The Sunday Salon~Various and Sundry

The Sunday Salon.com

I awoke to the pleasant sound of raindrops pattering on the awning outside my bedroom, a most welcome sound, since the ground has been dry and parched for most of the past month.  However, my plans for the morning were spoiled…dog walking followed by a morning on the patio of our local coffeeshop with pastry and papers.  Never mind…I can curl up on the sofa just as well.

Welcome to The Sunday Salon.

I won’t mention Bridge of Sighs  again, other than to say I’ve finished it and have the audio book on order at the library.  I’ve only ever done this once – listened to the audio book in close proximity to reading the print, and that  was with Julia Glass’ The Whole World Over.  In that case, I listened to the book first, and loved it so much I felt the need to see those delicious words on paper…so I bought the book and read it right over again!  Have you ever done that?  Been so in love with a story, and with the music and cadence of the writing, that you need to hear/read it again?  Julia Glass is one of my writing hero’s, and I believe she has a new book forthcoming this fall, which I await with bated breath.

I received two books in the mail this week, and I’m excited about both of them.  The first was an autographed copy of Josh Henkin’s novel Matrimony, which I won in Gautami’s giveaway.  Choosing one’s next read after finishing a much loved book like Bridge of Sighs is always a bit risky, but Matrimony has so far been a very satisfying successor.  The other was The Writer’s Idea Book, by  Jack Heffron, which offers some tantalizing writing prompts (“write an alternate story of your life,” “write about your relationship with anger,” and 398 others!) as well as practical writing advice. 

In my perusal of various and sundry book blogs this summer, I’ve noticed discussion regarding the role of bloggers in the book review process, a topic that I think was initiated by an article in the NYT’s Book Review pages which deplored the demise of print reviews in favor of book bloggers, and implied that bloggers were somehow not qualified to provide the kind of reviews good literature deserved.  As ususal, I find myself taking a moderate stance on this topic,  feeling that there is definitely a need for the erudite, literary reviews we find in publications such as the Times, but also believing there is value in the opinions of “ordinary readers,” who after all probably make up a good portion of the book buying public. 

What I look for among the book blogs I read, and what I try to convey in my own writing, is a sense of what the book means to me, how the author has touched me in some way, or made me think about myself or my circumstances differently, or sparked some insights about people or life in general.  The book bloggers that I read on a regular basis have become a coterie of trusted companions whose reactions to books are often similar to my own, and whose recommendations I therefore value.  True, I don’t always feel myself qualified to judge a book on its “literary merit,” but I can tell you with absolute sincerity whether the characters and story were meaningful to me, whether I was moved by events in the book and entertained by the writing.  The reader’s personal response to a book is what interests me, and that’s the niche I think book blogging can fill quite nicely.  Judging from the number of author’s who participate in the book blogging world, with guest posts and interviews and book giveaways, it seems they’ve also found this to be a good avenue for communicating with readers.

And now, as the rain continues, I believe I’ll pour another cup of coffee and come ’round to see what you’re all up to on this Sunday morning.

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22 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon~Various and Sundry

  1. I too agree with what you said about book bloggers. I have found the best of books via the blog world and not from so called serious critiques. Many a lesser known writers have been read by us, which we would have otherwise ignored if we followed the media.

    Have a great reading day. As for me, only a few pages. I still can’t get over my slump.

  2. I absolutely agree with you re: personal responses and how helpful they are. I often find myself skimming over summaries and the like, as I’m far more interested in hearing how the reader reacted to the story. I consider reviews that talk about the way the work affected them far more helpful than those that just discuss its literary merits.

    Not that literary merit reviews aren’t helpful. They are. I’m just far more likely to pick something up based on a personal response, as those sorts of reviews give me a better idea of whether or not I’ll get something out of the story on an emotional level.

  3. I agree with you. The books I read have to reach me on some level for me to even consider opening them, and then have to really touch me on an intellectual or emotional level (ideally, both) for me to recommend them to someone else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a fluffy romance, or an inspirational non-fiction like Jill Butler’s Create the Space You Deserve, there has to be a connection there. I find those connections way more often on book blogs than I do by reading so-called “proper” reviews.

  4. Like the others, I completely agree with your assessment of the role of book bloggers. Between book blogs and Library Thing, I’ve come across some other readers who have similar tastes to my own, and whose opinion I really value. Sometimes professional book reviews can’t really express what makes a book fantastic because they’re too caught up in other parts of the reviewing process.

  5. I hate to sound like a record, but I agree as well. It irritates me when book bloggers are dismissed as being ‘unqualified’ to review a book. I try not to take it personally, and remember that there are many readers who would raher take the recommendation of a book blogger than a ‘mainstreem published review’. I pride myself on honest, forthright reviews and even when I’ve been asked by an author or a rep, I do not let it influence my thoughts on the book. I’ve had authors tell me they appreciate my honesty and called it ‘refreshing’. That is a compliment I will gladly accept. Great post!

  6. It’s book bloggers who have sent me back to the TBR shelf to get the Russo book…The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie…Great Gatsby…Olive Kitteridge…actually, most of my favorite reads this year.

  7. Here, the rain was swept away and replaced by a most perfect shimmer. I wish that for you as well.

    I will be eager to hear what you think of Matrimony. There was, I thought, much to admire. But then, too — well. I’ll wait and see what you think.

    As for blogging and reviewing — I often review for Chicago Tribune, and the truth is, I don’t change my standards when reviewing for my own blog. The difference is that I typically only herald that which I love on my blog (though there have been occasions when I felt a book that I didn’t love represented an important object lesson, and then I’ve blogged about that). When given a book to review for a paper, you have no choice: You must address what is there before you. You must swallow harder, and proceed.

  8. I do like your reasonable and measured view on book blogging! For my own part, I have never recovered from seeking reviews online from the major newspapers of a book I’d just read and finding three out of the five contained serious factual errors (confusing characters’ names, getting the plot wrong, etc). My faith in professionalism took quite a drop.

    And I’ve just discovered I have Three Junes by Julia Glass on my shelves – yay!

  9. Because of you, Bridge of Sighs now sits on my shelf. And, lately, I find nearly all of my reading from book bloggers. You all are doing something marvellous — please don’t stop!

  10. The sort of reviews I like to read are similar to your own preferences: ones that indicate what a book meant to the reviewers…how it touched them as you say…what they take away from it personally. But I also want to know what the book made the reviewers think about, what questions it raised, what it reminded them of, or what new places it took them to. I don’t find much of this in the major book review venues. I find it in spades in blogland. Thanks for a wonderful post! ~ sadie

  11. Great post! Like others, I completely agree with you re: book bloggers and our role in the book review world. To take it one step further, word of mouth is a powerful advertising tool and is what online book review blogs/sites offer to the author and their publisher. One of the great benefits for these two groups is in the process of how a reader now purchases a book: after someone reads a review online, s/he can immediately check out other online reviews (which, as stated, tend to be a more personal reflection on the book) and then if interested, go directly to their online book seller and order the book. This is often not the process with print reviews for most people – I don’t know anyone who goes straight to their favorite book seller,online or otherwise, and purchases a book they’ve just read a review for in print. I do know a lot of readers look at other review blogs and add to their online TBR lists because of what a blogger, whose opinion they respect, said about the book. Just using Bookstack as an example, how many times on this very site, do we see someone who says ‘Because of you, now sits on my shelf’ or something similar? You see this type of statement on many of the book blogs on a pretty regular basis – word of mouth is probably more powerful than people realize in this industry.

    Also, online book review sites are VERY good at finding ‘diamonds in the ruff’. These are the books by new authors no one has heard of and won’t appear in a print review for quite a while because they are published by a small press or self-published. I’ve recently read on several online author communities, a majority of new authors want to have the ‘big print reviews’ before they feel their books are a success. It irks me when our reviews are minimized because we are considered ‘just bloggers’. We have built loyal readership who value our opinions on books and go on to purchase the books we’ve reviewed (see example of Becca’s site above). It may not be every book, but as someone noted earlier, ‘between book blogs and Library Thing, I’ve come across some other readers who have similar tastes to my own, and whose opinion I really value. Sometimes professional book reviews can’t really express what makes a book fantastic because they’re too caught up in other parts of the reviewing process’. This definitely says something about our credibility as readers (and objective writers).

    This turned out to be much longer than I wanted. This is a topic I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about lately. My apologies for the length.

  12. Having read how Booker Prize panels arrive at their judgements of the winner for anyone year, I think convinces me even more that book blogs are excellent ways of arriving at a judgement about whether or not you want to read a book. I’ve got a link to that particular story in my own post in the Sunday Salon. It is quite fascinating! I agree with you that there are blogs that you feel you can trust with respect to their judgements on books – and yours is one of them. I tend to go through the Sunday papers for their reviews, but have once or twice bought books on their recommendation that I actually did not appreciate at all in the same way.
    And yes, I’ve listened to stories that I downloaded on my iPod and subsequently bought a book because of having listened to that author.

  13. You put it so perfectly… “The reader’s personal response is what interests me….” That’s why I enjoy book blogging. I love reading the reviews by the critics but I don’t get the personal reasons when I read those and that’s why I go to book bloggers.

    I’ve got Bridge of Sighs on my wish list thanks to you! 🙂

  14. Such an interesting discussion…thank you all so much for sharing your thoughts and opinions. Not surprisingly, we mostly concur with the idea of book bloggers being able to provide a completely different, yet no less valuable, service to the reading populace than print reviews. And Rachel, I like your example of reading a blog review, and then being able to immediately click to the site to purchase the book. You’re absolutely right, that’s something which rarely happens when lounging over the Times in your pajamas on Sunday morning.

    I’m so pleased to hear so many of you say that you value my recommendations – although now I’m a bit frightened as well, hoping you’ll like the books as much as I have 🙂

    How fun, when Sunday Salon carries over into Monday!

  15. Becca, I enjoyed your post — and the comments. I’m an editor at The Baltimore Sun and a writer for its Read Street book blog, (www.baltimoresun.com/readstreet), which was launched this spring. Despite the general decline in newspaper book coverage, the blog has allowed us to experiment with online features such as a U.S. map of favorite bookstores.
    This month, at the Baltimore Book Festival, I’ll lead a panel discussion about the decline in newspaper coverage and the growth of bloggers. Heather Johnson, an excellent local blogger (www.age30books.blogspot.com), will also be on the panel.
    I’m interested in your views. Do you think publishers and authors pay enough attention to bloggers? Will bloggers totally supplant newspaper reviewers, or does each offer something distinct?

  16. I couldn’t agree with you more about book bloggers. I never really thought about this until I started following first your blog, and then some of the others I discovered through Write on Wednesday. For whatever reason, I give a higher “purchase contemplation level” to a book I see on a blog than simply a review. In blogging, one has the opportunity to learn a bit about the blogger and why they like the book; are they a kindred spirit? Does their blog reflect images, thoughts, values, ideas that are similar to your own? If they do, then I’m going to really think more about that book when it looks like the stack is getting a bit low. Very thoughtful…

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