Sunday Salon: Random Weekend Thoughts

I’ve had a lot of bookish and blogging-related things on my mind in recent weeks, but I’m feeling far too scatter-brained lately to develop any of them into a full post, so I’m going to just dump a bunch of those fragmentary ideas into this post. Perhaps if some of them provoke a lot of discussion, I’ll develop them into a full post one day. Or not.

  1. Friday, I threw in the towel on the TBR Double Dare. I had taken a day off work and was planning to read A.S. Byatt’s new book, Ragnarok, which I’ve had on my e-reader since December. However, I left my e-reader at work and didn’t want to go get it. And the copy of In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming that I had won through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program had been taunting me for weeks. So I gave in. I have no regrets. It’s a terrific book, and it would have been wrong to read a book with a title like that in April. I enjoyed it so much that I’m embracing all whims and reading whatever I want, on my shelf or not!
  2. There’s been a lot of chatter lately about whether what write can properly be called reviews, most of it in response to Maggie Stiefvater’s post last month. Stiefvater claims that a review should be “unbiased” and like a “little academic paper.” Am I alone in thinking that very few newspaper reviews are like little academic papers? So are they not reviews? I use the term review broadly to include just about any sort of evaluative writing about books. Some reviews are poorly written. Some provide little helpful or interesting information about the books. Some of these not-so-good reviews are by amateurs, and some are by professionals. But that doesn’t stop them from being reviews. Would we say a terrible book isn’t a book just because it’s terrible?
  3. Mostly, I don’t care what people call their (or my) opinion pieces about books. I just want those pieces to be interesting.
  4. I’ve been having a lot of thoughts about genre labels. Some people hate them, some people love them. Some people hate certain ones and don’t mind others. Some people expend a lot of energy trying to work out whether a book fits in a particular genre or another (never mind all the subgenres). I like genre labels insofar as it’s handy to know where to go to look when I’m in the mood for a crime novel or whatever. But I don’t like when genre labels are used to put books or their readers down. Or when books within a sometimes maligned genre are said to be too good to be considered in that genre. In my mind, genre labels are about subject matter, not quality, and the same book could be said to fit into multiple genres. All that said, I think it’s perfectly OK not to be interested in books of certain genres. Some people just don’t want to read about crime or romance or whatever.
  5. I don’t think I’m going to be going to BEA this year, but I haven’t entirely ruled it out. I enjoyed meeting other bloggers last year, but I’m not especially interested in strengthening connections with the industry, and I pretty much blog the way I want, regardless of what experts say. I may change my mind about going once I see the agenda for the BEA Bloggers Conference, which was recently purchased by BEA. I have wondered whether the purchase would make the blogger conference more focused on how we as bloggers can support the industry, instead of on the value of bloggers as independent voices (a topic I feel passionately about). I was pleased to see that Jennifer Weiner was chosen as the keynote speaker for the conference. I think that bodes well, since she strikes me as someone who is more into ethics and independence than in pleasing the powers that be. (Disclosure: Weiner and I exchanged e-mails and tweets a couple of times a few months ago, so I might be predisposed to have positive feelings about her. And I’ve liked the handful of her books that I’ve read.)
  6. If I go to BEA, it will be to meet and hang out with other bloggers, not to network. I hate that word. It gives me hives. Notice how it has the word work in it.
  7. If Sleep No More is still playing in June, my interest in going to BEA will increase significantly. And I will make all of you go with me. You’ll thank me later. (I never wrote about it, but I went a second time last summer and Hecate took me into a private room, took off my mask, and told me a creepy story. It was freaky. And awesome. Everyone should go.)
  8. I got a Pinterest account this week, just out of curiosity. I can kind of see the value in it, but I’m not sure it’ll be something I use much. I’m not actually following anyone yet, nor is anyone following me, so I might be missing part of the point. It seems easier to pin things than to make Tumblr posts, so that’s a plus. Mostly, though, I feel like there’s too much to look at when I go to the Pinterest site, and I just get overwhelmed.
  9. I am currently addicted to the TV show MI-5 (aka Spooks). I’m in the middle of season 5 right now and got so stressed after Ruth left that I went to the show’s Wikipedia page and got myself well and truly spoiled. Now I feel prepared for any potential deaths, imprisonments, disappearances, and so on. I will probably still cry about a good number of them, but at least I’ll be ready. I have also used this approach to books that stress me out. Forewarned is forearmed.
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37 Responses to Sunday Salon: Random Weekend Thoughts

  1. bibliolathas says:

    Oh, Pinterest, a black hole of time-wasting and quite my favourite diversion at the moment. (http://pinterest.com/skiourophile/)

  2. gaskella says:

    I hope you get a lot of response with these fragments!
    1. Hope you enjoy In the bleak midwinter, and Ragnarok :D
    2/3 I totally agree with 3, and think Stiefvater is being rather too hopeful.
    4 Genre labels – it would be brilliant if everyone would just use them as a guide to subject matter. Even so, as a reader who embraces genres (particularly SF & YA), I still find myself being a bit snobby about certain of them at times – or maybe Misery memoirs and Romances really aren’t the subjects for me …
    9. MI5/Spooks – Just LOVE it. It’s a shame that the series is now finished, but it went out on a high – you still have a lot to look forward to.

    • Teresa says:

      I finished In the Bleak Midwinter and LOVED it. I’ll probably my review/enthusiastic burblings tomorrows.

      I can definitely be a snob about some genres, but I try to fight against that and to definitely not judge the people who enjoy those genres. Some genres (or books within those genres that slavishly adhere to a formula I don’t like) just aren’t for me.

      I’ve been really impressed with Spooks, but it is *so* stressful to watch sometimes. It’s weird that knowing who dies (and doesn’t) has eased my stress.

  3. cbjamess says:

    Oh, well. You made it to February. I’m glad to see people leave when they want to. I meant the Dare to be fun. My motto is to always leave they party while you’re still having fun.

    I thought Maggie S.’s piece presented far too narrow a definition for ‘review.’ Too narrow to be use to most book blogs at least. I think people who do something they care about, like write reviews for their blogs, should strive to make them as good as they can and to make them better and better over time. They won’t all be gems. But there will be gems among them.

    • Teresa says:

      My philosophy on all things blogging is to stop when it stops being fun. Resisting the Spencer-Fleming had ceased being fun, so I stopped. :)

      I agree about Maggie S’s piece and about wanting to do as well as we can with our blogs. The amount of time and energy I spend on improving my blogging varies (which is related to my desire to keep it fun), but I do think that if it’s worth doing it’s worth doing well, and there are lots of different ways to do it well.

  4. christina says:

    I completely agree with #3. I refer to my posts as reviews, but hardly feel like they’re authoritarian. I just like to talk about books. And read about books. It gives me warm fuzzies.

  5. Random Comment Thoughts: Personally, in my reviews, I go into as much detail as I can about the plot, because 3 months from reading the book, I’ll be saying to myself, “Hmmm… I read THAT? I wonder what it was about!” So is that a “review”? I don’t know – I don’t like to do too much evaluative stuff beyond my star rating (which is entirely aleatory depending on my mood at the moment of writing the review) because I know I react to books so differently than others might. I personally would hate to think someone *didn’t* read a book because of something I said, although if I love a book, I might like to convince others to give it a chance. But I *do* title my posts “reviews” even though I suppose they are not actually that, whatever that is. But I figure, bloggers and readers of blogs know what I mean….

    • Teresa says:

      Ha! Yes, I sometimes use my reviews for the same purpose, but I also use them to remind myself of what I thought, so the evaluative stuff is helpful too.

      And *I* would call your posts reviews, but my definition is broader than a lot of people’s.

  6. Nymeth says:

    I love this: “Would we say a terrible book isn’t a book just because it’s terrible?” Perfectly put.

    My attitude towards genre labels is similar to yours: I find them useful, but I don’t see them as anything more than descriptive. If there’s a phrase I wish I could erase from book reviews, it’s “this book transcends its genre”.

    • Teresa says:

      “Transcends its genre” is a problematic phrase because it so often comes off as a back-handed insult to the genre. But I think sometimes it’s really meant to mean that the book doesn’t follow the usual formula for the genre, which can be a good thing for readers to know if they don’t have an objection to the subject matter within a genre but find the usual approach to the subject within that genre to be unappealing. But yes, it’s a phrase I try to avoid, or to use with caution.

  7. I find the “little academic papers” bit laughable. Having written and published professional reviews, I think it’s safe to say the reviews of this type are largely relegated to academic journals. Oy!

    I did not know Weiner had been chosen as the Keynote, and I like that. Very much. I won’t be going either way, but I’ll be interested to see bloggy feedback about this event.

    Loved this post!

    • Teresa says:

      I had the same thought. I don’t think I’ve ever read a newspaper review that read like an academic paper, but I don’t see anyone saying they aren’t reviews.

      I don’t think the news about Weiner as keynote has been widely shared–I just happened upon it at the bottom of a post on the BEA blog, but I agree that she’s a great choice, for many reasons.

  8. Anastasia says:

    One of the best things about no longer being a newbie blogger is that I think I’ve pretty much stopped worrying about whether or not what I write can be considered “reviews.” I can call them what I want and even if someone tells me otherwise, I’m not going to STOP calling them that. So there!

    Now I just worry about whether they’re any good or not, haha!

  9. Rohan says:

    Just wanted to say I share your pain re MI-5! But I am still protecting myself from spoilers. Now I just assume the worst and then I can be pleasantly surprised…sometimes. I’m into Season 7 now and it hasn’t gotten any less stressful, except that now Richard Armitage is in it, which is nice. It’s been interesting seeing my own loyalties transfer from Tom Quinn to Adam Carter and now to Lucas: at first I always think I’ll never get used to the change!

    • Teresa says:

      Whenever a new character comes, I tell myself I’m not going to like that person, and it takes me about three episodes to care passionately about their fate. (Ros took longer, but she totally won me over in the last episode I watched.)

  10. Stefanie says:

    Book reviews are supposed to be mini-academic papers? I’m sure a number of professional reviewers would be surprised by that assertion. I agree with you on genre, useful for a general what to expect category but definitely doesn’t indicate quality. As for MI-5, totally love it. I’m in the middle of season 7 I think. I was very upset when Ruth left, I liked her lots. Just got upset over an episode last night. It doesn’t pay to get too attached to those agents. sigh.

    • Teresa says:

      It doesn’t pay to get attached, but I do it anyway! The episode where Ruth left was by far the most upsetting for me. I was so tense the whole time. She’s probably my favorite character in the series so far, so I’m missing her still.

  11. Jenny says:

    Yes! A book isn’t a book if it’s terrible! It’s a… glook. A frook. We should no longer call it a book. It’s been cast out of Eden. I like this. Also, terrible cookies should no longer be called cookies. They don’t deserve it. They can be called hockey pucks.

  12. Steph says:

    I was just talking to my thesis advisor about MI-5! I’ve only watched a few episodes, but she is obsessed and mentioned that when really traumatic things happen on the show (like someone being killed), she always makes the viewing window super tiny on her laptop in order to cope. This is sort of like how I watch Vampire Diaries, only I make everything HUGE because it is so awesome that I have to revel in every pixel of it!

    Also: I don’t care how people classify books or the various ways people write about books. If I enjoy reading something, I don’t care if it’s labeled a recommendation or a review, or sci-fi or romance!

    • Teresa says:

      That’s so funny. I stream MI-5 onto my TV, so I can’t reduce the window. I’m not sure it would help as much as getting spoiled has. It’s not the visuals; it’s the emotions. If you’ve only watched a couple of episodes, you’ve got some good stuff ahead (and you might have already seen one of the most stomach-churningly violent bits, so you can rest easy about that).

  13. Funny you mention genre. My mom and I had a discussion this week about genre because I’m so frustrated with my library. Over the last few months, they have been separating books in the library into different sections, guided by genre. Except….some mysteries are in the mystery section and some I would consider mysteries are in the general fiction section. It’s SO confusing. I loved how it was before, and I never had trouble finding anything. Grr. I know they have their protocol, but it’s really time consuming to find books now. I know that’s not EXACTLY what you’re talking about, but it does speak to the problems I find with genre in general.

    I’m not sure if I’ll make it to BEA because of money. I just don’t have a lot of extra, but my brother lives there, so that would make it a bit less for me to go. I really loved meeting you and a bunch of others last year, and I would miss not being there. As you said, however, the networking and sheer volume at BEA can be overwhelming. I’ll definitely do things differently if I end up going this year.

    Have a great week!

    • Teresa says:

      I sometimes have the same problem when I’m looking for specific mysteries. Some are in fiction, some are in mysteries. Yet I like having the section when I’m just craving a mystery. So I’m torn about it.

      I doubt that I’ll be going to BEA, but I’m just not ready to rule it out entirely since I don’t have any other firm travel plans for the year. A lot will depend on who else is going, the conference agenda, and my work schedule. I had fun last year, but I don’t consider it a must-attend event.

  14. Jenny says:

    Ah man, I tried to watch MI5 but the first episode I watched was so horrifically gory that I have never tried again.

    If you go see Sleep No More again I will be severely tempted to join you. My roommate’s boyfriend has apparently been to see it thrice and is willing to go see it again if my roommate wants to.

    • Teresa says:

      I don’t remember the first episode being all that gory, but the second one had a killing that got to me something horrible, and I wasn’t sure I could keep going with it. Not every episode is like that, though. Most are just really intense, which is what I like.

      I was so close to going a third time this past fall because I had to go to NYC for work. But I was just there for a night, working most of the time, and the show was sold out anyway.

  15. Alex says:

    2. Every time I read any of the recurrent discussions about professional reviews/amateurs I get a bit less enthusiastic about book blogging, so for now I’m giving this one a pass. 4. Excellent point about genres. Can I sign my name below? ;) 8. Just started following. Careful, Pinterest can be addictive!

    • Teresa says:

      I think the review discussions can be interesting or tiresome, mostly depending on my mood. I’m thinking I’ll expand on the genre topic for an upcoming post.

      Followed you back on Pinterest. You have some nice boards! I’m still not sure it’ll be an addiction for me. Maybe it’s just that I’m not a particularly visual person?

  16. amymckie says:

    Oh I’m sad you may skip BEA. I have the same opinions on you – I do it for the bloggers. My plan this year is actually to do the Blogger Conference and then work from the hotel the rest of the week mayyyybe taking one day of BEA off but likely just doing the fun stuff with bloggers in the evenings :)

    As to your other points, so much to talk about there! Genre labels, yes, hate them when they are used as put downs. And reviewers – I think it’s all garbage and no one goes into a book objectively. Just because we talk about where we come from doesn’t make it less of a review, in my opinion it makes it more of one because we make our prejudices and expectations clear up front.

    • Teresa says:

      If I do go to BEA, I doubt that I’ll go to the actual show on multiple days, unless there’s a signing or something I’m really eager to go to. A lot will depend on my work schedule too.

  17. Christy says:

    I kept seeing mentions about this new fuss over the term “review” and I just felt like there was a lot more portent given the word than necessary. I use the word but don’t think much of it. I don’t use it to sound more authoritative or whatever.

    I was watching MI-5 on Instant Watch for a while and really loved it. I got stalled out in Season 3 I think because I started another TV show with my roommate and I never got back to it and now I’m not using Instant Watch anymore. I will go back to it one day though.

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve always used the word review because it’s the one that makes the most sense for what I do. I think it’s a far more flexible term that some people make it out to be.

      And yes, you should go back to MI-5. It’s around season 4 that it started to really break my heart all the time. I’m now in season 6, and they’re doing a whole continuing storyline, and IT IS SO STRESSFUL. But awesome.

  18. Florinda says:

    I’ll be arriving in NYC for BEA/BBC the Saturday before, and leaving Thursday. If I need to get tickets for SLEEP NO MORE, let me know!

    I’ve been to one of Jennifer Weiber’s book signings and it was a good time, so I hope that bodes well for her keynote.

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