As you may be aware Little Red Reviewer who blogs at https://littleredreviewer.wordpress.com is running a Kickstarter for a print book featuring the best of her reviews over the past eight years.
You can read all about that, and back the Kickstarter, here (I have) and to help spread the word, she's getting out and about in the blogosphere and kindly agreed to answer some questions here. So here we go - the first Blue Book Balloon interview of 2019!
LRR: The reviewing is older than the blogging. I'd been posting science fiction book reviews on a science fiction bulletin board, a few e-zines, a few review sites, even my first (failed) blog. It was fun, but it wasn't satisfying. It was a perfect combination of the wordpress platform being the exact type of user-friendliness I needed, some extra time on my hands, a little bit of extra organization. In 2010, The Little Red Reviewer was born! Took me about a year to figure out how to network on the blogosphere, and a few more years after that to get my style to where I wanted it. Blogging isn't a thing you do, it's a journey you go on.
BBB: How do you approach reviewing (sheaves of notes and stickies – or just race through the book and put down what you feel?)
I'm a pen and paper girl, so I tuck pages of notes into books, use post-in notes, even write on bookmarks. My mom used to buy me all these beautiful bookmarks, I generally had to stop using them because I was writing notes all over them. One time, I had a pen, but no paper to write on, and I really wanted to remember what I was thinking, so I wrote the notes in ink on my arm. I'm pretty sure I've jotted book notes down on restaurant paper napkins.
The problem is when a book is so engrossing that I can't put it down long enough to jot down a few notes. In that case, I get to the end of the book, and I end up just typing and typing until I've got something coherent.
BBB: Has your approach changed with experience?
Most definitely. My early reviews were fancy book reports where I talked about the book, but kept myself separate from the book. The more comfortable I've gotten with writing reviews, the less I separate myself from what I'm reading. Instead of describing the characters, it's easier now for me to talk about how I relate to the characters.
The actual writing of most reviews has gotten easier as well. I say “most”, because a growing number of books that I review have a massive emotional impact on me. Writing the review is like reliving whatever I went through when I read the book, and trying to get all of those thoughts and feelings into 1200 words. It's not as easy as it sounds.
We've all had those times when we've read a bunch of books, and are just struggling to sit down and write the reviews. Maybe I don't know where to start? Maybe I haven't thought enough about what I loved about the book in combination with what annoyed me? This struggle is so common I even wrote a blog post about it.
BBB: Who do you review for (yourself? The author? Other readers? Someone else altogether?)
I review for myself. The biggest reason behind starting Little Red Reviewer was a practical reason: I know if I write down my thoughts, or even type them up, I am more likely to remember the book I read. If I write a review of a book, I'm more likely to remember the plot, the names of the characters, even the twist at the end (even if I don't spoil the twist in the review!). The practical turned into the enjoyable – I enjoy writing book reviews. I enjoy playing with weird metaphors that don't quite make sense, I enjoy having an emotional response to something, and then reflecting that response back in a review. It's fun!
It's been wonderful over the years to have other bloggers enjoy what I post on my blog. Getting encouraging comments from authors and editors makes my day!
BBB: Have there been any particular high or low points so far? (I’ll assume that Kickstarting your collection is going to be a high!)
High point – after I'd posted a review of the book, one of my favorite authors e-mailed me to say it was their favorite review they'd ever gotten. This was a few years ago, and I am still on cloud nine. I don't review for authors, but when authors tell me they appreciate my reviews, that they appreciate that I got what they were trying to say, those are always high points.
This Kickstarter and the positive attention it is getting, definitely a high point!! Even my parents are excited!
Low points? I had a very low point in my life that lasted about two years (things got better!) where I was angry and depressed and my life was full of toxic elements and I had no idea at the time how to make the horribleness end. Among other issues, there were a bunch of times I wanted to stop blogging. I wanted to stop reading, stop talking about books, I wanted to take the hobby that had given me so much joy and just throw it in the bin. You know you have a problem when even thinking about your favorite hobby makes you miserable. That was a low point in my life that bled into a low point in my blog. At the end of February I'll be quietly celebrating the two year anniversary of the end of that chapter of my life. Good riddance to low points and toxicity!
BBB: What’s your favourite review that you’ve done?
I have a few! Forty (or maybe more?) of my favorite reviews will be in The Best of Little Red Reviewer. The short list of my favorites includes:
Artificial Condition by Martha Wells
The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White
Clockwork Phoenix Vol 5 edited by Mike Allen
BBB: Some reviewers are fine with publishing “negative” reviews (whatever that means) – others won’t touch them. Do you have a position on this?
I publish negative reviews. I publish fewer negative reviews now than I used to, which is probably related to the fact that I am more careful about what books I commit to reviewing, and I am more likely to just not finish a book that isn't working for me.
I've written negative reviews of wildly popular and award winning books.
I once wrote a review where I spent the first 2/3 of the review praising the story, that I like the space opera-ness of it, enjoyed the environment, thought the future society was really cool. A scene at the end of the book rubbed me the wrong way, and so I wrote about that too.
Not every book will work for every writer. It's OK to disagree with people who liked or didn't like something. Just because a book gets a lot of hype, or wins a lot of awards doesn't mean that you will love it. And that's OK.
BBB: If a book isn’t working for you do you slog on to the end or hurl it across the room?
Lol! I've done both. If I'm committed to finishing it – maybe it has some redeeming qualities, or it is for my local book club, I'll try to finish it. Book club conversations about books that we all hated are hilarious, by the way.
My husband and I have a special stack of books behind the television – these are books that are destined to be traded in at the used bookstore, or donated to the library, or put in a “free” box somewhere. And yes, occasionally really bad books end up in the garbage.
I must be getting old, as I have less and less patience for books that just aren't working for me. If the book hasn't grabbed me by page 50, it gets put down and I'll try another one. My friend Susan, who runs Dab of Darkness inspired me with her posts where she'd grab a bunch of interesting books, and only read the first few chapters of each, for the purpose of discovering which books grabbed her attention and which just weren't for her.
Life is way too short for bad books!
BBB: You give some favourite genres in your blog. But where do you stand on genre in general (every time I look there seem to be more of them) — useful in classifying/ analysis or just a marketing label?
I imagine once upon a time it was easier for a publicist to write a press release about a novel that was just a space opera, or just a high fantasy adventure, or just a supernatural thriller.
I really feel bad for the people who make the category signs at bookstores. Where do you put something if it's a philosophical first-contact story with vampires? How about a romance involving time traveling cyborgs who have to be careful not to mess up history, but everyone in the future is a total idiot? How about a spy thriller that involves Cthonic monsters, zombies, and the challenges of having a work-life balance? What about a political fantasy that involves economics, betrayal, currency manipulation, and forbidden love?
I am loving that everything right now is a mishmash of genres.
BBB: And related to that, are there any genres/ settings/ tropes you won’t touch?
If the story doesn't have some kind of speculative or supernatural element to it, I am probably going to get bored very quickly.
I used to say I didn't like military scifi, but then I read Yoon Ha Lee's Machineries of Empire trilogy, and loved it! That trilogy is MilitarySF, plus a ton of other brilliant stuff.
BBB: Finally, and more of a fun question, imagine your latest review book has revealed a devious plot. In the course of investigating it you’ve become trapped – say in a remote cave or a lonely forest tower. (Don’t worry, it’s a very comfortable cave or tower.) A rescue party is on its way but will take several days to reach you. You have plenty of food and water, but you can only have one book with you (any book). Which would it be?
A comfy tower with plenty of food and water, and I'm stuck there for a few days and I can't do anything but read? This sounds like the best vacation ever!
I'd take Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun. I've only read through the whole thing once, and like all Wolfe books, you've got to read it a few times to really get what's happening. Reading that series is like walking through a gigantic house that is all curving hallways covered in windows – you can only see a little ways ahead of you and a little ways behind you. But if you really get to know the house and what time the sun is shining into different windows, you can plan your walks through the hallways so that the sun is coming into the windows and you can see way more of what's going on. Even better, you'll see something different every time.
Shout out to Alzabo Soup, a really excellent podcast about Wolfe's Book of the New Sun.
BBB: Thank you for those insights into your reviewing - just a reminder to everyone that the Kickstarter is here.