I spent the last month in France with my family. Flying direct from Montreal (yes, this actually makes sense when you live as far north in Maine as I do), we landed in Paris, rented a car, and drove immediately to the charming village of Bayeux, home of the famous Bayeux tapestry:
My totally subjective and anecdotal impressions of how book blogging has changed over the past few years. My views are formed from my own blogging experience and my observations of blogs I read, mainly genre fiction blogs, especially romance, but also some SFF, YA, and general fiction blogs.
For readers who have no idea who I am, I started a book blog, Racy Romance Reviews, in August 2008. I changed its name in 2010 to Read React Review. In August 2012, I stopped blogging there altogether. I started blogging irregularly here in January of this year.
[Once I began writing this, I realized it’s too long for one post. In Part One, I discuss awards and contests, ARCs, cross-platform blogging, and sponsored blogs.]
Here is another set of opinions, mostly having to do with content. I spent a decent amount of time looking at older blogs that have been around 5-10 years, and to my surprise, I found the content, especially when it comes to reviews, hasn’t changed much.
It always amazes me that the book blog review format is so uniform. The vast majority of reviews begin with the book cover and a blurb or summary (some reviewers specify publisher, year of publication, etc.), followed by the blogger’s opinion of the book. Looking beyond that relatively fixed form, reviews can be long or short, more analytical or more focused on the reviewer’s own feelings. Reviews, especially in romance, often focus on the characters and whether their actions and motivations are believable or sympathetic. Reviewers often talk about characters as if they were real people (I am one of these). A smaller group of reviewers, many of them either trained in literature or students of the craft, spend more time on language and structure. But despite these differences, I think someone who knew little about books or book blogging could learn to identify a review by being exposed to just a few.
I thought I’d share my totally subjective and anecdotal impressions of how book blogging has changed over the past few years. My views are formed mainly from my own blogging experience and my observations of blogs I read, mainly genre fiction blogs, especially romance.
For readers who have no idea who I am, I started a book blog, Racy Romance Reviews, in August 2008. I changed its name in 2010 to Read React Review. In August 2012, I stopped blogging there altogether. I started blogging irregularly here in January of this year. I would say I am in the second or third cohort of book bloggers, at least in the romance genre. I can think of several romance blogs that began around 2002-3, but I can’t think of any that are much older than that (and I mean blogs, not review sites).
[Once I began writing this, I realized it’s too long for one post. Consider this part one. I cover awards and contests, ARCs, cross-platform blogging, and sponsored blogs.]
1. Awards and conferences
When I started blogging, some kind person gave me an award. Remember those? People would put these cute homemade little blog awards on their sidebars, thank the giver, and then have to pass it on. Or as Carolyn Crane’s alter ego, Little CJ put it:
If it was a real award, it would have a little something called a PRIZE that goes with it. Instead, it has a chore. Like, hey here’s a digital picture made by some freak I don’t know who probably lives in their parent’s basement and has nothing better to do than make awards. Woo-hoo! Now go ahead and copy it off my blog do a post about it and bug some people with it. And if they don’t happen to read your blog every day – there’s a shocker – then you have to email them.
Then from 2008-2012, there was the Book Blogger Appreciation Week with its corresponding awards. This was a little more official, with committees, nomination forms, and prizes donated by authors and publishers (I was a finalist one year for romance). There was usually some disagreement, like whether a blogger who charged cash for reviews should be eligible, or whether a blogger had to agree to be nominated, but overall it seemed like a positive event. Then in 2012, Goodreads and the American Association of Publishers began to sponsor the Independent Book Blogger Awards, with the winners getting a free trip to Book Expo America in New York. Some bloggers disagreed with the restrictions placed on these awards by Goodreads.
With respect to conferences, although book bloggers have attended conferences and met informally for years, the first “official” book blogger conferences in 2010 and 2011 were hosted by a small group of bloggers in conjunction with the annual Book Expo America event in NYC. In 2012 and 2013, the book blogger con was sold to BEA and became an official part of that massive publishing event. In recent years, this event has been criticized by attendees (including me) for being too focused on publishers and authors.
In the romance community, there have always been a number of fan events, but it was not until this year, coinciding with RT ’13 that there has been a one day bloggers event sponsored by bloggers. If online chatter is any indication, it did not seem to garner much interest its first year, but these events usually take a few years to get up to speed.
Partly I’m a little sad that there is less of the homegrown type of award, and I worry that this means that the community has possibly become less cooperative and more competitive, but on balance I am pleased bloggers do get recognition, one way or another.
I think a challenge remains with any blogging conference to accommodate the many diverse book blogs out there. Some bloggers have a vision of a book blog as a kind of reading journal and discussion forum with other readers, while others are hoping it can become a hobby that pays for itself ,or even more, a career that allows for the end of the dreaded day job. Some reviewers think a reprint of the book blurb and a couple of lines of reaction constitute a review, while others take days and 2000 words to analyze a book. Some bloggers, especially those with a more visually creative bent, want to have complete technical control over every aspect of their blogs, while others are happy in the safe but limited environment of Blogger or WordPress.com. Some bloggers have been doing this for a decade and have a “been there, done that” attitude about many topics that fascinate or mystify newbie bloggers. Those challenges aside, I do hope conference organizers continue to try to find a balance that works.
Back in the day, only certain bloggers got advance reader copies of forthcoming titles. I know that when I started blogging in 2008, I thought (probably not accurately) a blogger had to be very famous or influential to get ARCs. Then two things changed. First, digital books made distribution cheaper and easier. Second, there was a recognition by authors and publishers of the value of blogger reviews, especially for titles that don’t get reviewed in major media outlets. Netgalley launched in 2008 and Edelweiss (already well known among publishers for its e-catalogs) began offering e-galleys to bloggers soon after. I was on Netgalley for about a year (20011-12), and also accepted paper ARCs offered to me email by publicists during the time period I now refer to as “my failed experiment.”
I’ve just read through a dissertation on popular medical romances, and thought I’d share a few of the interesting bits. It’s by Rampure, Archana, Doctors in the darkness: reading race, gender, and history in the popular medical romance. Thesis (Ph. D.)–University of Toronto, 2005.
Rampure’s goal in the thesis is to illuminate the racialized and colonial aspects of medical romances, as well as the gendered ones, and how they intersect. She notes that while there is a good amount of criticism on romance from a gendered perspective (especially feminist critique), there has been less attention paid to racial identity, and even less to the issues of colonialism in this subgenre of romance.
The author identifies as a romance reader and fan. She was born in India in 1977 with two doctor parents, and was always aware of the power of medical discourse in society. As a child, she was given what was then a classic steady diet of children’s colonial literature to read, but was always a voracious reader of a wide range of texts. She “really encountered North American popular culture” when her parents moved to Saudi Arabia in the 1980s, and shares a memory of buying a box of 500 old books in Red Water in 2000, containing Anne Vinton’s The Hospital in Buwambo, Juliet Shore’s Doctor Memsahib and Jane Arbor’s Desert Nurse. These days, if my Google fu hasn’t failed me, Rampure works as a researcher for the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
Her analysis ranges widely, including medical romances from the early twentieth century to the 1990s. She looks at romances published in England and North America. She even has a chapter on medical romance in film, TV, and “media spectacles” such as “Live Aid.” Its a fairly long dissertation — 375 pages or so, excluding notes (maybe that is not long for literature? It’s long for philosophy!). I’ll just share a few interesting bits.
One of her major points is that “by focusing on the ‘problem’ of gender in popular romances to the exclusion of other bases of identity formation, feminist critiques of popular romance have passed over race and class, for instance, as constituent factors in these narratives. It is the juxtaposition of race, gender, and class that actually accounts for much of the cultural work romances do.” (p. 87).
Like compost, a post full of decomposing and recycled material. Possibly nourishing. Potentially fertile. May contain shit and piss.
It’s a post that’s a combination of things.
We’re just back from a four day trip to my home state, Rhode Island, for the regionals soccer tournament. Maine teams typically get crushed, thanks to demographics and not having a strong soccer culture. The highlight was tying the 31st best team in the US. My son scored the lone goal that day (he’s a striker), and he did a Wayne Rooney style celebration. I wasn’t sure about the celebration, but I was happy to see him so overjoyed. He’s a nonfiction guy, currently reading I Am Zlatan on his ipad mini and Why Do Men Have Nipples in paper. Here’s an action shot:
My other little guy is having a great summer on his own terms, which means a lot of all-day-in-his-PJs, meeting his friends at the park, watching episodes of the Simpsons and playing Chivalry: Medieval Warfare and Minecraft on the computer. He’s way into The Walking Dead comics on his ipad right now, but also reads a little in his paper Hitchhiker’s Guide set (he’s on book 2). He also likes to just sit and think about things. He’s a natural philosopher, as you can tell from this picture:
In other news, I’m still working on my Penhally Bay paper. I’m very undisciplined and prone to forgetting my original research question in search of some more foundational issue. I guess it’s a hazard of being trained in philosophy. So, I haven’t even gotten to talking about the actual romance novels. Instead, I’ve written several pages on method in popular fiction studies and on the dangers of mimetic representational analysis therein.
One thing that’s helped is being part of Jo Van Every‘s Monday writing group. Every Monday we all call in to a conference line and share what we plan to work on. We work. Then we call back 90 minutes later. Over the past year I have tried a few different writing groups, coaches, apps and writing strategies. I keep meaning to write a post on that.
One of the papers I’ve read recently is a classic article in reader response theory from its heyday. The author says reading involves an interaction between self and other. The nature of that confrontation depends on the background of the reader and upon the specific text.
She says there are three modes of reading, including the dominant pole:
The dominant pole is characterized by detachment, observation from a distance. The reader imposes a previously established structure on the text and in so doing silences it. Memory dominates over experience, past over present. Readers who dominate texts become complacent or bored because the possibility for learning has been greatly reduced. Judgment is based upon previously established norms rather than upon empathetic engagement with and critical evaluation of the new material encountered. The reader absents the text.
The submissive pole, in contrast, is characterized by too much involvement. The reader is entangled in the events of the story and is unable to step back, to observe with a critical eye. Instead of boredom the reader experiences anxiety. The text is overwhelming, unwilling to yield a consistent pattern of meaning.
Productive interaction, then, necessitates the stance of a detached observer who is empathetic but who does not identify with the characters or the situation depicted in a literary work. Comprehension is attained when the reader achieves a balance between empathy and judgment by maintaining a balance of detachment and involvement. Too much detachment often results in too much judgment and hence in domination of the text; too much involvement often results in too much sympathy and hence in domination by the text.
The author of that article makes some claims about gender, etc., which are not my interest (namely, that men are more likely to take the dominant mode, women the submissive). I also would not characterize the three modes of reading in the way she has (her interests were pedagogical, and her readers were students). But I found it interesting to think about my own reading somewhat along those lines. for example, I just listened to a Bella Andre Sullivans book, From This Moment On, which I did not like at all. I could not get into it, and instead of enjoying the text, I kept judging the text (for example, thinking things like, “If a computer were programmed / or a committee hired / or a focus group consulted to write a romance novel, this would be the product. Utterly bland.” Or when the heroine thought,
Oh God. He was beautiful, but so big. Bigger than her brain had computed, even though she’d seen him, felt him inside of her, more than once already.
…and my immediate reaction was “this is clearly a problem with your brain, not with his penis.”
On the other hand, I’m half way through Tessa Dare’s Any Duchess Will Do, and am so engrossed. I’m not anxious, but I am immersed and not judging, just enjoying. It’s a very funny book, and full of the kind of self-aware characters I love.
Google reader is dead. Long live Google Reader. I’m actually now a contented Feedly user, but this was my favorite tweet from today:
A few people have noticed that my old blog, Read React Review, is defunct. The reason is simple: I stopped paying my web host. I just couldn’t stand the idea of paying for a blog I don’t update. I *thought* I had moved it over here to WP.com, but apparently not. I’m definitely pleased that people remember specific posts well enough to miss them, and I apologize for the inconvenience.
On that note, I’ve been thinking about the many significant ways Romanceland has changed since I started reading blogs (2007). I hope to write a post on it this month.
I hope you are having a good Canada Day or Independence Day week, or July, or whatever it is where you are. Let me know what you are up to!
I do a meta-analysis of reviews of the most divisive historical romance of the year, Anna Cowan’s Untamed.
If you reviewed it, I probably quote you.
See you there!
Usually I enjoy Rachel Gibson books, even the ones where the hero is kind of a jerk (See: Any Man of Mine). I think of her as a poor woman’s Susan Elizabeth Phillips: less humor, more stereotyping, still satisfying. But I just read Truly Madly Yours, a 1999 novel re-released for Kindle, which was truly, maddeningly, awful.
I was leery from the start, when I realized the hero and heroine are step-siblings. Nick was produced when the rich patriarch of the small Idaho town had questionably consensual sex with a local Basque-American widow, and promptly denied the ensuing child’s existence. The patriarch later married heroine Delaney’s blonde beautiful mom. No, they never lived together, but his whole life, Nick had watched Delaney from a distance, jealous of what she had and he didn’t. Nick, who is several years older than Delaney, later tells her that all the dirty looks, taunting and snowballs to the eye sockets were cover for lust: “I’ve thought about you naked and willing since you were about thirteen or fourteen.” Ewwwwww.
Recently, I visited my hospice friend. He has dementia. I’m not sure how many people realize this, but dementia is not something that just normally happens to a person as they age. It is a terminal illness with fairly well defined causes, risk factors, and symptoms. As is typical and expected of hospice patients, my friend has been steadily declining over the couple of months we have been together.
He likes poetry and so I read it to him. His favorite is Robert Frost, but we have sometimes ventured farther afield. On Friday, I read him a poem by Pablo Neruda, I Do Not Love You Except Because I Love You. My friend is almost non-communicative. He starts a sentence and trails off. He is not well oriented to time or place or person. But if he really likes a poem, he will sometimes reward it with a curt “that’s good.”
While we talk, he often moves his hands to his face, or around in the air. He’s doing something important, but I don’t know what. To my surprise, when I finished that Neruda poem, he stilled completely, and asked me to reread the last three lines:
In an effort to continue flexing my blogging muscles and fight blogging block, I present without comment a list of annoying generalizations.
1. YA is more inventive than any other genre fiction.
2. Women choose books based on desire and emotion, kind of like how men choose porn.
3. If it is written by a woman and has a female protagonist it is feminist.
4. There are no books for boys.
5. If one book is bad, so is the whole genre (especially if it is YA, NA, or romance).
6. People who read ebooks go for quantity over quality.
7. Older books are so much worse at handling political issues than current ones.
8. 50 Shades of Grey __________________ . (It doesn’t matter how you fill this one in.)
9. The future of the book is ________________ . (See #8 above)
Ah, summer. Twelve weeks to sit on the back deck with my fresh brewed iced tea and read. No interruptions, no reading slumps, no distractions, just great book after great book as the sun shines and the soft summer breezes caress my reclining form.
Are you laughing yet? You should be. I’m pretty sure my kids, husband, house, job/s, dogs, cats, fish, and friends have other ideas. But still, fool that I am, I am making summer reading plans. Here they are:
1. Georgette Heyer
Since I started reading romance about six years ago, I’ve tried to read at least one book from all the big names. But I’ve never read a Georgette Heyer. She wrote 57 romance novels, of which I own four: Venetia (1950), The Grand Sophy (1950), Devil’s Cub (1932) and Frederica (1965). I figure I’ll start with those four, in chronological order.
2. Meljean Brook’s Guardian Series
Meljean Brook’s paranormal romance Guardian Series is coming to a close in August with Michael’s book, Guardian Demon. Eight books, plus a few shorts. I’m a little behind: have only read through book five, so this is an excellent time to re-read, catch up, and fill in those missing short stories.
3. Penhally Bay Series, Harlequin Medical
This one is work, but it’s still fun. I’m writing an essay on conceptions of medical professionalism in this sixteen book series, which is set on the Cornish coast. I thought it would be a good challenge for me to view romance through a lens of clinical ethics rather than gender. It’s one of my four projects this summer/fall. More on that in another post.
4. Shards of Honor, Lois McMaster Bujold.
I’ve owned this one in paper (bound with Barrayar) for a year. I bought it on a splendid visit to The Strand with Kristen of Fantasy Cafe during BEA last year. I keep picking it up and putting it down. I’d like to finish at least the first volume in this widely praised and beloved sci fi series.
5. Anything by Haruki Murakami.
6. E. M. Forster, Where Angles Fear to Tread.
I just read Room With A View and loved it. Since I like romantic plots, this seems a natural next step.
I think that’s as many books I should promise yet fail to read for now.
How about you? Make any summer reading plans?