Let’s Discuss “Content”

This year, at the start of BEA, an interesting experiment will be happening.  Bloggers will be getting together at the first Book Blog UNCON.  This meeting will take place on Monday, June 4th, at The Center of Fiction in Midtown.

What does this mean for my readers?  Well, for most of you, probably not much.  But I have high hopes for UNCON.  Rather than the traditional conference format of panelists and audiences, UNCON will consist of group sessions and (what I, for one, consider) workshops where bloggers will discuss different ideas and topics relevant to the field of book blogging.

The organizers have asked attendees to propose sessions and topics they’d be interested in.  Here are some ideas I have.

I’d like to see a session about content. It’s an on-going conversation between Lori @TNBBC (Hollah!) and myself that I’d like to open up to a larger and more diverse group.   A big question I have is about finding and developing new content.  More specifically, I’d like to hear everyone’s opinions on –

  1. The Blogger / Publisher Relationship – Who determines what is Buzz-Worthy?
  2. What Do You Review? – Is it helpful to have a specific criteria for determining which books you request/review – or is it better to go by your gut?  Do you/should you look for diversity?  Do you browse publisher catalogs?  or wait for them to contact you?  What other sources are helpful?
  3. New Releases vs. Back Catalog – What % of each?
  4. Beyond the “Review” – That’s a pretty broad area that can include Blog Series, Memes, Blog Tours, Interviews, Vidcasts, Podcasts, Twitter, etc., etc… the possibilities are nigh endless.

That’s it… my two cents have officially been added.

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11-ish Things I Learned at BEA 2011

In no particularly order –

  • The HarperCollins team is just as awesome in real life as they are in emails & on twitter. They publish great books AND they throw a hell of a party.  What more can you ask for?
  • Have you seen the vlog, Books Are My Boyfriends? If not, you need to!  Kit is exactly like that in real life. Super friendly, super upbeat and a lot of fun to be around.
  • Margaret Atwood’s agent, a  sweet woman who has worked with Ms. Atwood for decades, calls her “Peggy”.
  • If you get a tattoo of the Two Dollar Radio logo – which is a nifty, retro line drawing of a radio – they give you their entire collection of books for free. F-R-E-E. That’s their entire backlist, plus all the new books they publish as long as the company is in business. But you need to provide proof. Two Dollar Radio, you’ll be hearing from me soon…
  • Greg Olear, author of Totally KillerFather-Mucker (coming out in October) and Senior Editor at The Nervous Breakdown is almost as obsessed with Stephen Colbert as I am. He may disagree. We’ll be arm wrestling BEA 2012 to determine who loves Stephen more. That is, unless one of us can produce an actual restraining order with both Stephen and your name on it (might as well clarify the rules up front) before then.
  • Chuck Palahniuk may be the nicest person on the planet. Seriously. He signed 175 galleys of his new book (as reported by @andrewtshaffer), all personalized, had something nice to say to everyone, never stopped smiling AND posed for pictures. Don’t think that makes him nice?  Imagine how many times he probably had to listen to “The first rule of BEA…”

    "I'm so glad you loved CHOKE.... here, have a seed packet"
  • Speaking of lines. When Random House organizes a line, they ORGANIZE a line. And nobody f#@!$ with the Random House line…. *low and menacing voice*no-body.
  • You need to be following Kim from Sophisticated Dorkiness & Anastasia from Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog.  They’re amazing.  Kim is my go-to girl for Non-Fiction. Anastasia is a YA guru.
  • Less than 400 translations are published yearly in the U.S., including technical manuals. That’s right, the instructions for your cell phone and the pictograph telling you how to put together your IKEA LACK table are part of that number.
  • Romance authors get slightly offended when you tell them you don’t review romances, particularly if you mention your blog is named BookSexy Review.
  •  Levi Asher & I cornered Evil Wylie  (O.K., so he didn’t look all that cornered. In fact he looked quite comfortable, smiling and with a drink in hand. He even gave me a button.) and questioned him on why Simone de Beauvoir & Jean Paul Sartre made it into Andrew Shaffer’s new book on Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love. He makes a strong and convincing case on why they belong there, despite what those French Canadians say.
  • Levi Asher is now publishing the equivalent to small chapbooks on the Amazon Kindle. I just bought Why Ayn Rand is Wrong (& Why It Matters). His blog Literary Kicks is probably the oldest literary blog in the country and Levi is my personal blogger icon. If you are looking for a smart discussion of literature & philosophy (& who isn’t?) Litkicks is the place to be.
  • Did you hear about my amazing reunion with Lori from The Next Best Book Blog… all thanks to Book Expo 2011 & Random House?  That’s right, they’re not just “Bringing you the best in fiction, nonfiction & children’s books”... they’re bringing people together. (Hallmark, watch out!)
  • Rachel from A Home Between Pages and I had an incredibly awkward introduction/conversation at that same Random House party. But she eventually forgave me (I think).  In person, she is the Goddess of Snarkiness.  I will be following her like our parents followed The Grateful Dead.
  • The entire population of Iceland is now writing thrillers. Fortunately the entire population consists of only 318,452 people.
  • And, finally, I have seen the shy & elusive Reading Ape
from left to right: Books Are My Boyfriends, the fabulous Margaret Atwood & her lovely agent, The Next Best Book Blog (& Club, for you Goodreads fans), and BookSexy Review

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FEED by Mira Grant

Milk & Cookies. Chocolate & Peanut Butter. Zombies & Bloggers. The best things in life come in pairs. Mira Grant’s Newsflash Trilogy takes her readers into a world where the people no longer trust the conventional news media, we’ve cured cancer and the common cold… and side effects include lots of moaning and attempting to eat your neighbors after you die.

Georgia (George) & Shaun Mason are brother & sister bloggers. The year is 2039 and they’ve just hit the big time. One of the lead presidential candidates has made an unprecedented decision – to include bloggers as part of his media team. Senator Peter Ryman is the first person to run for president who was under the age of 18 when “The Rising” occurred, and that means he remembers the suffering that occurred when the traditional news outlets lied and only the bloggers were left to tell the truth. He’s chosen the Mason siblings – and their friend Buffy – to report on his campaign.

FEED introduces the reader to a new blogger world order. George is a Newsie – she reports straight, un-doctored truth and her reputation is impeccable. Shaun is an Irwin – thrill seekers (think Steve “the Crocodile Hunter” Irwin and the guys from Jackass) who provide valuable survival tips spiked with a heavy dose of suspense. Buffy, a “Fictional” – author and poet, as well as a techie extraordinaire – rounds out the trio.

“…We’re the all-purpose opiate of the new millennium: We report the news, we make the news, and we give you a way to escape when the news becomes too much to handle.” – Georgia Mason

Grant has created a brave new world, and if she’d stopped there I’d still want to read FEED just to explore it. But of course she gives us more than that. The story really gets going when tragedy (and zombies) strike on the campaign trail. And then strike again. And again…

Mira Grant is a pen name of Seanan McGuire. If you read BookSexy you know I’m a huge fan of her October Daye novels.  This new series has all the same strengths and weaknesses. I’m an acolyte of the Robin McKinley school of world building – throw the reader into the deep end and let them learn to swim. McGuire’s…um, I mean Grant’s… technique is the exact opposite. She explains everything and she explains it more than once. It annoys the hell out of me – Because, really, who is George (the narrator for most of the book) explaining all this stuff to? In the October Daye books the explanations can be justified because Toby describes a world that theoretically exists parallel to our own but is hidden. But Georgia would logically assume that anyone she’s talking to is a contemporary and would already have a handle on the zombie situation. This inexplicable need to dumb down the narrative keeps a really good genre novel from becoming a great one.

But, even with its flaws, FEED is still fantastic – better than most zombie movies. The characters are people readers believe in and care about. You can’t help yourself. And, I’m warning you now, when McGuire’s holding the pen anything can happen and no one is safe. The story twists, turns and ties you up in emotional knots. I laughed. I cried. (Seriously, I really did cry). O.K., it’s not going to win a National Book Award… but who cares?

“Zombies are pretty harmless as long as you treat them with respect. Some people say you should pity the zombie, empathize with the zombie, but I think they are likely to become the zombie, if you get my meaning. Don’t feel sorry for the zombie. The zombie’s not going to feel sorry for you when he starts gnawing on your head…

If you want to deal with zombies, stay away from the teeth, don’t let them scratch you, keep your hair short, and don’t wear loose clothes. It’s that simple. Making it more complicated would be boring, and who wants that? We have what basically amounts to walking corpses, dude.

Don’t suck all the fun out of it”. – Shaun Mason

Publisher:  Orbit, New York (2010)
ISBN:  978 0 316 12246 7

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It’s All About the Blogs

As you read this I’m floating somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on a really big ship.  It may or may not have wi-fi.  Which seemed like the perfect excuse to post links to the blogs of some of the bloggers I met at BEA and the BBC (Book Blogger Convention).

The Generalists

  • The Zen Leaf, run by Amanda,  specializes in classic & contemporary literature, YA (Young Adult), and GLBT  (Gay Lesbian Bisexual & Transgendered) issues in literature.  Her reviews of the classics are great… and if you’re at a loss for something to read she has a HUGE review archive.
  • Everyday I Write the Book is a literary fiction review blog with a little bit more.  “More” in this case being guest posts, author interviews, book clubs, some poetry, twitter (am I the only one afraid of twitter?)… so maybe it’s a lot more.   I met Gayle at BBC, and want to say here that she’s the nicest person!  Plus she gave me a copy of The Bucolic Plague to read (which is coming out this month, along with a new t.v. series on Planet Green.  Stay tuned to this space for my review in a few days).
  • Caribousmom – Wendy & Kip win the award for “Friendliest Couple at BEA & BBC 2010”.  Having read Wendy’s blog for the past two years I was so excited to meet her at the BBC reception.  The book portion of Caribousmom features tons of reviews, book giveaways. And she is hosting a year-long reading marathon/challenge where you can sponsor participants and all money goes to finding a cure for childhood cancer.
  • Sophisticated Dorkiness is another blog I’ve been following for a long time.  She recently started a new series – Narrative Nonfiction 5 – which gives quick reviews/recommendations for 5 nonfiction books that “use techniques of fiction — plot, characters, dialogue, symbolism — to tell a good, true, story. Genres that might fall into this category include creative nonfiction, literary journalism, memoirs, personal essays, and more” (her words).
  • I met Levi Asher at the Harper Collins reception for book bloggers – and had hoped to see him again at the Book Bloggers Convention that Friday.  He’s been blogging since 1994, and I would have loved to hear his thoughts on the panels.  But, sadly, he was not in attendance.  Which means I now need to lurk at his blog, Literary Kicks, in order to have my blogging history questions answered.  (Such as:  who invented the meme, and to your knowledge were they suitably punished?)  Oh the humanity.


  • All I can say is thank goodness Nick @ Lions and Men came to BEA with his girlfriend Heather (see The Maiden’s Court below)…   because  the sci-fi/fantasy authors were few and far between.  Which was a shame, because he writes great reviews.   I am now recommending his blog to all my genre-specific friends.  Just don’t expect fanboy ramblings at Lions and Men.  Nick’s reviews are critical and (in my opinion) dead on.  So if this falls into a category of writing you’re interested in definitely stop by.  The link leads to his post “They Want to Eat Your Brains Out: A Brief Study of the Zombie in Popular Media“.  Seriously, what’s not to like?

Historical Fiction

  • Once upon a time the words “historical romance” were applied to authors like  the Bronte sisters and Dumas.  A romance meant adventure, intrigue, dark secrets and revenge.  Nowadays, it brings to mind images of women with overflowing bodices draped over the arms of men with flowing hair.  Fortunately “bodice rippers”aren’t included in the books Heather reviews over at The Maiden’s Court.  Neither does she specifically review romances.  (I was happy to see that mixed in with the ubiquitous Tudors were titles such as Water for Elephants and The Revolutionary Paul Revere). Her focus is on history, whether it’s told through fiction or non-fiction.  She even throws in some film reviews – when they’re relevant.  And you’ll find more of the same at her friend Allie’s blog Hist-Fic Chick.  Visiting these two sites reminded me of how much I enjoy historical fiction – and made me wonder why I haven’t read much of it lately.  Fortunately, they have a bunch of recommendations.  One nice feature at Hist-Fic Chick – you can search reviews/titles by period and place – just in case you have a specific era or destination you’re in the mood for!

Out-of-Print Books

  • Redeeming Qualities was one of the most interesting blogs I was introduced to at BBC.  Melody reviews out-of-print books, many of which are available for free through Project Gutenberg.  Her reviews are really interesting and she’s very funny.  If you’re looking for something a little off the beaten path, you’ll find it here.  (The blog link leads straight to her review of The Melting of Molly by Maria Thompson Daviess, a book  I have to read because it seems so sweet and silly at the same time).

That should keep everyone busy for the rest of the week.  Bon voyage!

Why Isn’t There a Literary Prize Given by Bloggers?

There’s the Man Booker Prize, the Orange Prize, the National Book Award, Independent Booksellers Book Prize, the Scotiabank Giller Prize (O Canada!), The New York Times Book Review (not a prize, but might as well be), the Pulitzer Prize, the never-ending Book of the Year nominations… etc., etc., etc.

So why don’t book bloggers have their own Literary Prize?

I’m not talking about an award for the best blog – but an award for the Best Book of 2010? It’s a win-win situation, when you think about it. Publishers would love it, authors would love it, and it would give the bloggers something else to talk (and argue) about. No money would be attached to it, just the fame (or notoriety) that comes with being the Blogger’s Choice of Best Book of 2010 (and no that is not my first choice for a name).

In fact, the more I think about it the more I like it. The question is, what does everyone else thing?

And yes, you can pick more than one answer (sigh).

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