Sunday, September 27, 2009

First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria by Eve Brown-Waite

Once upon a time, and you may remember this if you've been with me a while, before BBAW, I used to, you know, actually review a book from time to time. First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria has been patiently waiting on my desk for an opportune time that just hasn't come. Its very presence there has been causing me a good deal of guilt and strife. So much guilt, in fact, that I found myself thinking the other morning in the shower about reviewing it, and then I began writing, in the confines of my barely awake mind, what I considered to be an excellent review. Now, I consider myself to be a great multi-tasker, but writing reviews in the shower simply poses some logistical difficulties that are rather impossible to overcome, which is why I'm sitting here now with barely an inkling left in my memory of what it was that I was going to say in my fantastic "barely awake mind review" which means we'll have to settle for this mediocre barely awake blog review.

Eve's joining of the Peace Corps was a long time coming. When the "I'll-be-joining-the-Peace-Corps" line begins to get a little thin, she knows it's time to finally go through with it. She's got one problem, though. She seems to be falling for her clean cut, "epitome of a good guy" Peace Corps recruiter, John. As her departure date nears, she wants less and less to follow through with her pledge to spend two years in a developing nation and more and more to stay with her one true love. Unfortunately, scrapping the Peace Corps probably means scrapping her relationship with John anyway, so it's off to Ecuador for Eve. Once there, she finds the experience to be even less rewarding than she expected as she has more than a little difficulty convincing people to actually put her to work. Finally, she finds a niche taking homeless boys back to their families, but soon after an unexpected tragedy reveals a secret from her past that has her returning to states and her future husband.

The meat of this book, though, is when John takes a job with CARE in Uganda. Here Eve's committment is put to the test as she is forced to take a chance on another developing country and adjust to life in a rural Ugandan outpost noted for its excess of guerilla activity. Here Eve will learn that compared to everyone else she is rich, gigantic bugs are a daily reality, and malaria is much easier to come by than a telephone.

Brown-Waite has an easy, conversational writing style that invites us into a very troubled African nation without simply focusing on the trouble. Brown-Waite truly brings the people of Uganda to life for her readers. Her stories are often laugh out loud funny and point out the quirks and celebrate the culture of a nation, that though struggling, seems to be filled with an unexpectedly optimistic, joyful people. Unlike many memoirs of Africa, Brown-Waite's manages to reveal the many issues facing Uganda without marinating us in a dark, dismal reflection on the "unsolveable" problems of a nation afflicted with extreme poverty and disease.

First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria is a captivating and heartfelt love story of how Eve Brown-Waite fell first for a man and then for a nation. Brown-Waite's journey from inept bush housewife looking for a purpose to a thriving expat with a passion for this rather backward Ugandan community was a pleasure to read. Here's hoping that she is already busy writing about her adventures in Uzbekistan and beyond, as I would gladly go along for the ride!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Weekly Geeks: Burn Out?

This past week wrapped up Book Blogger Appreciation Week, in which I'm sure many of you participated. In two weeks will be Banned Books Week, in which I'm sure some of you also will participate. I'm also sure that many of you participated, and will participate, with at least a post per day, if not more, on your respective blogs.

Personally, after such weeks, I feel almost burnt out and think, "Why am I doing this? I'm not getting paid for this." Do you ever feel the same way after weeks like the ones mentioned above? If you do, what do you to counter it? How do you keep going? Do you take a break from posts after that, or do you just "soldier on"?

Or if you don't feel burnt out after such weeks, why not? Also why are you a book blogger? From what I've seen and experienced, it's certainly not the fame or the glory that you get. So what is it? Why? Why? Why?

What a timely question that will allow me to engage in some shameless mildly self-pitying navel-gazing! Honestly, I was thinking about this sort of thing as BBAW came to an end and we were asked to consider our goals. I had a great time with BBAW this year. I gave myself some extra time to spend, tried to participate more actively in the daily blogging themes, and it really paid off. I'm sure I discovered a bunch of great new blogs, and I had a great time getting out and about in the book blogosphere all week long.

That being said, though, as much as I enjoyed myself I found myself with a sort of underlying melancholy the whole week long. Even as I attempted to battle the feeling by entering a plethora of giveaways (if you're me, nothing beats bad moods like free sparkly new books!), I couldn't seem to shake it. Whenever events like this come along, I find that along with being excited and engaged, I also feel, well, not good enough. I see everybody's sparkly blogs with their zillions of reviews, their thought-provoking posts, their book reading totals at 100 or above for the year, their thoughtful and numerous comments on others' blogs, and I know I can't keep up, and then I wonder why I bother. What do I have to offer in the face of all that awesomeness? And I think this, and the fact that sometimes sustaining a blog along with all the other things that must be done on a day to day basis just begins to seem like an insufferable chore.

It's at these times that I'm most uninspired to write a good book review or comment on others' blogs. Why bother? I'm never going to have the time to do as good a job at blogging as I want to do, and something in my character just makes me hate doing things or feeling like I'm doing things only halfway. It's on these days, in a fog of undeserved self-pity, that I wonder if maybe I should just pack it in because I don't have anything better to offer here that hundreds of other book bloggers aren't already offering, and both my content and style are both sadly lacking in comparison to what blogs much much younger than my own are putting out. And hey, at almost two years old, this blog is already one of the things I've stuck with the longest of most of my extracurricular endeavors, so it wouldn't be so shameful if....

Ah, but wait, this is not a ploy to gather reassurances (really, it's not!) about the state of my blog and get everyone to tell me how awesome I am, and all that. As a matter of fact, I'd probably feel a little silly and more than a little guilty if you did. This is not a farewell post, not by a long shot, because, you see, I'm about to answer the second question, you know, the one about why I'm a book blogger.

Despite the fact that I don't read nearly enough of them, I love books. I love having them, I love knowing about them, I love making lists of them. I even love trotting out my poor neglected writing skills (use 'em or lose 'em, right?) to write reviews of them. Even so, I could love books all on my own, right? But I don't have to because, as it turns out, I love book bloggers, too. I love that there are all these people that get the same kick out of reading/listing/reviewing/owning books that I do, and I that they're all so nice, and I know that if I really packed it in, I would miss them (you!) all dreadfully.

One book blogger whose giveaway I entered this week asked us for our favorite book blogging moment which got me to thinking, really thinking. I mean, the new bookish friends, the books I never would have read without them, the wider community pulling together in pursuit of bookish goals, are all great. After some consideration though, I remembered the very beginning of of 2008, when my blog was yet young, probably not yet 3 months old, when I posted about a most unfortunate beginning to the year. It had nothing to do with books or blogging, just me all sad and frustrated and ranting at length. Even then, when, if you ask me, people had little reason to care about me at all, a whole bunch of bloggers cropped up in my comments section with an unexpected show of sympathy and encouragement that warms my heart even now. Nobody had to do that. Nobody had to care about me and what I was going through then.

I'm sure we've all come a long way since then, but even so, that is the type of community that we had then and the type of community we continue to have now, the community that crazy weeks like this last one has been celebrate. At the end of the day, when you strip away the stats, the ARCs this or that person got, the reading totals, the impressive giveaways, the pretty layouts, that sort of community is what counts for me and sustains me and helps me soldier on when the blogging blahs come knocking at the door. And, that community *meaningful pause* that is why I have been and will continue to be proud to be a book blogger.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Library Thing's been...Pirated?!?

Okay, so, this may be the most ridiculous thing ever to make a blog post about, but I was over consulting LibraryThing as I often do, and about an hour ago it was all normal as can be. I returned shortly thereafter for yet more consulting and the entire site had been "translated" into pirate-talk, in honor of Talk Like A Pirate Day, I imagine, which is, I think, tomorrow. If you haven't seen it yet, it's definitely something to be seen.

Honestly, I laughed so hard, my mother thought I'd finally gone off my rocker, and if I'd been drinking a beverage, which I thankfully wasn't, it would have been...everywhere. I'm not sure if it's because it's really that funny or if I just need, like, a lot more sleep. You be the judge!

P.S. It's even better if you've got an account and you're logged in.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

BBAW: Reading Habits

Whew! I'm a little late on this one, but today's BBAW activity is a little reading meme.

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

Potato chips. I'm a potato chip junkie.

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

I'm too horrified by the thought of writing in books to answer this question. Okay, seriously though, I don't mind writing inside the front cover like inscriptions or Bookcrossing info, but the idea of marking within the text still kind of scandalizes me. I'm much more of a post-it note sort of girl.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears?

Definitely not dog-ears. Ugh! I have a ton of beautiful bookmarks but still somehow end up marking my place with whatever junk happens to be at hand - old receipts, junk mail, used post-it note reminders to self. When I do manage to have the presence of mind to actually use one of my spiffy bookmarks it's usually one that I won from Nymeth because they are so super cool (and she made them!).

Laying the book flat open?


Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?

Both, but probably a little more fiction.

Hard copy or audiobooks?

Hard copy. I never have managed the audiobook thing. My dad and I even took a road trip across the country, and none of the ones we picked out ever made it into the CD player.

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?

Any point.

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

Nope. I usually write it down and then lose it/forget to look it up. =P

What are you currently reading?

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty

What is the last book you bought?

Walking with the Wind by John Lewis for Amy's Newsweek 50 Books For Our Times Project thingy. And it's very long. And I think I might be insane. Maybe it'll be a really good massive tome. I hope....

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

One in my bag to take to work and one at home. Lately I've been trying to have one ARC/review copy and one book from my considerable TBR pile going at once.

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

I like to read during my lunch break and generally shun the company of others to do so. My best reading, though, probably happens either in my bed or on the front porch with a glass of lemonade on a beautiful day.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?

Stand alones. I have a bad habit of reading the first in series, enjoying it, and yet still failing to read the rest of said series.

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

Hmmmm... The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy. The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. Oh, wait, you only wanted one? ;-)

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

I organize my books in such a way that the most will fit on the shelves. AKA - there is no organization, but "AHA! There is a hole big enough for this one!"

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

BBAW: Interview with Caitlin from Chaotic Compendiums

As part of the Book Blogger Appreciation Week festivities, we had the option of taking part in an interview exchange with another book blogger. I didn't manage to do it last year, but I'm excited to have the opportunity to try it this year. I'm extra excited because I got paired up with a blogger who is new to me, Caitlin from Chaotic Compendiums. She's got a great blog, and I'm sure I'll be adding a bunch of books to my wish list from her excellent reviews. I encourage you to get to know her a little bit better here, and then definitely head on over and check out her blog - you won't regret it! =)

First of all tell me about you. What's a a day in your life look like? What are you up to when you're not reading/blogging?

I am a transplanted Southerner living happily in the Bay Area. I work in Oakland for a very large not-for-profit healthcare provider where I have the privilege of managing various efforts related to quality of service. It's really nice to work for a progressive company & to do work that makes an actual difference to real people. I love my job & I love living here even though I can't get decent hush puppies.

What made you to decide to start blogging about books?

I've always been a voracious reader & I've off & on started writing down what I've been reading. I've always been sort of curious to know how many books I read in a year. I decided to try a book blog back in April this year & for whatever reason this time it took & I've been doing it ever since. It's been a lot of fun & has re-energized my reading in lots of different ways. I've also discovered scads of books I might not have read otherwise & have been happy to read many other book bloggers.

Has being a part of the book blogosphere changed what or even *how* you read?

As I said, this has in many ways re-energized my reading. I'd felt that I was in kind of a rut, reading a lot of the same stuff, but not finding new things that challenged me. Once I started blogging about books & reading other blogs I've found a lot of new authors & have expanded my reading considerably. It's been really fun!

Name me a book (or few?) that you've read (and enjoyed!) as a result of the the reviews or general chatter of other book bloggers:

Sophie's Choice, Empire Falls, & The Short Stories of Katherine Anne Porter - I read these as part of Rose City Reader's Sunshine Smackdown: The Battle of the Prizes Challenge. This was a challenge to read a National Book Award winner, a Pulitzer Prize winner, & a book that won both awards. Reviews are linked.

Another find was Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, a book I found recommended by Constance Reader's Guide to Throwing Books with Great Force.

Have you always been a (capital R) Reader? ;-) What book(s) do you have especially fond memories of from your childhood?

Absolutely. I have been reading voraciously since I learned to read at 3 or 4 years old. Favorite childhood books include: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (& making a movie of this book should be grounds for termination of life), Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander, The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Copper, & The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Reading & reading aloud to each other were a huge part of my growing up. I'm pleased to say that my son reads as much as I do & that most of our conversations start with, "So, I'm reading ..."

Tell me 5 "can't miss" book blogs that we should all be following:

Rose City Reader - She is list-obsessed & her blog is a great source for book lists of all kinds. She also reads a lot of really interesting books!
Constance Reader's Guide to Throwing Books with Great Force - Good writer, funny, interesting book list.
Stainless Steel Droppings - A beautiful blog with a quirky sensibility.
Serendipity - Vivienne's a British reader & scrapbooker & a faithful commenter on the blogs she reads.
Book Chase - Sam is an older gentlemen from Houston who reads a wide variety of books & reviews them, but who also writes on various topics about books & reading. I don't always agree with him, but his perspective is always refreshing.

Tell me 5 books you think everyone should read:

Just 5?! *grins*

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak - A classic read about imagination!
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn - Another classic. Kuhn argues that scientific advancement is a revolutionary not evolutionary process. He coined the term "paradigm shift" & reading him will change how you look at most things in the world, including how you see the nature of problem-solving & interpretation.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame - I read this book every spring, & when I was still living at home my mother & I read it aloud every spring. Aside from being a wonderful story filled with delightful characters it also contains one of the most beautiful chapters of a book ever written - The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
Andrew Lang's Coloured Fairy Books - Read these & you'll have a firm grounding in fairy tales & folklore that will illuminate most other things that you might read.
Sandman by Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean (& many other amazing illustrators) - Among the very best in storytelling & literature, an amazing comic (or graphic novel, if you prefer), & it's chock full of references to books Gaiman has read that are wonderfully fun to tease out.

Best book you've read this year thus far?

Best book this year is a tie: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver & The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. Each wonderful in its own way & very different from each other.

Worst book you've read this year thus far?

Worst is tied, too: Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin (dreadful, if mildly entertaining) & Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry (which was just dreadful).

Monday, September 14, 2009

BBAW: Spotlight on Book Blogs!

At long last, the much awaited and much prepared for Book Blogger Appreciation Week has arrived. In honor of the first official day, we're spotlighting and celebrating blogs and bloggers that for one reason or another (the 1000 or so nominations? the fierce competition?) didn't manage to make the official BBAW award short lists but are super awesome nonetheless.

I find myself in a bit of a conundrum because several of my usual suspects - you know, the bloggers I just love to sing the praises of - were actually honored with spots on shortlists. Ah, but hey, we all know of my love for Eva, Nymeth, Chris, and Raych. Good news, I've got plenty more book blogger praises to extoll, and I'm sure I'll be leaving a bunch out despite my best intentions, as is always the case when doing these sorts of things.

First, the other usual suspects. I would be remiss if I didn't mention some of my long time favorites...

Wendy the Literary Feline of Musings of a Bookish Kitty who has a knack for rekindling my interest in mysteries and crime fiction and is a great commenter. It's always a pleasure to hear from her both at her blog and in the comments at mine and others' blogs!

Debi of Nothing of Importance. I would be beating a dead horse to mention the complete inaccuracy of Debi's blog's name. I love Debi's chatty posts, her weekly blame game (someday I'll be on that list...I hope...), her book babbling, and her obvious pride in her three great kids. When she went on vacation, I honestly felt a little bereft.

CJ of My Years of Reading Seriously. I've "known" CJ since I was but a baby blogger, or at least it seems that way. She writes excellent reviews, but more importantly, sometimes it's just nice to check in and see what's going on her life and read about her adventures with her furkids. =)

I gotta mention Becky of Becky's Book Reviews, too. Even though she did grab a short list mention for her blog's design, which is great, I was a bit disappointed to see that that was the only one since her abundant and quality content is what lights my fire about her blog. I totally rely on Becky's great YA reviews. They're honest and to the point and have introduced me to a great number of books that I would otherwise be ignorant of.

Someone I don't mention enough that I've been following for a long, long time is Tara at Books and Cooks. She writes great reviews, has weekly pictures of the most delicious looking farmer's market produce, and her memoir week was just to die for.

Now for a few of my newer discoveries...

I was a little surprised to see that The Book Lady's Blog didn't manage to snag a spot on a short list. Rebecca's reviews are detailed and heartfelt, her Adventures in Bookselling posts are a laugh riot, and just about anything she writes is something I'm bound to find interesting.

Likewise with Jackie from Farm Lane Books. More great reviews of books that I'm nearly always interested in(are we noticing a trend here?). I've been particularly enjoying reading her reviews as she's been reading through the Booker Prize long list.

I've only just discovered Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea. I think we share some of the same reading tastes, and I'm convinced that her great reviews will be putting books on my wish list for a long time to come.

Likewise with Claire at Kiss a Cloud. After repeated mentions of this blog on several others that I read, I finally clicked over and saw what a great blog Kiss a Cloud is. I love Claire's bookish talk, her scrumptious bookish pictures, and her fabulous knack for picking the best passages to share that make me desperately want to read what she's reading!

Lastly, I don't even know how I happened upon it, but I greatly enjoy reading Gaskella. I can always count on great, thoughtful reviews here, often of books that I might never have heard of otherwise. Definitely one of my favorites of my more recent discoveries.

As I'm finishing up, I'm thinking of others I wish I had mentioned, but alas, this, like all of my posts is probably too long already. I'm still holding out for the debut of the BBAW award for "Most Needlessly Verbose." I mean, there's a "Most Concise" award - what about the rest of us that can't help getting carried away?

*sigh* I know my losing battle with Google Reader (which will undoubtedly become worse after this week's festivities) makes me a rotten lurker and lousy commenter, but I do appreciate all 10 of these and the many more blogs I (attempt) to read. All of you - please keep up the great work making my wish list grow and making the book blogosphere the best place to be!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Texicans by Nina Vida

Joseph Kimmel is a simple man, a man as content as a fur trapper as he is as a school teacher, a man who has never longed for the encumbrances of a wife and family. He is pleased to be without any obligation except to himself, that is, until a letter arrives in June of 1845 from Joseph's brother's business partner in Texas announcing his brother's death and extolling the virtues of Texas. Soon he sheds his humdrum life as a schoolteacher and sets out for Texas to settle his brother's estate and perhaps find some free land and adventure along the way. Suffice it to say that Joseph gets far more than he bargained for.

Robbed of his horse by an escaped slave, Joseph is discovered by one Henry Castro, a Frenchman determined to create a town of his own in Texas using sheer force of will and a pack of ignorant Alsatian settlers who he has convinced to come along for the ride. That's when things begin to get out of hand. Without intending to, Joseph stays a few years in Castroville and leaves with a wife he never intended to have and doesn't love as well as the very escaped slave that stole his belongings and landed him Castroville to begin with. As he travels across Texas in search of land and a relatively safe place to settle, Joseph finds himself "encumbered" with more and more people including another ex-slave with only one leg and his family as well as the intoxicating Aurelia, who is rumored to be a Mexican witch. After making a fragile peace with the local indian tribe, Joseph and his adopted family settle down to a life of ranching, but life on the frontier is fraught with dangers and tragedy will ultimately shape the lives of those that Joseph has learned to hold dear.

The Texicans is a well-written novel populated by a wide variety of quite three dimensional characters. The main characters, especially Joseph and Aurelia, the Mexican "witch," are believable and sympathetic. While reading this story, I kept envisioning Joseph as a John Wayne-esque sort of a character, a quiet loner of a guy, strong, competent, and independent but with a heart of gold that prevents him from casting off his unwanted entourage. His circumstances bring out a sort of begrudging heroism hidden behind his stony exterior. Aurelia's story brings out just the slightest bit of magical realism in a tale that mostly consists of a simple, hardscrabble existence in frontier Texas. The frontier itself is as much a character as the rest, casting the human characters in sharp relief against itself and shaping each of them with its power.

Vida has created a quiet story and one in which the characters only slowly make their way into your heart, and you only realize how deeply you care for them when tragedy strikes. Somehow, though, I didn't quite connect with it. There were a few times when I thought maybe I was making a connection, but they were short-lived. Perhaps it was the mood I was in when I read it or that the story seemed to peter out more than it seemed to definitively end. The epilogue seems almost tacked on as an afterthought to bring closure to a story so realistic that real closure is impossible. This is a novel that has very little artistically wrong with it, but one that, for me, failed to make the leap from a good story to a great one.

On a side note - I love the cover art on this. This is definitely something I would grab if I were just browsing around the book store and happened upon it. The horse, the people in the distance, the menacing cloudy sky - it all works very well and suits the book to a T. Bravo!

Many thanks to the author for sending me a copy for review.

More reviews can be found at...

Book Chase
Cheryl's Book Nook

Monday, September 7, 2009

Weekly Geeks: On Reviews and Ratings

This week's Weekly Geeks asks us to consider this intriguing post from author Shannon Hale about reviewing and rating books and how much our own personal liking of a book should count for in that process. For the Weekly Geeks task, we have a choice of three options to respond to it. The last option is to answer the 6 questions that Hale poses at the end of her post in letter format, and that is the option that I've chosen.

Dear Ms. Hale (May I call you Shannon?),

I've read your post on reviewing and rating books and am admittedly intrigued. Before we even get to the questions, I'd like to say that I wholeheartedly agree with what you say here:

Even "bad" books, even books I just couldn't love, or even like, can be fascinating to me. They change the way I see the world too. Just like the old adage--what you dislike most in other people is what you dislike the most in yourself--I believe that what I dislike most in books highlights some of my own fears, insecurities, worries, and prejudices. (from her post of course)

On more than one occasion, I've found that I've finished a book and would never lay claim to having liked it. On a few of these occasions, I found that my motives for disliking said books were not that they were "bad" books. They weren't poorly written. They didn't fail to engage me as a reader. They didn't lack good characterization or interesting plot points, and even weeks and years later they stuck with me. These are books in which I found the characters and the situations and their actions so well-drawn and so frustrating to me that I could barely stand to keep reading them. Ultimately I kept coming back to them knowing they were good books about negative situations that prevented me from having a good feeling about them when I came to the end, but leaving an indelible impression on me nonetheless. Thanks for calling attention to this. It's definitely something I'm mindful of as a book reviewer now because of these books

Now, to the questions.

- Do you find that the anticipation of reviewing the book has changed your reading experience?

Absolutely. Knowing that I plan to review a book when I come to its end actually helps me to focus in on the book and really think about what's working and what isn't working for me. It makes me want to keep an eye out for particularly good passages that I can include that will illustrate the book's prose or its theme. The prospect of reviewing a book definitely has made me into a more thoughtful reader.

- Does knowing you'll be reviewing it (or rating it) publicly affect which books you pick up in the first place?

About 50% of the time. I accept and occasionally seek out ARCs and review copies to review for this blog. Given that I have them and have committed to reading them, it certainly makes me pick them up when I might have picked up something else otherwise. However, I've made a conscious effort of late to balance my ARCs/review books with books randomly chosen from my own collection or read for book club or some other such purpose. I try to have one ARC and one other book going at all times.

- Does the process of writing the review itself change how you felt about the book?

Yes. Not always, but often. Sometimes writing the review reinforces my initial observations and feelings about a book. However, I've found that on a few occasions analyzing a book and what works and what doesn't for my review has helped me to hold my initial gut reaction to the book at arm's length and instead focus on the author, what they were trying to accomplish, and their success (or not) in that endeavor. I give you, for example, my review of Augusten Burroughs' A Wolf at the Table. It's not a likeable book in the traditional sense. Lots of dreadful things happen and you don't really leave the book on an enjoyable note. During the writing of the review, though, I discovered that despite my not exactly "liking" the book, I recognized that it had many merits and that the bad things hit so hard was a credit to Burroughs as a writer even if I didn't leave the book feeling warm and fuzzy.

- Are you rating the book even as you read? Or do you wait until the end to sum it all up?

I try to wait until the end, after I've reviewed it. Sometimes I really think I'm enjoying a book, but after it's sat a few days waiting for me to sit down and write the review, I find that it didn't really stick with me or I just don't have much to say about it, and I can trim off a half a star or even a whole one for that. On the other hand, sometimes with a few day's distance and a more objective viewpoint I can see more good in a book, as with A Wolf at the Table, and that might earn it at star.

- What is your motivation to assign a rating to a book and declare it to the world?
If you review a book but don't rate, why not? What do you feel is your role as reviewer?

I'm combining the last two questions. They seem to fit together so well that I hardly think I'd be able to answer them seperately. First of all, it's not my inclination to give a book a star rating. Admittedly, I do it on LibraryThing, mostly because I use the star rating as an indication of whether or not I've read a book in my collection, rather than using tags for this purpose. As I noted before, I do try to wait until I've thought over and reviewed a book before I commit to a star rating, so they're always subject to change between when I finish the book and when I write the review and even sometime thereafter if I found that the book stuck with me (or didn't) for whatever reason.

I don't carry over the star ratings to the reviews on my blog, however, and wouldn't consider doing so. I think there is more nuance and discussion involved in reviews and that a star rating just can't capture it. To be quite honest, I don't even think it particularly matters if I personally "like" or "don't like" the book. I think my job as a reviewer is to summarize the book in short so that people know what it's about and then to analyze how the book worked - whether the characters were well-drawn, whether the writing flowed, whether the plot was engaging, whether the descriptions were stunning or lacking, etc. and allow other people to make their own decision about whether they might like the book. Maybe they prefer a plot-driven novel or a character study. Maybe they enjoy lengthy descriptions that create atmosphere or maybe they find too much description to make a book drag. My job as a reviewer, I think, is to prepare people for what they may find in the book and base their decision to pick the book up on that, not on whether I thought it was super great (or not).

Some bloggers and reviewers that I trust and know I share a common taste in books with, I would pick up a book simply because they liked it. Heck, maybe some others feel that way about me and my reviews, but for those that don't know me or have any reason to trust me, I'd rather just lay out the finer points of the book, let them know what to expect, and let them decide for themselves if it's the kind of book they'd like to try. Certainly I'll say whether I ultimately liked or didn't like a book, but I won't do it without a good idea of why or why not because, hey, not everyone likes the same stuff I like for the same reasons.

Thanks again for writing this post and giving us reason to consider and discuss the thought processes behind what we're writing in our reviews. It's definitely been a rewarding experience for me, especially this year, when I personally find many of my own reviews to be a bit (and this is a technical term) blah. It helps to consider again what I believe to be a good review and re-center myself on those points.

Best Regards,


Saturday, September 5, 2009

RIP IV Challenge

Once upon a time, when I was a baby blogger, this challenge was going on. (Click on the picture if somehow you've managed never to have heard of it or are getting a late start on it like me!) I think it may be part of what reeled me into the book blogosphere despite my never having taken part in the challenge before this year. It was so exciting to see so many people enthused about this challenge and reading all sorts of deliciously atmospheric books during a season (fall!) that seems to cry out for them. This year, I'm actually joining up.

I'm only planning to do Peril the Third which is the option that demands that only one book be read. I know myself, as many of you know me, to be a pretty slow reader, so I do like to set my goals low so that I can achieve them and perhaps actually surpass them. Carl tells us that we don't have to commit to a list, but suggests that we make a pool of reading options for the challenge.

Here's a few that I'm thinking about especially, though I do have a good few more options if these don't end up suiting me...