National Book Critics Circle: The Craft of Criticism

Over the last few months I’ve been working on a series of Q&A’s for The National Book Critics Circle website called The Craft of Criticism. Fran Bigman and I ask book critics and review editors for their thoughts on contemporary criticism. What I really enjoyed about these interviews was that – despite being limited to NBCC members – we were able to choose subjects who come to book reviewing and criticism from a variety of styles and backgrounds. So I got to speak with Donna Seaman, who is the Adult Books Editor for Booklist, a publication that specializes in short, succinct reviews (usually under 250 words). And Carlos Lozada, the Nonfiction Book Critic for The Washington Post — a job I do not envy him at this particular juncture of time. I also spoke with Michelle Dean, who started out reviewing online EVERYWHERE and recently wrote the book Sharp: The Women Who Made An Art of Having An Opinion. And Yahdon Israel, — a power player in the NYC literary scene, exploring the intersection between fashion and literature (which is an incredibly reductive description, so if you aren’t already familiar with Yahdon you really should read the interview and then check out everything he’s doing online and on social media. #literaryswag). And, one of my favorites, Ilana Masad, who approaches the books she reviews as parts of a bigger and more complicated cultural conversation.

We’re on hiatus for a little bit, but for those who want to catch up I’ve listed the interviews below, with links to each.

Interview at The Spark (the alternating current press blog)

Happy World Book Day, readers! While I work on a new review please direct your attention to The Spark – the blog of Alternating Current Press (an indie press & promotion team).  A few weeks ago Lori from TNBBC’s The Next Best Book Blog asked if I’d be willing to answer some questions.  I agreed and the results of that interview went up today.

I’m not the type of blogger who reveals a lot of personal information, so if for some crazy reason you would like to learn more about the girl behind the blog (and about the publishers, books & bookshops I love) this might be your one & only opportunity. Click here to read more


It’s Monday! What Am I Reading?*

It’s Monday and while my stack of books isn’t necessarily going down (which actually makes me very happy) – progress is being made!  Last week I finished reading and reviewed Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow.  I highly recommend it… which is a huge relief! I’ve been reading a lot International literature (mostly British and European) lately and was beginning to worry about my lack of excitement over contemporary American authors.

This week will be an ambitious one.  I’ll be finishing up The Alchemaster’s Apprentice by Walter Moers and am beginning Amphibian by Carla Gunn… both books I picked up at the Brooklyn Book Festival.  Moers is a German author and Gunn is from Canada (see what I mean about the International lit?).

And if you read my interview at Bookduck for Book Blogger Appreciation Week you already know how much I am looking forward to Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood – due out…. TOMORROW!? (Umm, I just looked that up on Amazon).  Another book added to the stack.

Homer &L angley by E.L. DoctorowThe Alchemaster's Apprentice by Walter Moers

the yearoftheflood.cvr*It’sMonday!  What Am I Reading? is a meme originating from J. Kaye’s Book Blog.  Please check out what other bloggers are reading here.

Duck… Duck… Duck… BOOKDUCK!

If you saw my post yesterday you’ve already gone to look at Bookduck.  If not, what are you waiting for?!  Click here.   I had the opportunity to ask Sarah, the blogger behind Bookduck,  some questions.  I hope you enjoy our interview as much as I did.

I love the story about how your blog, Bookduck, got its name.  Can you tell it again for readers who haven’t visited your blog yet?  And I couldn’t help wondering…was Duck ever your nickname?

My name is Sarah, which starts with an “S”. With the addition of a simple beak and a dot for an eye, cursive “S”s look a lot like ducks. An older girl in my neighborhood showed me that when I was just learning cursive, and I’ve been BookDuckSignatureplaying with it ever since—although I don’t use it on my real signature. Add that to the fact that I like books, and you get “Bookduck”.

Duck, however, was never my nickname.

When did you start blogging?

Bookduck has been around since 2008.  I started on Livejournal and moved my reviews over to Blogger this summer. I still mirror my posts on Livejournal.

So after almost a year of blogging, what do you feel your roll is as a book blogger?

I feel that my role is to post reviews that will help people find books that they are likely to enjoy. As a reader of reviews, I find more books I like because a) I now know they exist and b) a good review often leads me to books I would’ve rejected after seeing the cover and reading the book jacket. Book blogging also gets people talking about books, which is rarely a negative thing.

Is that why you started Bookduck, to get people talking?

I started Bookduck for fun as well as to keep track of what I liked/disliked about what I read. Also, I read a lot of book blogs and one day decided I wanted to join the discussion. I don’t have any big plans for Bookduck, but I would like to try doing more interviews in the future —bloggers, authors, readers, whatever. I do have an author interview coming later this year, and I’m incredibly excited about it. I’d love for something like that to come up again, but if it doesn’t I won’t be heartbroken. As I said, I started Bookduck for fun—and I hope it stays that way.

And you post music to Bookduck as well.  (I love the videos!). Do you consider BookDuck primarily a book blog?

Most of my posts are book related, so I would say yes: Bookduck is primarily a book blog. When I read other book blogs, however, I enjoy reading occasional posts about other topics like current events, art, music, and movies. It’s also interesting to hear a little bit about the person whose reviews I am reading.

I like to post about whatever interests me or might interest others.

What kind of books can a reader expect to find reviewed on your blog?

I read mostly YA fiction with the occasional adult novel or work of nonfiction. As far as genres go I read all over the place, but I do enjoy books that contain realistic fantasy–as in something out of the ordinary that occurs in an ordinary situation and feels like maybe it could really happen. This often takes some research–for example, historical–on the part of the author.

Would you say you lean more towards historical fiction or more towards fantasy?

That’s difficult–I like them both.

I wanted to ask you about your reviews.  Do you try to stick to positive reviews or do you post about the books you don’t like as well?

I mostly post positive reviews of books I enjoy because I’m absolutely terrible at finishing books I don’t enjoy—I have too little free time for that, and since Bookduck is just for fun I don’t feel bound to finish every book I touch. In other words, if I finish a book it’s automatically an okay read. It does not, however, mean that I’m in love with it, and I often have complaints. This is where it gets fuzzy because I want to be honest without being rude.

On the other side of this, just because I put aside a book today doesn’t mean I won’t pick it up later and find it un-putdownable. Some of my favorite books are ones I couldn’t stand when I first cracked them open.

That’s a great word “un-putdownable”!  What are some of the books you’ve changed your mind about – that went from put aside to un-putdownable?

The Murderof Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty;  The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope;  A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray;  Tamsin by Peter S. Beagle;  Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

I’m sure there have been more, but this is what I’ve got off the top of my head.

When you’re looking for something to read to you go to the any traditional book review outlets – like the NY Times or Entertainment Weekly?

Not on a regular basis, no.

So you stick mainly to the blogs?

Yes. The great thing about blogs is finding people who tend to like books you like, which makes finding books to read easier.

Did you discover these bloggers before or after you started blogging?

I discovered them before I started blogging. They were fun to read, and suddenly I started finding all these fantastic books I never knew were there. And I was hooked.

Were you influenced by other blogs?  Any recommendations?

Yes, I was.

The blogging community has affected my blog by being an example–seeing what people write about and how they deal with their layout has definitely shaped Bookduck. And the blogging community has definitely effected how I read books! I’m now more careful to note what I think about books as I read, and also to try to read books I don’t like. Having people to be accountable to makes the page turning easier.

My favorite sources of inspiration are Bookshelves of Doom (, The Story Siren (, Natural/Artificial (the author blog of Stephanie Perkins) (, and Grow Wings (the author blog of Laini Taylor) ( They’re all great reading.

There are a lot of book blogs out there, so there’s a little something for everyone.  Which is great.

So, here’s the hard question.  What’s your book of the year?

Ooh, that’s a tough one… So far I really like Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev. It’s funny and smart and I got lost in it.

Sarah, thank you so much for the interview!