|Photo credit: Deirdre McCulloch |
I met Amy during A Levels - the girl who always had her nose in a book, and relished English lit essays. She now reviews books at her blog Stuff and Nonsense
, which seems such an obvious step! I thought it might be fun to hear what goes on in the head of a book reviewer when they've got their hands on your book!
school, I remember you were a voracious reader. At what point did you decide to
write reviews and create a blog?
I spent most of my adult life being a
student, and after that I wanted to relax for a while and read what I wanted. What
started as relaxation became stagnation, and I decided I needed a challenge and
somewhere to write. So I started a blog without, at first, an idea of what it
would be about. It evolved quite quickly into being about what I was reading
and my relationship with books because books are quite possibly the thing I
love most in the world after my husband, my family, my friends and my cat. Oh,
goes without saying on this blog. Do you review all the books you read, or do
you choose the ones you’ve got most to talk about?
When I decided that the blog would be
about what I was reading, I decided to write something about every book I read
- which means even things that I felt a little bit ashamed of reading. I wanted
it to be a complete and honest record of my reading. I decided that I would
either write a blog post or, if I felt like I didn’t have much to say about a
book, a pithy tweet.
is your favourite genre, and do you read outside that for the purposes of
I read crime novels most of all and,
within that, I prefer the mystery and detection element to a straight thriller.
There are some blogs out there that specialise in reviewing crime, and do that
excellently, but I like to move between genres. If I feel like I have read a
few similar books in a row, then I like to switch to reading in a different genre
for a while.
I also have a bad multi-reading habit,
so I am usually read more than one book at once, normally from different
genres. I like to read something more literary alongside something for pure
entertainment and switch between them.
your favourite author, and why?
I have a few favourite authors who I
collect in hardback: for pure entertainment value Terry Pratchett or Janet
Evanovich; for something a bit more challenging, Michael Ondaatje and Howard
If I have to pick a favourite, it would
probably be Howard Jacobson. I discovered his writing when I was in my early
20s, long before he won the Booker. He’s everything that I want in a writer:
passionate, articulate, thoughtful, funny and frequently a little bit filthy.
He is a great chronicler of male middle-aged angst, and more than any other man
he is probably responsible for my twisted view of the male psyche.
book would you recommend everyone to read at least once?
I don’t read short stories very often,
but I love The Things They Carried by
Tim O’Brien. Tim O’ Brien was a soldier in the Vietnam War, and most of his
writing refers back to the war to a greater or lesser extent. I don’t tend to
like war writing in general, so please don’t be put off the book if you also
think that you don’t like war writing. There is an element of black humour in
some of his writing, but also moments of great insight and tenderness amidst
If you don’t want to read the whole
collection, just read How to Tell a True
War Story. It’s a brilliant piece of writing.
you read other people’s reviews to compare them with yours?
I try not to, as it only tends to make
me feel less confident. I felt a few months ago that my blog was starting to
feel a bit samey, and I read a book (Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist) that I didn’t feel sure about. I didn’t know what to
write, so I made the mistake of looking up other reviews and only ended up more
conflicted and less sure of myself. Since that experience, I might read reviews
by other people out of curiosity after I have posted a review but I would try
to avoid reading them before. In theory it is a good idea of read other reviews
because you can learn from other people, but in practice it just gives me
mentioned on your blog that publishers are sending you books to review. How did
that come about? (I assume large publishers don’t just send books out
you love reading, then Twitter is a great resource. I follow quite a lot of
publishing houses, and it is a good way to get information about new books that
are being published. Through their tweets I found that there are some
publishing houses who keep records of book bloggers and will send out review
copies, so I sent them my details. Twitter is a good place for a book addict to
make friends and find book gossip and competitions.
And finally, some of
my followers have had bad experiences with either one-star reviews and no
explanation, or bad reviews aimed personally at the author rather than the
book. Is that the mark of a bad book or a bad reviewer?
I personally rarely write a bad review
- mainly because I decided that my bookshelves are too overstuffed and my life
too short to read everything, so I no longer force myself to finish something
if I’m not enjoying it. I’m very aware that a work of fiction doesn’t spring
from nowhere; it is created by another human being who has put a lot of time
and effort into what they have made, and I have a great respect for that act of
creation. So I would never want to write something which the author might feel
I’m inclined to think that a one star
review with no explanation or, even worse, a personal attack on the author
probably says more about the reviewer than it does about the book itself. Of
course not everyone will like the same things, but it is disrespectful to
condemn a book as being a one star read and not be able to constructively
justify why you didn’t rate it higher. No-one likes to hear criticism - I know
I take it very badly - but it is even worse to be dismissed with no
explanation. I can think of absolutely no justification for directing an attack
at the author: it achieves nothing, and certainly wouldn’t help someone reading
the review decide if it is a book in which they might interested.
make a really good point about the reviews being aimed at helping readers choose books not for writers to
with that, thank you Amy for visiting my blog today – I’ve found it really
interesting to see books from another point of view, and I hope my visitors have as well!
Amy is currently snowed under with books to read, and cannot accept books for