions, as it’s a genre whose formulas are ripe for the taking—think Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and Mike Carey’s brilliant comic The Unwritten. Bringing the two together was music to my ears. So I was already up for what Carey was dishing out before I picked up the book.

Banewreaker is actually part of the duet The Sundering; essentially, a novel in two parts, Banewreaker and Godslayer. Even put together, the page count barely touches one of her Kushiel novels, but it’s deceptively slim. By taking the world of The Lord of the Rings (deconstructions require similar conditions in order to go about their business) and giving it a moral depth I’ve only seen in A Song of Ice and Fire, Carey comes up with a human and heartbreaking deconstruction of Tolkien’s novel, focused on individual agency and the tragedy of it all.

I do recommend having read The Lord of the Rings beforehand in order to fully appreciate what Carey does here, but other than that, get thee to the library and introduce yourself to the wonderful writing of Jacqueline Carey.

Book Blogger Appreciation Week: Meaning

What does book blogging mean to you?

I don’t have a good memory. I’m not sure why, although I’ve a sneaking suspicion it’s something I developed out of pure spite as a child, because I was a pretty awful kid. (Thankfully, my involvement on my high school’s Debate team was a two year long punch in the face that I thoroughly deserved.) I also think it’s related to the art of compartmentalization; in The Magician’s Book, Laura Miller argues that a reading child, which I barely qualified as (I read the same books over and over again, like a nervous tick), ends up being very good at compartmentalization. If it’s not immediately relevant, the logic goes, I don’t need to worry about it. While that does wonders for my stress level, it’s not that great for my memory.

I joined my high school’s book club after my involvement with Debate ended, partially because The Count of Monte Cristo, one of my favorite novels, was one of the options that month. Sitting in on the discussion, however, I realized that I couldn’t remember that much about a novel I had honestly loved. Between that and the stagnation of my fannish presence online, I began to write movie and book reviews and post them there. And then… everything sort of opened up. By writing about the books I’d read, I was enjoying them more. Part of the reason my online handle is The Literary Omnivore (Nicki calls me “Omni”, which I think is super-cute) is because I tend to think in food metaphors, and being able to pick clean the bones of the books I read is something that I can’t do without now.

Over the summer, I kept wandering into Book Nook, a used media store in Atlanta. (It’s very good; my only complaint is that they don’t sell individual bag and board for their comics.) They’ve got gorgeous shelves upon shelves of used books, which I wander not only to look, but also to rest myself; I find nothing more rejuvenating than wandering bookshelves. Anyway, while digging through a box of old Asimovs, I ended up making small talk with a woman picking through the shelves. She picked a book off the shelf, and started wondering if she’d read it before or it was an author she wanted to read. I wanted desperately to preach the virtues of book blogging, but I instead just told her that she might want to make a list so it doesn’t happen again.

Book blogging is both of those things; keeping a record of what I read and being a better and more engaged reader. And it’s the second that requires the book blogging community. Without other bloggers to gauge myself against, I might never have pushed myself to read more nonfiction or, horror of horrors, never read The Magician’s Book and fallen in love with Laura Miller’s writing. Even in just the act of reviewing books and being our own readers, we push and challenge each other in constructive ways. And that’s what book blogging means to me.

Book Blogger Appreciation Week: Interview

In case you didn’t have a chance to sign up for an interview swap or your partner fell through, please feel free to answer these questions in place of an interview!

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?

Oh, I’m almost always reading while I eat. (There was a great piece about this in The New York Times Magazine many years ago, but I’ve since lost it.) If I’m alone, there’s a book in front of me. Perhaps it’s bad for digestion, but I’m already lactose-intolerant, so what’s the worst that can happen? But perhaps my favorite reading snack is an apple—a big, conventional red apple the size of my head, to the eternal dismay of my parents, who like to buy organic fruit. Otherwise, food in general. Food in general is my reading snack.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?

As a kid, I would regularly go on rampages through my brother’s beautiful and imported copies of Asterix with a crayon and my tiny, furious fists. (I also ate LEGOs.) I was rightfully punished, to such a degree that I cannot bring myself to write in any books. Also, most of my books come from the public library; leave it better for the next person, as my father says.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?

Bookmark; usually a four by six notecard, but I’m out at the moment, so I’m making due with a three by five.

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?

BOTH! Always both!

Hard copy or audiobooks?

Hard copy. I’m not an aural learner, so I can’t get as much meat off the bone with an audiobook as I can with the actual text in front of me. Plus, I like to write down quotes and occasionally review what I’ve read. With an audiobook, I can zone out and never recover.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?

At any point. I’m always cramming reading into my weird schedule, so I need to be flexible.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?

I usually write it on the back of said five by six notecard to look up later, but I’ve been woefully behind lately.

What are you currently reading?

I just had to return everything on my desk to the public library, so it’s A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh. I love and adore Brideshead Revisited, but Waugh didn’t, so we’re going to see how this goes.

What is the last book you bought?

Probably a school book. But the last book I bought of my own free will was a gloriously old-school paperback of Mary Renault’s The King Must Die at a Unitarian rummage sale; the pages have antiqued green, it’s gorgeous.

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?

I can read more than one, as long as they’re in different formats; a hard copy, an audiobook, and a digital book on my computer, for instance, which is the usual balancing act.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?

I read at any time and in any place. But I do like reading straight through twilight, curled up on a sofa and pretending its a chaise lounge. Pity I haven’t a sofa at the moment.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?

Stand alones, because I feel like a well-written series is incredibly rare, because no one understands proper series structure anymore. (Pro-tip: it’s a series of novels, not one novel serially released. The Lord of the Rings is a single novel. You’ve been working off of a lie!)

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?

The Magician’s Book, Laura Miller. Don’t even ask; just get your hands on a copy.

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)

Fiction by author’s last name, and nonfiction by Dewey Decimal. If I go to grad school, it’ll be for library science. I need to start on those applications, by the by…

Book Blogger Appreciation Week: Appreciation

Appreciation! There are no awards this year, but it can still be hard to navigate the huge universe of book blogging. Share with your readers some of the blogs you enjoy reading daily and why.

Oh, gosh.

I actually kind of dread this question every year. I’m the kind of person who just wants everybody to get along, man, and when I’m asked to single someone out of a crowd of favorites, even for something awesome, I get uncomfortable. What to do? Well, what would Wonder Woman do? Avoid it entirely by pointing out how awesome everyone on my reading list is, of course. (Not that I’m saying Princess Diana avoids stuff. I am saying she loves everybody pretty much equally.)

A Dribble of Ink: Aidan’s writing is thoughtful, measured, and casual, and it’s nice to get news from the world of speculative fiction with a personality.

A Striped Armchair: Eva’s enthusiasm for multicultural literature is absolutely infectious and radiates through her writing. Although chronic illness keeps her from blogging regularly, she still keeps at it—which is good, because I love to see her posts!

Active Voice: The book blogging home of Jessica Plummer and Becky Allen, two good friends who are also just awesome. They focus on children’s and young adult literature, but never give it a pass for its audience, holding it up to exacting standards. While they don’t blog regularly, I still perk up every time I see an Active Voice review on my feed.

Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog: Anastasia, like me, is omnivorous when it comes to books, which feels rarer than it should. Her reviews are concise and fun, especially her bonbon-sized mini-reviews.

Bonjour Cass: One time Cass and I tweeted several puns based on the names of American Presidents to each other. I think that’s really all you need to know about how cool Cass is.

Fyrefly’s Book Blog: I featured Nicki last year during Book Blogger Appreciation Week, and everything I said still applies.

Jenny’s Books: Jenny took the summer off, and I missed her funny, warm, and snarky reviews—I’m so glad she’s back.

lady business: The blog’s subtitle is “THIS IS FEMINISM X IT IS NOT SCARY PET THE PRETTY FEMINIST PONY XX”. Bloggers Ana, Jodie, and Renay aim a feminist lens at pop culture and media, including novels, and what they dig up is always fascinating. Some book blogs are records; this book blog is a call to action. Love it.

Regular Rumination: I am not a poetry person. Lu is. The fact that I can understand her passion for poetry through her writing is, I think, a testament to her writing skills.

Laura Miller @ Technically, it’s not a book blog, but Laura Miller’s writing on books is so clear, considered, and just generally amazing that I can’t let her go without a mention. Her book, The Magician’s Book, is genius. Try the blog or the book, you won’t be disappointed.

Shelf Love: Friends Teresa and Jenny share their reviews with each other and the world, covering an impressive breadth of books with thoughtful but distinctive writing styles.

Stella Matutina: Fun fact: I always say “Stella Matutina” to the tune of Frere Jacques. Ding dang dong, people. Anyway, Memory is an omnivore with a taste for fantasy, a passionate blogger, and she turned me onto writing people actual letters, on paper and everything, so she’s pretty cool.

The Feminist Texan [Reads]: Melissa likes feminism, donuts, and Junot Diaz. She is a winner. Plus, she tends to read books that I wouldn’t ordinarily pick up, so her blog is a great way for me to keep an eye on books outside of my comfort zone.

things mean a lot: Ana, who also blogs at lady business, just took a blogging break in order to relocate, so I’m going to be missing her thoughtful and academic reviews until she gets back. Plus, she also sharpens her critical teeth on cult television, which I think we should do more as a community.

And that’s the lot of them! These are the blogs that are actually on my RSS feed, that I actually look forward to reading, and that, at least in my head, make up my book blogging community. I hope to meet more this week!

BBAW 2011: Blogging

The world of blogging is continually changing. Share 3 things you are essential tried and true practices for every blogger and 1-3 new trends or tools you’ve adapted recently or would like to in the future.

I recently wrote a Sunday Salon on this very topic; I’ll cover some of it here, but if you’re interested in what I think is the essential toolkit for the aspiring blogger, take a look.

The three tried and true things you’re going to need is a basic knowledge of HTML, an RSS Feed Reader, and patience. Can’t stress that last one enough. A basic knowledge of HTML is just good manners, quite frankly; nothing makes me hit the back button faster than finding naked links scattered haphazardly around the page. I’d compare it to the basics of grooming; it’s not a bad faux pas, of course, but it’s akin to not brushing your hair or sleeping in your make-up. You’ll be able to go places, but you’ll look messy and like you don’t care, you know? An RSS Feed Reader is essential for keeping up with the blogs you follow, even beyond the book blogosphere. Google Reader is a popular option for an in-browser reader. Brief is a Firefox add-on that I quite liked a while back. If you want a free application for your computer, FeedDemon is a popular choice for PC users, and Mac users will probably like NetNewsWire, which I myself use. It truly makes keeping on top of blogs you want to read easier. And patience is essential, especially when you get negative comments. Getting angry will only make you look like a lunatic; a thoughtful comment that treats your negative commentator like an adult makes you look beyond classy. Kill ’em with kindness, you know what I mean?

I’ve recently added to my toolkit comment trackers, which I talked a bit about on Tuesday. These are websites like CoComment and co.mments that will track comments on any post on any blogging platform, which allows you to keep up with the discussion. While searching for a way to track my comic books (which I ultimately found in StashMyComics), I discovered a Mac application that’s essentially iTunes for your physical books called Book Hunter; it’s a nice way to keep track of your library, especially if you’re parted from it a lot like I am, and there’s also a mobile app for your phone so you can double check if you already have a book, which has happened to me once or twice. But the biggest discovery I’ve made between last year and now is Fluid. It’s Mac-only, of course, but it’s amazing; it will turn any website into an application on your computer. These applications are essentially itty-bitty web browsers that will only go to, say, Google Calendar. I use this for my comment tracker and my to-do list (TeuxDeux, for the curious), and it’s beyond useful. If you use a Mac, I’d check it out.