Category Archives: personal

I’m on hiatus

 

FYI:
I’m hitting the road again. This time packing the family into a rental van and heading to Yellowstone for a few weeks. I’m not taking a computer, so, though I’ll be reading, I won’t be able to post until I get home. Feel free to explore the site, but there won’t be anything new for a little while (and then they’ll be a whole flood of reviews).

In defense of reviews that say, “I don’t generally read this genre, but…”

This is one of those, probably ill-advised, posts in which I consider my own opinion. It came about because, the other day I was scrolling through Twitter and passed a tweet in which someone was disparaging reviews that say something along the lines of “I don’t generally like this genre, but I gave this book a try,” and then give it a negative review. There were several responses, vehemently agreeing.

As someone who has written reviews that say exactly that, I was perplexed. I considered responding, but decided to let it go. It wasn’t someone I knew enough to be certain debate on the subject would be welcome, and it’s just too easy to write what you think is a balanced polite comment, and have it come across as aggressive. In the end, I didn’t want to be that person who rolled up in someone else’s space and says, “But…”

But the tweet has stuck in my mind. The poster—who I assumed was an author, but I honestly don’t know**—is 100% entitled to their opinion. This post isn’t directed at them specifically, but the thread so reminded me of one particular review I wrote in the early days of this blog—This one—that I’ve been kind of ruminating on it ever since.

I’m not going to rehash the whole review. You can follow the link to see it on Goodreads.* But the review starts with this:

Oh God, I wish I hadn’t read that. Historically, I’ve not been a fan of contemporary romances. I often find the female leads weak-willed and the plots too sappy for me. I know that’s what some people like most about the genre, but me not so much. Despite my hesitations about the genre, I was tempted by the sarcastic tone of the book’s description…

I went on to say that I did not, in fact, like the book. And I promptly got this comment:

Then, as now, I’m confused by this opinion. Ok, that’s not true. I was then. I even spoke to someone in real life about the comment, only to have them say, “Sorry, but I agree with the commenter. If you don’t like the genre, don’t read the book.” Now, I understand where the opinion comes from, I just disagree with it.

Which is where the meat of this post comes in, why I disagree. To say that people who don’t generally like a genre shouldn’t ever read books in that genre is exclusionary and ridiculous. Life simply isn’t that black and white.

People’s opinions change, and if they never try something they might not like, they’d never know it. (Not to mention other reasons to read a book you might not like: to expose yourself to opposing opinions, book clubs, school, friends’ recommendations, cross-over, etc).

Let me give you a personal example. For most of my life, I thought I hated romance books. Every time I tried to read one, I was dissatisfied. But I was often tempted by the blurbs, especially if there was a fantasy element. So, every now and again, I’d give in and read one. 99% of the time I finished them unhappy. But there was always that one, which kept home alive.

As I got older and my understanding got more mature, I realized that I don’t hate romance. What I hate is the type of gender politics that are so common in romance books. So, if I was careful about which authors I read and/or read LGBT+ romances (which have their own problematic aspects, but not my particular rage triggering ones) I could happily read a romance book…or 400. But If I’d given up and said, “I hate romance” and never read another one, I’d have never realized my mistake and would have missed out on some of my favorite books.

So, I dislike being told I shouldn’t read a book in a genre I generally dislike. There are always exceptions, and I’m always hoping the next book will be the one. Which brings me to the original Tweeter’s point about reviewing books in genre’s you don’t like. Which is subtly different that reading them. No one would argue with, “I generally dislike this genre, but took a chance on this book and loved it.***” No one would tell that reviewer that they shouldn’t have written their review.

Reviews of such books is a topic that I take a related, but different issue with. Telling reviewers that they shouldn’t review books in genres they don’t generally choose to read presumes that reviews are written for a single purpose. What’s more, I’d assert that it positions the review in the perspective of the author and/or fans of a book/genre. It suggests “the review space about book X is only for people like us, and if you don’t share our view, you’re not welcome at the tea party.” It forgets that, while a review’s primary purpose may be to inform readers about a book’s quality (and we could argue if this should be objective or subjective quality), it isn’t a review’s only purpose.

I for one, write reviews as a sort of book journal. It’s my personal closing out the book ceremony. And as such, with very few exceptions (usually latter books in long series, in which my opinion hasn’t changed since earlier books), I review every book I read. Good, bad, indifferent, they all get a review.

So, how should I handle books from genres I generally dislike, took a chance on, and found they were not the exception to the rule? I’m going to review them. I say, “I generally don’t like this genre, but…” Why? Because that flags all readers of that review that it’s being written by someone who was not predisposed to like the book. It says up front, that the review could be considered bias. It warns readers that are fans of that genre that they can disregard the review as an outlier. I consider that sentence, and ones like it, to be a favor to future readers.

So, when people take issue with it, I’m always like, “Well, I guess I could leave it off and just let the review stand, unaccompanied, as a negative review.” Would that be better, you think? I don’t.

That single sentence also speaks to other readers who might not be regular fans of that genre, but are considering taking a chance on the book, just like I did. Maybe they’ll decide against it. Maybe they’ll see the points I make and decide they’re not the ones that bother them and read the book anyway (or because of the review). Either way, the review is still serving it’s purpose. It’s still a valid review.

I feel like telling readers that they should only read books in genres they particularly like, and should only be allowed to review books from such genres (and yes, I feel like this becomes a prescriptive, allowance issue) is akin to people claiming you shouldn’t write reviews of books you don’t like. Which means the only reviews to be written are positive ones. Which means review spaces lose their critical edge and instead become fuzzy praise boards.

This is something I REALLY disagree with. If someone chooses to only write positive reviews, that’s their choice. But the moment they say someone else shouldn’t write a negative, one I start to grind my teeth. Similarly, if someone chooses not to read or write reviews of books from genres they are not pre-established fans of, that’s their choice and I welcome to it. But as soon as they try to tell me I shouldn’t do it, we have friction.


* I don’t actually remember why I reviewed it on Goodreads and Amazon, but decided not to post it here. Maybe because it was my first year as a blogger and I wasn’t certain how to handle poor reviews yet. I don’t know, 4 years later.

**I didn’t at the time realize the tweet would still be in mind two days later. So, I didn’t think to take a screenshot. This post simply wasn’t that premeditated…or even meditated.

*** Which is basically the review I wrote last week for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peal Pie Society. I read it for book club, despite having no interest in it.

Closing out 2017

It’s New Years Eve, 2017, and another year is gone. How? HOW? I remember being a kid and hearing my parents talk about how fast time goes and being baffled. I mean summers seemed to last an eternity and Christmas took a decade to get here. But I’m all grown up now and I get it. Time slips by.

I know not everyone does it, but I mark its passage with books. Have I read ten so far? Twenty? Two-hundred? Three? This year it was 301. Granted, a few of those were children’s books or short stories and this was the year I really dove into audio books. But I still consider that a pretty good number. More than I expected, honestly. I set my initial year-long goal at 250 books.

As I’ve said in the past, I generally use Goodreads to keep track of things—books I’ve read, mean to read, own but have decided not to read but can’t bring myself to trash (gasp, the horror), etc. And while I don’t use star rating here on the blog, so that readers pay more attention to the content of a review than the numerical marker of success or failure, I do rate them on Goodreads; who conveniently produces a nice little graphic about them. Tada!

That’s a lot of freakin’ books and looking at it makes me feel incredibly satisfied. I’ll just take a moment to bask in it, thank you very much.

So, what were the highs and lows of 2017’s reading, or even just what stands out? Blue aliens. Seriously, at one point I started collecting book covers with blue aliens on them. I gave up at about 130. Once I started looking, I saw them EVERYWHERE! Thousands and thousands of blue aliens, apparently they don’t come in other colors anymore.

OK, more seriously. I didn’t have a lot of standout books this year (I read a lot of fluff, I admit it), but those that struck me as especially worthwhile were All Systems Red, The Hate U Give, Peter DarlingThe Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths & Magic, and  Vick’s Vultures;

with The “Wonderful” Wizard of Futhermucking Oz , Resistance, Shifting Dreams, and Twelve Days of Fairy maybe not topping the list, but sticking with me as memorable for their own reasons.

I won’t do a worst of list, but I will note two particular rants I found myself making several times this year. Spinoffs, I cannot tell you how many times I picked up a book thinking it was book one in a series, only to discover that it was actually book one in a spinoff series. Sometimes this was readable—The Crown Tower, The Stone in the Skull and The Way of Shadows being examples—but sometimes I felt like I was picking up book #14 in a series. Sometimes that’s actually what I was doing, the publisher just thought it would sell better if called a new series. I’m getting increasingly sensitive about this, because it just keeps happening to me.

Secondly, I discovered the phrase Book Stuffing/page stuffing. This is something I’d noticed and been irritated by, but didn’t know there was a name or reason for it. The idea being that an author or authors take a cluster of stories or books, makes one of them the title of the “book” and calls all the others “bonus material.” They then take the same stories, call another one the title and mix up the order of the rest and call it a second “book.” Doing this for every one in the collection, such that there are several “books” containing the same material.

The idea is apparently, as I understand it, to have a high page count. This is important because Amazon KU pays authors by the number of pages read, not books sold. The author then includes a link at the end of the primary book to a ‘sneak peak’ or some other enticement that bypasses all the bonus material and leaping to the end, thereby marking them all as read and gaining several hundred page reads and a high payout.

So, these book stuffers are breaking Amazon’s rules to essentially rig the system, sucking more than their share of the KU earnings into their own coffers. They also regularly snatch the monthly KU bonuses and usurp all the top spots on the charts, such that authors playing by the rules are payed less and struggle to gain any visibility.

I don’t have any books in KU. So, on a personal level this doesn’t effect me. What does is the fact that before I learned what this is, I picked up a couple of these stuffed books and read at least some of several of them. They were just terrible. They’re not written to actually be read, after all. The title story was crap all by itself, before I even got to the idea that I thought I was in for a 400 page book, but instead of ten 40 page stories. As a reader, I felt cheated and manipulated. I felt like I had been taken advantage of and lied to. This feeling only got worse once I realize it wasn’t just an annoying way to sell short stories with bad writing, but an actual scam.

It’s my understanding that Amazon is trying to get a handle on this, so maybe it’s no longer a valid complaint and won’t matter for 2018. But it sure was something of note for me in 2017.

Let’s see, what else? Challenges? I didn’t do anywhere near as many challenges as I have in the past. I did an alphabet challenge, where I read a book by an author who’s last name starts with each letter of the alphabet. I did an Action Heroine challenge on Goodreads. I started a mini challenge to read all the paperback novellas on my shelf. I promptly forgot about it though. It’s amazing how I can look over a stack of books on my desk for months. So, I’m calling this one ongoing, I’m about halfway done.

I tried to read more local authors, though I never made this an official challenge, and I made a concerted effort to read more diverse books. But, while I started the year planning to do an actual Diverse Romance Bingo card and a Read Diverse 2017 challenge, I didn’t keep up. I didn’t remember to go back and check the card and the Read Diverse blog hasn’t been updated since April, so I haven’t been able to post there. (I believe the blogger got married and priorities changed. Fair enough.)

I have also had the honor of reading several books or stories by people I’ve gotten to know online. Ladies, you know who you are and you are amazing. Not all the genres are in my wheelhouse, but it’s been amazing to follow the creative process, especially since (despite my intentions) I did very little writing this year.

All in all, 2017, while rough in other ways, was a good year for reading. I look forward to more of the same in 2018. Here’s hoping.