Second up in my series of posts on book bloggers is Isabel Costello, whose book blog On The Literary Sofa is a wonderful source of both book recommendations and fascinating insights from the authors themselves. Isabel is also a writer, so we occasionally get glimpses into that world too.
Why do you blog about books?
For me blogging is a way of connecting with people who share my love of reading and writing, an extension of my favourite kind of conversation. I enjoy spreading the word about good books, getting recommendations in return and talking to other writers. My blog readers are great at joining in. I’ve met so many interesting people online and in real life through the Literary Sofa.
We writers do like discussing other people’s books. Do you have an idea what proportion of your blog readers are also writers?
I get the impression a lot of them are writers. Certainly most of those who comment are!
How many books do you read per month on average and has blogging about them changed the way you read?
I read five or six books per month. I don’t think blogging has particularly changed the way I read but now I’m plugged into the book world I’m more aware of new releases and much more selective.
Five or six books per month is amazing, I barely manage one! How do you fit in reading with writing and your other commitments?
I take every possible opportunity to read: on public transport, in the bath, late at night, so the hours add up. I watch very little TV.
Has reviewing books changed the way you write?
Blogging does seem to have had a positive effect on my writing – I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I’ve finally started to get to grips with short stories. If you’re an emerging writer and your blog isn’t articulate and well-written, I think you’re shooting yourself in the foot.
What are the high and low points of reviewing books for you?
I enjoy all aspects of reviewing, especially taking an in-depth look at the writing, which is often overlooked. I relish the challenge of reviewing without giving spoilers – it’s hard but it can be done! I only review books I think are worth recommending but I adopt a critical approach. I aim to be honest and fair and that’s important to the credibility of any review – nobody takes any notice of a gush.
If anything I search harder for flaws if I absolutely love the book!
It’s frustrating that I just don’t have the time to read and review all the titles which interest me.
What would you say is your taste in books? What makes a book good for you?
My home terrain (in reading and writing) is the crossover between literary and commercial fiction. I am hugely drawn to American writing. The only thing I actively dislike is chick lit. I strongly believe we all have a right to our own taste and don’t need to justify it.
Good writing matters the most to me and I and particularly admire novelists who can write beautifully about difficult subjects and emotions. All reading is escapism if the writing is good enough to pull me in. If pushed, I would rank character above story but I rarely have to compromise because so many novels have all three elements. A truly excellent novel will make me think and make me feel something.
What is your point of view on the star rating system of book reviews?
I find it very unsatisfactory so I prefer not to do it. For me the best books I’ve ever read would be 5 star and 3 stars would be a very decent appraisal. I’m out of kilter on this but it doesn’t matter as I don’t review books anywhere but my own blog.
Through your success as a respected book blogger you have become ‘known’ to editors at publishing houses. Whilst it’s always the writing that counts, it’s great to have that (I think). Would you recommend book blogging to other writers seeking to raise their profile in advance of submitting their work?
Thanks for your kind words, Claire. I’d recommend blogging based on passion and enthusiasm rather than a specific agenda. I never expected the Literary Sofa to take off so it’s been a fantastic surprise. I do believe that the writing is what counts for agents (publishers may be slightly more interested in an author’s profile), so my top tip for anyone submitting is to get your book professionally edited before sending it out. I wish I had done that.
Recommend me three books that have blown you away
These three novels tick every box in my answer to Q3:
We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Fall on your Knees by Ann-Marie Macdonald
Many thanks to Isabel for her time and great answers.
Do also have a look at the other posts in this series, where I chat to: