Meet Bev, the force behind the wonderful book blog, My Reader’s Block.
She is an administrative secretary for the Indiana University English department’s MA/PhD program. Bev says, “I’ve been a reader as long as I can remember—but I credit my mom with getting me hooked. When I was seven, she gave me her five-book set of Nancy Drew books. I haven’t looked back since. I’m a non-stop reader and a wanna-be writer (first draft of a mystery novel done…currently it is sadly in need of revisions), so when I named my blog I was looking to do a play on ‘writer’s block’ while also indicating that I was reviewing the books (putting them on the chopping block, so to speak). I planned to call it just ‘Reader’s Block’ but some guy had already claimed it. What’s really irksome is that he claimed it, posted like 2 or 3 times several years ago and then abandoned it. So, I stuck a “My” on it. Ta-da!”
How did you get interested in blogging?
I started blogging in April 2010. A friend of mine mentioned that he had a blog and also that I should check out his daughter’s space. I did and then started snooping around the blogosphere and found oodles and oodles of book blogs. I decided it would be a great way for me to keep track of my reading–log the books and actually review them so maybe my aging brain might better remember what I read. The main point was a personal reading journal. Once I got myself established, I discovered what a great blogging community we have out here. My fellow-bloggers have been terrific—supportive, intelligent, funny, and a wonderful source for new books.
Do you have a preference as to the genres you like to read and blog about?
You’ll find that a high percentage of my reviews are about mysteries. My mom started me with mysteries and they have always been my go-to reads. I especially love the vintage (pre-1960s) novels. I had a long love affair with science fiction from about 12 years old through college and a brief flirtation with romance novels, but in the end I come back to mysteries. But I am also a very eclectic reader—historical fiction; biography; classic fiction; with a preference for British Lit from the World War II era and earlier; poetry; and still some science fiction. Not a big American Lit girl and a more modern novel really has to grab my attention for me to read it.
My blog is mainly a review platform (the journal of reading)—but I occasionally do author interviews for ARCs that I have read. I also participate in a small number of bookish memes and a whole boatload of challenges (more on that later). With these various posts, I usually have something up on the blog at least once a day—and sometimes up to three times a day.
How do you select and/or prioritize the books you read?
I have a list. No, seriously. A huge, multi-page spreadsheet of all my books—with indicators for those that I haven’t read yet. I try really hard to read a good chunk from that list each year. I also have a list of TBF/O (To Be Found &/or Owned) Books. I’ll look for some of those at the library (especially if it’s an author I’m not sure about) or go on bookstore hunts for others. They get added to the TBR list. And….as anyone who visits my blog will notice….I am a sucker for challenges. So, I’m also working in challenge category reading—which means I could be looking for books with animals in the title (or colors or any number of other things); I could be looking for books that “everybody but me” has read; or books published in the current year; or…. And then there are the ARCs. When I’m offered a reading copy it immediately goes to the top of the TBR stack. If I’m currently committed to a book, then I will read the ARC next. I definitely feel obligated to read the ARCs as quickly as possible.
How deep is your TBR pile?
Much deeper than it should be….But, if we want to be technical: 1,175 unread books. And that’s just the ones I own. That doesn’t count the books on the TBF/O list that I’d really like to get my hands on and read.
Tell us about the rating/scoring system you use:
I use the standard five-star system. I used that system back before blogging (before the internet even—yes, I’m that old) and have just kept it up. I sometimes assign half or quarter stars when I can’t quite decide on one category or another.
One Star: The book was just plain, stinking awful. If I finished it, I’m not sure why and there’s a good chance that I didn’t. If I bought it, it’s leaving the house. If it was borrowed, it’s going back where it came from ASAP.
Two Stars: It wasn’t horrible but could have been better. There are a few redeeming qualities–maybe I like the characters or the plot, but it doesn’t all come together.
Three Stars: This was a decent outing. Enjoyable read, no real complaints–but nothing really knocked my socks off.
Four Stars: Over-all pretty outstanding. Lots to like from characters to plot to style to setting. A book I’d probably read again (if there weren’t so many on my TBR list already) and would recommend to others.
Five Stars: A must have, must read, must recommend book. Absolutely knocked my socks off on all counts. Even though I really don’t have time to re-read books, I will re-read this one (probably more than once). I may bore my friends to death talking about how great this book is and will recommend it to everyone whether it’s their kind of book or not. A book to obsess over.
Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by a book you thought you wouldn’t like?
Several times. The one that sticks in my mind is a Young Adult novel. I needed a book for one of my challenges and this one fit the bill. It was a blind date of sorts—I found it through the library’s online catalogue, it fit the challenge category and I ordered it up without checking the finer details. Had I known it was YA before I brought it home, I might have looked elsewhere. The book? The Deathday Letter by Shaun David Hutchinson. A pretty brilliant debut novel.
Have you ever been disappointed in a book you thought you’d love?
Again—several times. Quite often it’s my own fault. I’ve gone into the book with some kind of preconceived notion and it throws me off my stride when I find out that I’m dealing with oranges rather than apples. Or, occasionally, I’ve gone back to an author that I loved when I was younger only to find that the reader I am now doesn’t appreciate the work in the same way.
What are the most common mistakes that you see authors making?
Number One: Telling, rather than showing.
I’ve also read several recently published historical novels over the last year with anachronistic language–everything from “movies” to “database” to the use of “cool” (as in groovy, man) spoken by people long before it shows up in the dictionary with the specific meaning. Good historical writing requires good historical research—that’s why it can be so difficult to write. There are so many more things to pay attention to beyond just telling a good story.
Tell us about any pet peeves you have as a reader.
First person narrative and present tense. Combine the two and I get really peeved. It feels like the story is being told like this: I receive the questions that Stephen has sent me. I think over the answers. I answer them one by one. And right now, this minute, I write out the answer to the question about pet peeves.
It is extremely rare for either of these to work well for me. It’s been done, but not often.
Would you say you more often find yourself loving a book it seems everyone hates, or hating a book everyone else is raving about?
Hmmm. That’s an interesting one. Overall, I tend to be reading books that fewer people are reading—although, there are more of us vintage mystery lovers out here in the ‘net than I would have suspected. I rarely read books just because “everyone” else has (except when a challenge asks me to). Since there are, after all, “so many books and so little time” I try very hard not to pick up books that I don’t have a strong desire to read and don’t believe I will enjoy. That said, when it comes to the books everyone has opinions about, I’m more likely to hate books that others rave about—particularly if those others are the masses of “everyone” who make books like Twilight or 50 Shades so popular. [My apology if I stepped on anybody’s reading toes there.]
What can authors do to ensure a good relationship with book bloggers?
Read the blogger’s review policy. That will start things out on the right foot. I’m not going to be receptive to any sort of a relationship with an author (or the author’s representative) who has obviously not read my policy—what books I welcome and, especially, what books are on my “will not review” list.
And, then, if the author has issues with a review that is posted and feels like s/he really must say something, please contact the blogger privately first. It’s possible that a discussion of the points of disagreement may enlighten both the reader and the author.
If you read a book you think is just terrible, how do you handle that?
I review it just as I would any other book. I try very hard to be fair and to find something positive to say about every book I review—no matter how little I may like it. But I will be honest. If I think the book is just terrible, I will say so. As I’ve mentioned, the blog is first and foremost a reading journal where I can log my thoughts on the books I read. So, if a book or an author’s style doesn’t work for me, I want to have a place where I can note that. Also, I would hope that my followers will respect me more if I am honest. It is really difficult to believe that a blogger can only read five-star books and it’s hard to take a blogger’s reviews seriously if they are never disappointed by a book. No matter how hard I try to screen the books I read—through reading the summaries, fellow blogger recommendations, reviews, etc—there are always books that I think I’m going to enjoy that I just don’t.
What was your worst experience with an author?
I am thankful to say (knock on wood) that so far all of the experiences I have had with authors have been positive. Even when I had to give a less-than-glowing review, the author in question thanked me for my review and said she could appreciate the points that I made.
Bev, thanks so much for a great interview. I encourage everyone to drop by My Reader’s Block and give Bev a shout-out and a follow.