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Bookish thoughts 20 July: proper reviews; fairytales and feminism; dissecting journals publishing & more!

book news Bookish thoughts 20 July: proper reviews; fairytales and feminism; dissecting journals publishing & more!

RIASS stuff:

Book Review: Jilted by Rachael Johns'Rating: star Bookish thoughts 20 July: proper reviews; fairytales and feminism; dissecting journals publishing & more!star Bookish thoughts 20 July: proper reviews; fairytales and feminism; dissecting journals publishing & more!star Bookish thoughts 20 July: proper reviews; fairytales and feminism; dissecting journals publishing & more!halfstar Bookish thoughts 20 July: proper reviews; fairytales and feminism; dissecting journals publishing & more!blankstar Bookish thoughts 20 July: proper reviews; fairytales and feminism; dissecting journals publishing & more!

Book Review: The Innocent by Taylor Stevens'Rating: star Bookish thoughts 20 July: proper reviews; fairytales and feminism; dissecting journals publishing & more!star Bookish thoughts 20 July: proper reviews; fairytales and feminism; dissecting journals publishing & more!halfstar Bookish thoughts 20 July: proper reviews; fairytales and feminism; dissecting journals publishing & more!blankstar Bookish thoughts 20 July: proper reviews; fairytales and feminism; dissecting journals publishing & more!blankstar Bookish thoughts 20 July: proper reviews; fairytales and feminism; dissecting journals publishing & more!

Giveaway: One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf'(open to US/Canadian readers)

Other bookish stuff:

A quick addition to yesterdays ranty rant about the Canberra Times cutting its book pages: my husband raised the point that the reviewers who will be lost from this publication and others like it will likely move online, producing similar content, but in a more openly accessible environment with greater distribution. He argues that their reach will likely grow as a result, and that theyll be put more readily into the hands of the reading public than they might be if theyre siloed off in a small City newspaper. As a result, he argues, therell be increased ability to engage with the public, and to interact with other reviewers and literary types.

In response, Id argue that being on the internet is not the same as being read, and that although some reviewers/bloggers have made a name for themselves writing columns for online presses, reviewing isnt exactly something that lends itself to hugely widespread dissemination and virality. Moreover, the cutting of the books pages is not an end in itself: its a worrying symptom of a culture of monetisation over creativity, and where the arts are sorely underappreciated due to their perceived lack of value against a cynical context where quality is measured against dollar returns.

On the nature of proper reviews

After yesterdays other'ranty rant about the role of the book blogger, I had a chat with Violet from Still Life With Books'about yet another tricksy element of this book blogging world: the very nature of a review. Violet noted that the blurred boundary between reviewing and PR is only further muddled by the fact that what were describing as a review is not necessarily so at allso often, she notes, and I concur, the term review is slapped onto a quick summary tagged with a few stars and a giveaway.

Violet describes her posts as analyses or thoughts on a given book, and Ive done the same several times in the past, where what began as a review wandered off into pure analysis territory (eg this post on Camus). I admit that personally many of my reviews do indeed skip merrily over this line, and after giddily writing away for a good thousand words or so, Ill realise that Ive spent an age discussing themes and character, but without giving any idea whether or not a book is actually any good, or often, without being able to provide any sort of reasonable assessment about a books ending, something I put down to the worlds insane phobia of spoilers and the anger Ive received in response to writing reviews deemed to contain these. Indeed, Ive received a few baffled comments along the lines of you found all that in the book, but you only gave it three stars?.

In my case this speaks to a couple of things. First, the desire to upset the tedium of writing dozens of posts that could easily be so similar, second, a desire to engage not just narratively but intellectually with a book, and third, an admitted deficit in my understanding of the basic tenets of literary criticism. Like many bloggers, Im a book lover, but not necessarily an'informed one in the traditional sense. My background is in linguistics, so while Im happy to wax lyrical about semantics and pragmatics and the ethnography of communication in a book, well, Im a little lost when it comes to working with a traditional critical framework.

This is something Ive worried about for a while, and Ive taken a few steps to filling in these gaps (yay for free downloadable courses at Yale), but theres still a huge haziness in both my understanding of literary criticism (and criticism more broadly), and in my familiarity with and fluency in the various literary movements over the years, and particularly those beyond the western tradition. Like everyone, Im a perpetual student, and Im only as good as I am at this present moment, though I do hope Ill improve!

Okay. Back to your tidbits:

The lure of the fairytale'There are two varieties of fairy tales. One is the literary fairy taleshort stories, really'except that they have fanciful subject matter: unhappy ducks, princesses who dance all night, and so on. The other kind of fairy tale, the ancestor of the literary variety, is the oral tale, whose origins cannot be dated, since they precede recoverable history.

My quick thoughts:'The article traces the evolution of the fairytale at the hands of the Grimm brothers, whose work falls somewhere between the written fairytale and the oral tradition. It also notes that the Grimms tales were, well, grim, ostensibly targeted towards adults rather than a child audience, and are violent and nationalistic in nature. Not only this, but theyre hugely misogynistic, as Ive commented in a number of my recent fairytale myths, full of unassuming, gormless female victims who are attacked, brutalised and put into submission in myriad ways. The Grimm tales have often been described as warnings, as creations designed to create paranoia and warn against trusting both the unknown and the knownbut Id suggest that most frequently theyre warnings towards women who might be considering stepping beyond the boundaries of an acceptable feminine existence. That these stories, or at least the Disneyfied version of them, are incredibly prevalent in our world today, merrily going about their days to undermine the work of feminism and provide a prettily pink vehicle for the patriarchy to reaffirm womens roles as voiceless individuals whose role is to submit to a man who has chosen them as his prize. One could argue that fairytales are a type of behaviour modification device that clearly lay out acceptable gender binariesand offer violent consequences should these be transgressed.

Book dedications: A revolting spectacle'I think the saddest book dedication Ive read was one that I found in a second-hand book in City Basement Books: To Mary, on our fortieth wedding anniversary. What happened for the book to be given away? Did they divorce? Did something happen to Mary? Her husband?

Writing in the Margins: Books Before and After I Read Them'Im not a margin writer, although I have discovered the joy of highlighting passages using my Kindle. Wonderful stuff!

From Satis House to Dr Jekylls abode: the 10 best homes in literature'(Havishams house comes with a built-in cake!)

Tips for how to connect with readers using tumblr'I actually do have a TumblR account. Im a bit crap at it, though. Its sort of like Google+ for me. Its there, but what the hell am I meant to do with it?

OverDrive opens office in Australia to strengthen partner relationships

Survey Shows Growing Strength of E-Books'Ebook units up; online sales are up as well. Childrens publishing continues to show strong growth.

Chris Cleave on Radio National Books and ARts'talking about his new novel, Gold'(audio)

Interview with editor Daniel Ehrenhaft'I knew I wanted to work in children's literature the moment I reread'The Westing Game'by Ellen Raskin senior year in college. I'd remembered that it was the book that inspired me to start writing'and most importantly, reading voraciously.

McGraw-Hill to Pursue Direct Digital Sales to College Students

My quick thoughts: a pain for textbook retailers, but a boon for the poor tertiary students forced to shell out hundreds of dollars each semester for textbooks theyll never open, and which have to be bought new because the annual updates provide little new content other than moving the page numbers out of sync with whichever edition your lecturer has.

A Proposed List ' 60 Things Journal Publishers'Do

My quick take: There are some great points here, although obviously some points carry far greater weight than others, and some, while ostensibly being managed by a publisher are largely the scope of the journal editor (not the publishers production editor or accounts editorial team). The tracking of submissions, for example, though admittedly often done using bespoke software such as ScholarOne, usually falls under the remit of the academic journal editor, even though the publishing company may pay part of or all of the fees for using that software, and may provide some ongoing support in training people in using that software.

To be honest, Id argue that the publishers involvement on the editorial side of things is minimal save for things such as costing for supplements, proposed page extensions/frequency increases, and overseeing what is largely an outsourced production process. Its the swanky branding and the ability to push a journal into international territories and secure costly ongoing institutional subscriptions that are where the publishing company shines: its the sales team thats bringing in the money. We all love that sales team.

I think what Im trying to say, in a very roundabout and fluffy manner (its Friday morning, and Im on my first coffee), is that the appeal of having a journal housed in the fancy stalls of an academic publishing house is being questioned as the laypersons ability to take over many of the tasks that once hid behind the walls of the publishing industry city grows. Distribution and archive hosting, for example, are lesser tasks than they might have been a few years ago, and with the move to Open Access publication, costings are likely becoming more streamlined and less risky as well. SEO and social media distribution neednt be in the hands of an academic publisher, and analytics etc can be monitored by journal teams as well; these can be done quite readily and affordably through a distributed team of specialists. Another thing: advances in journals publishing are, like pretty much all publishing, slow and typically railed against by upper management.

Because of the opportunities afforded by the internet, the subsequent lowering of the barriers of entry, and the ability to quite effectively outsource many elements of production and printing, its little surprise that journal editors are asking what value the publishing house brings to them. Unlike mainstream publishers, who are a sort of quality gatekeeper as well as a printer and distributor, academic journals publishers are gatekeepers really only in terms of costingits rarely the publisher who guides the content of a journal, but rather the subject area expert who does so. I suppose it comes down to a question of specialisation and centralisation: does a journal editor want to appoint an independent group to manage all of this stuff (or do so him/herself?), or is it better just to handball it off to a large conglomerate that has some sort of existing infrastructure in place?

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  1. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out /

    Im curious -what downloadable classes are you referring to. i come to reviewing with a background as simply a reader so Id be interested in the opportunity to learn more about the more professional aspects of criticism.

  2. I do agree that a lot of book blogging that I read isnt even really a critique of the book (plot line, prose, styling, etc) but rather free flow thought of feelings while reading the book. A lot of reviews dont even do more than a sentence of summary. I tend not to come back to those blogs because I read reviews to get a sense not only for the overall impressions a book leaves behind, but what it is about as well. But, I dont mind spoilers and I think a lot of people believe anything said about a book regarding the plot line spoils it. I disagree, I think anything but the twist or apex of the story is not a spoiler. That is just my opinion, and maybe a bit of a rant. LOL

    • Stephanie /

      Good points, Jami. I suppose even the use of the term blogger encourages a sharing of thoughts/feelings rather than an assessment. Perhaps those who consider themselves reviewers rather than bloggers would be more likely to write more traditional reviews?

      I see myself as a blogger mostly for reasons of inferiority, much like how I only call myself a writer when its to do with my freelance workIm going to pretend my fiction doesnt exist until some of my long-form work is picked up!

      I completely agree with you about spoilers, and Ive had some truly bizarre head-scratcher comments from people who think that something that happens within the first ten pages counts as a spoiler. I play pretty fast and loose with spoilersparticularly with older books. If its a classic, anythings game for analysis!

      • Perhaps your distinction is important, though I do like the free form of blogging versus a traditional review. I like knowing peoples thoughts an experiences along with what the book is about. Ive never felt you spoiled anything. I think you make intriguing analysis that make me want to read the books. Definitely my tbr pile has grown since reading your blog. And I agree, if the book is a classic (or even more than five years old), and you are on the internet, no crying that something is being spoiled.

        • Stephanie /

          I do wonder whether blogging has changed more formal reviewers approaches to reviewing, actually. Quite a few of the reviews Ive been reading in the major papers recently seem to be shifting to more contextual sorts of reviews, and theyre often quite light-hearted and informal.

          Ive been meaning (for months now, like the walking with a book post!) to do a post on spoilers, and I completely agree with you about older books being exempt from this spoiler-free stuff!

  3. Great discussion, Stephanie.

    Ive been wondering about these issues since reading the range of reviews for AWW. Theres really no consensus regarding what a review is among participants of the AWW challenge. Is it a summary with the reviewers personal ranking/taste thrown in or something more?

    Even in the literary pages, you get different types and lengths reviews. Sometimes there are whole pages, thousands of words, devoted to 2 or 3 books. Other times, you get a series of snippets that appear little more than publishers promos, a bare 250 words at best.

    Personally, I loved the long, reflective essay, the readers response to the book, but I dont always find the time to read them. Quite often, Ill find myself skimming or only reading the really short reviews simply to get an idea of the book. Thats especially the case when its not a genre Im keen on.

    One thing Im very interested in is your perception that you lack the creds for reviewing. (I thinkbeing an intelligent reader is all thats required!) Varuna did a workshop recently I think with Geordie Williamson on how to write reviews. I wonder if they published anything in the aftermath? A summary of the main points could prove very useful!

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful comment, Elizabeth. Imelda, in the comment below, has addressed some of your thoughts about what a review might entail, and it seems that review is perhaps a very hazy umbrella term that might well be interchangeable with discussion.

      Im always interested to read reviews that mix things up a little bitthings that place a book in a broader context, or that look at the author and their body or work, or which take an entirely different approach to the review itself. The Uncustomary Book Review, for example, is always fascinating to read. Id love to be able to take the time to put something like that together, but Im always racing the clock.

      I did a post a while back on star ratings and their impact on reviews, and it seemed to be the case that readers very often look at the star review, and then from that choose whether or not to read a review.

      Regarding my reviewer cred, I think this sort of ambivalence and inferiority is probably inevitable to some degree. Its hard not to feel like an impostor, I think, putting oneself out there and having the gall to rate and critique the work of others, particularly in light of all those criticisms levelled at reviewers for reviewing rather than doing.

      • Thanks for pointing me to Imeldas response, Stephanie. (Thats fascinating what you mention about readers judging by stars!)

        I can understand the ambivalence about putting your opinion out there. I guess we all go through that why would anyone be interested in what I have to say? We have to trust that, while people might not agree with our response, they are interested. And the more discussion we participate in, the more we help to create a living, vibrant community where the possibility of truly great stories get a chance to be written and enjoyed.

        As for the criticism of reviewers reviewing rather than doing ah, thats painful! It reminds me of the criticism about teachers: Those who can, do; those who cant teach. Its so unfair. Teachers can be vital to fostering a sense of creativity and imagination in a student. Im sure reviewers can be and are a similar inspiration.

        • Stephanie /

          What a lovely and inspiring comment, Imelda. We are lucky that rather than writing/reviewing in a vacuum we do have these sorts of opportunities where we can discuss our thoughts and approaches, and learn from others so readily and so accessibly.

          I have very fond memories of all the teachers who encouraged me during my time at school, so hopefully the odd author does take heart from a review!

    • Hi Elizabeth and Stephanie. I actually attended the Varuna workshop with Geordie Williams the other weekend Kirsten Tranter was there too, and spoke about the Stella award and mentioned you and the AWW challenge. It was a fascinating day we discussed a little about reviewing techniques, but also issues like how to capture the attention of literary editors and the way in which different kinds of critics (literary, music, film, television) construct their reviews.

      Speaking for myself, Im particularly interested in the way other critics write. I studied literary criticism at university but as Imelda commented below, formal literary criticism, interesting though it may be, often has little to do with the mechanics of real-world criticism. Its a matter of combining theory and accessibility to create something that sits comfortably between the two extremes. Personally, I believe that the best way to learn about writing about books is by actually writing about books Im learning as I go.

      • Stephanie /

        Thanks for visiting, Michelle! I really appreciate your thoughtful comments about reviewing vs criticism and the different audiences being targeted by different critics. I suppose that where I feel that I lack knowledge and awareness is in the areas of literary approaches, and also in my familiarity with the literary canon as it were. I feel that these gaps affect my reading, and have no doubt that Ive had readers cringe over things Ive missed or omitted because of my being unaware of a reference, style, trope or so on. But youre probably rightthis is something that will most likely be repaired by more reading, more writing, and more reviewing!

  4. Stephanie, a few thoughts on books reviews:

    First, literary criticism is not the same thing as book reviewing. I have a degree in the former but I am lousy at the latter, whereas you are really good at it! It is a real skill and not to be under-rated.

    Im happy to read either. I love a good long burrowing into themes and tropes and style and all that, but I think that Im more likely to enjoy that if it is a book I have already read myself.

    For books I havent read, I love to read a proper review.

    I suppose, for me, a review is what you and Shelleyrae do so well. It includes a description of the book story, characters, style and anything else that makes an impression on the reviewer and honest comment on what did or didnt work for the reviewer about the book and whether they enjoyed it. At least, thats the best way I can describe a good review off the top of my head. But the best reviews are are greater than the sum of a laundry list of parts and, like good fiction, have their own kind of alchemy, which cant be described. At least, not by me, which is why I dont feel Im very good at them.

    Then there are recommendations, which basically consists of someone describing (in greater or lesser detail) a book they loved and recommending that I try it. Sometimes these have the characteristics of reviews, in that they discuss the particular elements of the story that worked for the reader, but they dont have to. They can just be raves.

    Then there are what I think of as showcases, which is when a writer offers another writer a spot in their space (blog, website, whatever) to talk about their book, without comment, except the implied one that they are mates and that they like the writer and their work.

    I have a confession to make, partly to Elizabeth, about the AWW review program. I joined enthusiastically, looking forward to talking about Australian Women Writers. But I quickly found myself mired in hesitation. As a writer, I found myself hesitant to offer analysis which may be valid to a writer, but irrelevant to a reader. And as a friend of the the writers whose books I most wanted to review, I found myself with a conflict of interest that made it very hard to be objective.

    Also, after leaping with vim into the program I remembered that I was never very good at book reviews. ;)

    So I have decided to limit myself on my blog to books to showcases and, to books that I can recommend without reservation and for reviews, to recommend sites like yours and Shelleyraes.

    I dont know whether this is sensible or just craven, but its where Im up to now!

    • Imelda, Maybe *this* is the discussion that should appear on the AWW blog? :)

    • Stephanie /

      Great to see your take on this topic, Imelda. Im fascinated by your further breakdown of the various review categories, and of what each type can offer to a reader. Reviews are a funny beast as they can be very difficult to engage withthey often assume knowledge of the book in question, but yet are often designed to help a given reader decide whether or not to read a book. Its not so strange, then, that its my discussions of well-known books or classics that usually receive the most attention. After all, how can you intelligently discuss something you havent read?

      I completely understand about potential conflicts of interests, and have begun to find myself more and more in that situation as I get to know authors (and even publishers). I do worry that now that my fiction is starting to make the rounds that things will become even stickier, and have certainly considered the future of this website in that light. I expect that my reviews will likely move more towards classics and books outside the genre I write in to avoid any potential issues. I suspect that your approach is more sensible than craven!

  5. Elizabeth, maybe it is! :) It is certainly an interesting topic, because, as you say, there doesnt seem to be any consistent idea of what a review is. First question might be, does there need to be?

    Stephanie, I do know authors who manage to review as well as write and I admire them! It is perhaps easier if you review outside of your particular niche. So, for instance, if you write modern crime novels, you might be all right to review regency romances. For me, too, its much easier to review books by people I dont know. If I know the writer, there are personal and professional constraints that I find it very hard to get past. Id much rather be a cheerleader than a critic for my writing friends.

    So, for the time being, for the things I write myself, I think Ill stick to raves and showcases. What I might do though is see if I can get some of my reading (but non-writing) friends to review books for me. Ill buy the books to support my mates, but get someone else to review them, for distances sake. :)

    • Stephanie /

      Great points about whether things do need to be defined at all, Imelda. I suppose Im just one of those people who likes to sit down and nut things out, and perhaps those semantics classes at uni didnt help. :)

      I also think that your point about reviewing outside your niche is a very good one. I dont tend to receive much middle grade to review as it is, so Ive sort of unconsciously been doing that. Although at the same time, MG is the genre I love and do want to read more ofand critiquing/reviewing helps me unpick what works and what doesnt so that I can perhaps incorporate those elements into my own work.

      I think your raves/showcases approach is a very wise one, and I think for people I know its better to feature a guest post or interview rather than an interview that may step on someones toes or come across as falsely flattering.

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